One of the most exciting changes in culture of the last few years has been seeing a seismic shift in representation across media. We’re seeing new voices elevated and regurgitated stereotypes challenged. Jonny White’s new documentary The Voices of Men follows in their footsteps by revealing a vulnerable side of men that is rarely encouraged to be displayed. It’s a beautiful short film that echoes Matt Houghton’s award-winning doc Landline in how it presents anonymous personal portraits without judgement. We had a chat with White about his motives in creating this important work, and his hopes for the audience’s response.
What made you want to tell the stories of these men?
Men’s mental health is a massive societal issue that is established in the very foundations of early childhood and education. Young boys are laughed at for crying, they’re told to grow up and man up. Men are three times more likely to die by suicide than woman in the UK, it is an issue. I created this film to fight this notion and stigma attached to men expressing their emotions.
We’re currently seeing a real shift in representation across gender and sexuality, and The Voices of Men shows a side of men that you rarely seen on screen.
As a storyteller with passionate feelings for the subject of mental health, I felt it was my responsibility to create a film that contributes to normalising men talking about their feelings, telling those quite often untold stories. The power, I hope, behind this film is that we don’t often hear men talk about their emotions in this way. It’s shocking and difficult to listen to, but it needs to be for people to take notice.
Was it important for you not to reveal the identities of the men featured?
I wanted to keep the brave men involved with the film anonymous, to give them a platform where they can safely express themselves. Additionally, their anonymity in the film emphasises the notion that anyone can suffer from this vicious illness, even your closest friends that you may have no idea about. It was important to me to enhance visually that feeling that it is an invisible illness.
I created this film to fight this notion and stigma attached to men expressing their emotions.
How did you balance the visual language of the film to not overshadow the voices?
The aim was to keep the film as aesthetically candid and personal as possible without being cinematically ‘too much’. I wanted to let the men’s words speak for themselves without visuals that were too dominating. I decided to shoot and edit the film myself, as well as undertake the sound mixing/editing. I built the musical score myself using three fantastic music tracks from my Artlist subscription and edited them together to fit with the film.
How are you hoping audiences react to the film?
It was a very personal process for me, and I felt incredibly privileged and proud to have these men open themselves to me in the way that they did. I made this film for them, as well as other men who are suffering in silence as most do. It’s a film I hope can resonate with audiences of all demographics. I’m so pleased to see this film gaining some online momentum, it’s important to me that as many people see this film as possible.
Was it a challenge to execute as a production?
It took me about a month to complete the project from first reaching out to men for their stories, to exporting the final version. I shot the film in and around Leeds with two of my closest non-actor friends who kindly agreed to feature in the film. It was all part of keeping that feeling of raw storytelling, by including non-actors (including myself!) in the film. I used my Panasonic GH5 to shoot the film, which took some post-production work in Premiere Pro to achieve the somewhat analogue filmic look that the film has. I wanted to use this aesthetic to further enhance the personal, almost home-video, feeling that the film has. The shots needed to be visceral, but a little rough around the edges and not too shiny.
The power, I hope, behind this film is that we don’t often hear men talk about their emotions in this way.
Reflecting back on the project now that it’s finished, what do you think you’ll take away from it?
I’m incredibly grateful to the brave men who put their stories and experiences forward for this film. Without them, this film would not have happened. I hope anyone who watches this film can take something from it, whether that’s a little more empathy towards other people, or even if they see something in themselves. Please do not be afraid to talk about your feelings. Don’t suffer in silence. We need more media outlets to normalise men’s mental health, so thank you to Directors Notes for selecting this film, it means the world.
The Voices of Men is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.