The power of storytelling in raising awareness for mental health


August 7, 2020

Earlier this year Layla partnered with Open Screenplay, an online, collaborative screenwriting platform and community, to launch a short film contest. The initiative sought to create awareness about mental health issues, and to spread the message through the powerful means of storytelling.

“Mental health is a subject that impacts us all, yet for many remains difficult to speak of openly and without fear of stigmatization.” - Khaled Sabawi, Founder & CEO, Open Screenplay, Inc.

The contest topic resonated strongly with screenwriters as evidenced by the high number of submissions. Within a period of 5 weeks, 421 screenplays were started and 128 were submitted. 50%+ of screenplays were submitted by female screenwriters, who took 2 of the 3 winning spots in a time when female screenwriters are underrepresented in Hollywood by a ratio of five to one.

After receiving this overwhelming response from the global storytelling community, last week we were thrilled to announce our contest winners. 

The winning screenplay went to Murat Vargelci for The Poem, a hopeful story about strangers overcoming loneliness and finding connection by contributing alternating lines to a poem written on the bottom of a poster at a subway station. Vargelci will be awarded the $1,500 first prize cash award and will have his screenplay produced by Open Screenplay. 

When asked about his experience in this contest, Vargelci stated that “everything started with a few simple words. The more I wrote the more I realized the walls we build around us.”

In second place was a tie between Cutting Slack by Katerina Savvas and Cloudy by Canada’s own Madelyn Keys. 

Inspired by current events and the difficulty of living within a pandemic culture of social distancing, Cutting Slack by Katerina Savvas follows a writer on her first socially-distanced interaction when her anxiety and imagination team up to tirelessly suggest the nasty intentions behind the mask of her best friend's words.

In contrast, Cloudy by Madelyn Keys grapples with mental health through the eyes of a child who personifies her negative emotions as a cloud looming above her head.

As a first time screenwriter, 19 year old Madelyn Keys commented about her experience in the contest saying that “this competition encouraged me to have meaningful conversations with my family and friends about their experiences with mental health.” She continues “I doubt we would've had those conversations if it were not for this opportunity.”

Not only does storytelling act as a means for exploring difficult topics within ourselves and with our loved ones, but it helps to engage whole audiences and to deliver meaning that resonate through shared experience and human understanding. 

“A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way.” - Flannery O’Connor

In fact, research by Jeremy Hsu in 2008 identified that 65% of our daily conversations are based on storytelling. Similarly, the human brain is more engaged by storytelling than by simple logical facts. 

From this it’s clear that not only is storytelling integral to human communication, but it’s a favoured means for framing and delivering messages that resonate. 

In partnering with Open Screenplay, we at Layla found a shared appreciation for the value of storytelling in spreading awareness of mental health issues in Canada and around the world.

We would like to congratulate our contest winners, and to thank all participants for their submissions. By sharing their stories and helping to spread awareness of mental health issues in Canada and around the world, all contest participants have helped to further normalize and destigmatize this critically important topic.

Lastly, a big thank you to our contest partners, Open Screenplay, for the great work that they do and for choosing the topic of mental health awareness for this latest short film contest.
To learn more about winning screenplays visit