NYWIFT Blog

Meet the New NYWIFT Member: Robyn Hussa Farrell

By Anthony Orlando

Welcome to NYWIFT, Robyn Hussa Farrell! Robyn Hussa Farrell is an award-winning NYC writer, producer, and performer. She founded four companies, including Transport Group Theatre Company, which recently celebrated its 23rd year in Manhattan. Hussa specializes in producing and directing multi-media events and programs that highlight stories of empowerment and strength.

For the last 20 years, she has worked with over 200 interdisciplinary researchers to develop evidence-based mental health documentary film programs that have been shown to decrease stigma and improve behavioral health outcomes for communities. She has interviewed over 1,000 experts in mental health and individuals with lived experience and produced films on mental health topics ranging from eating disorders and suicide to veteran PTSD and childhood trauma and resilience.

She is a proud member of AEA, SAG/AFTRA, and NYWIFT.

Robyn spoke to us about her work at the intersection of mental health and the arts, her theatrical roots, and most meaningful projects.

 

NYWIFT Member Robyn Hussa Farrell

 

Describe yourself. Give us your elevator pitch!

I created my production company to talk about the “elephant” in the room in terms of mental and emotional health. As a result, I have spent the last 20 years making educational documentary films about mental health disorders – having the honor and privilege of interviewing 1,000+ national experts and individuals with lived experience. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn from so many incredible humans.

In 2014, my husband and I launched a mental health streaming platform called Sharpen Minds in order to deploy age-appropriate films in a responsible/ethical way to support kids and families.

 

Robyn Hussa Farrell conducts community interviews

 

What brings you to NYWIFT?

I have never formally distributed any of the films I have made, which is kind of crazy. We have over 4,000 film segments/short films in our library, and clearly, there is now an urgent need for these materials. In particular, I’m directing a feature on childhood sexual assault and would love to learn all I can from this group about distribution. 

 

What is the best advice you’ve received?

The best advice I received was from my voice teacher of seven years. She said that every decade, we should redefine ourselves in terms of our purpose.

 

Robyn Hussa Farrell conducts interviews at Franklin School

 

You have had quite a prolific career, as you have spent 20 years working with multiple organizations to create and share research-based mental health prevention programs with schools and communities. What is your opinion on how society addresses and promotes good mental health in the present day?

Thank you! My greatest concern is that we must use evidence-based strategies to promote mental health. In my experience I have learned there is a “right” way and a “wrong” way to address mental health (especially when involving young people).

My greatest hope is that our society respects the need to produce mental health programming responsibly. The wrong message at the wrong time could have devastating impacts.

 

 

In your career, you have co-directed many acclaimed documentaries educating audiences about mental health. How did your experiences co-founding Transport Group Theatre Company translate into creating these documentaries?

My roots stem from the theatre. It was my first love. The core of being a great collaborator stems from theatre. In the theatre, you can’t be the “only artist in the room.” You must share the space with others in order to serve a greater good (the theatrical piece). And that form is alive – even when it is finished, it still has a life force that requires multiple artists being present (in the present moment).

My work in Transport Group was alongside my closest friends on the planet. We shared a deep trust and belief in each other. This led to developing my first mental health project (back in the 90s and early 2000s), and the impact of that theatrical project opened my eyes to the greater need.

 

Hussa in 2004 in Transport Group’s First Lady Suite

 

What is your favorite mental health documentary that you have created so far?

This is a tough one. The documentaries I create are each so special to me because – innately – documentary filmmaking is all about people trusting you enough to turn on a camera.

The first documentary I made was about women and mental health. This spoke to me deeply because I had watched my grandmother struggle for so long in silence. I also spent four years working with veterans and their families to capture stories of resilience and strength – there’s nothing more humbling.

The documentary films we created about foster parents were also extremely enlightening for me. I worked in collaboration with experts in childhood trauma and maltreatment, and I don’t think I will ever be the same.

So…as I said, this is a tough one for me to answer concretely. It is like they are all a piece of my heart and soul.

 

Robyn Hussa Farrell accepts a Martin Luther King Award in 2017

 

How and when did you develop a passion for mental health?

It has been around me in many forms throughout my life. The core passion stemmed from watching my grandmother suffer in silence for many years. I remember teaching her mindfulness and breathing techniques to assist with her panic attacks. I had two uncles who struggled with substance use disorders and saw what it did to our family. I also had many close friends in the theatre who suffered from addictions and mental health challenges.

There was a brief period when I was going to pursue a clinical degree, and while I was working in treatment centers for addictions and eating disorders, I realized that we needed to be doing more to get ahead of these crippling diseases. That’s when I knew prevention through documentary films was my calling. I started reaching out to every researcher I could get my hands on. Most of my work in the early days was funded by families who lost their children to suicide or mental disorders.

And the work is just getting started…so much more is needed.

 

 

How has the pandemic affected your career and your studies in mental health?

Back in the 2000s, we always said that we needed a paradigm shift in order for people to realize that mental health was a fundamental issue critical to overall health and well-being. The pandemic certainly accomplished that shift, but it has come at the cost of our children and adolescents in terms of the trauma they have experienced.

The medical field wasn’t ready for an awakening on this scale. As a result, we have had to work 24/7 to get more training programs out to the medical provider community. Federal funding has opened up (finally) to enable more research, so – I suppose – that is also some good news. Last year alone, we embarked on over 25 research studies with major institutions. But the field, in general, has so far to go.

 

 

What’s next for you? Are there any upcoming projects you’re excited about?

Aside from the Sylvia feature documentary, we are working on an amazing project to support LGBTQ+ BIPOC youth and are always eager to collaborate to reach more humans.

 

 

Connect with Robyn Hussa Farrell on LinkedIn, or on her websites robynhussa.com and www.sharpenminds.com/leadership.

PUBLISHED BY

Anthony Orlando

Anthony Orlando Born with a passion for storytelling, Anthony Orlando graduated cum laude from Lafayette College with a double major in English and Film & Media Studies. There, he wrote, directed, and starred in his debut horror short, THE SHADOWS. Having written for BuzzFeed and Comic Book Resources, Anthony currently works as an Entertainment Writer for Digital Trends Media Group and a Competition Reader for the Austin Film Festival.

View all posts by Anthony Orlando

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