CheekyMac Productions tackle youth mental health through art and motivational speaking

Longford filmmaker Danielle McAlpine Johnson (right) with Lakes Entrance Secondary College students. Photos: CheekyMac Productions

Stefan Bradley

GIPPSLAND-based production company CheekyMac Productions has been using music, film and motivational speaking through workshops in schools to address youth mental health through the East G Project.

CheekyMac Productions was founded by Wellington locals – filmmaker Danielle McAlpine Johnson and her husband Chico Johnson, a singer.

The East G Project was launched in five schools throughout East Gippsland last year, tackling the rapid decline of mental health in drought and fire effected areas, empowering youth with self expression through the art of music, film, motivational speaking and songwriting workshops.

CheekyMac Productions have been following the youth’s journey on camera to capture those ‘golden moments’, as students discovered their purpose – showcasing their growth in understanding, mindset, character and wellbeing throughout the program.

Music and film has the ability to reach people in unique ways. When a child can express themselves through this art form, they feel empowered and can send a message into their community that can ultimately touch lives.

This program aims to be a tool to empower youth with self expression through music, film, motivational speaking and song writing workshops, tackling the rapid decline in mental health of youth post the Black Summer bushfires, by assisting students to discover a purpose-driven life and express themselves through song or music video.

Chico said that helping these kids to find purpose, a sense of value and having them walk away thinking proactively on what they can do to better themselves and their communities is important and can change lives.

Chico Johnson in the East G Project documentary.

“We can’t forget that the children are the future. That next generation, they are going to be the next councils, the next nurses, the next builders in their communities. They’re going to take the mantle, they’re going to carry that on. So if we believe that and if we want that, we have a duty to really, really tie them to the lives of these kids and programs like the East G will do that,” he said.

“When we find our identity, we know who we are, then we don’t base our lives on what society or anyone else is saying. We set a trajectory and we’re able to focus on that and we’re able to thrive going forward, inspiring people and being the best we can be.”

Danielle said the kids are hungry for positive role models and a vision for the future.

“Many have incredible untapped potential and others are already walking out their vision,” she said.

“Although there are significant pressures from the world around them, they want to make change in their school and wider community. Some even have universal dreams.

“The slogan of our mission is ‘Where Passion, Meets Pain, We Find Purpose’. Many students already had a deep sense of what their passion was, some had thought about what pains them in the world, but few had thought about what happens when these two worlds collide.

“By the end of the program, these students were able to confidently articulate what their life would look like if their passion met their pain to find purpose. This was pretty inspiring to see.

“We are incredibly thankful to Michelle Dowsett and the entire board at the Gippsland Community Foundation for supporting this project and assisting us to get into more schools throughout East Gippsland. We can’t wait to expand the footprint and impact more students!”

Head to CheekyMac Productions’ website for more information and to watch the 20 minute documentary of the project.

Bruthen Primary School students listening to Chico Johnson present a workshop. Photos: Contributed