A picture is worth a thousand words, the saying goes. And during his 20-plus year career as a CNN producer, Felipe Barral noticed that gorgeous still photography gleaned from B-roll footage he recorded while on assignment had an awful lot to say. But instead of framing his stills, Barral decided the footage would look better on screen.
“When I was coming back from productions, I always wished I could hang up these beautiful shots,” he says. “And I started thinking that I could put them up on the wall, because I could put up a [television] screen.”
Barral had been researching biophilia, the human tendency to interact or associate with the natural world, for at least two years. As a lifelong artist and filmmaker — and as a former medical student with a master’s degree in philosophy — he knew biophilic design had the potential to help hospital patients who needed serious treatments like chemotherapy and dialysis.
He also knew these patients often had to watch news segments and other shows during their stays, and this content didn’t exactly place them in the best frame of mind prior to treatment.
“In the current world that we live in, all of these shared spaces are now putting up screens,” says Barral. “Everybody’s putting up screens to try to entertain you. I was thinking, those spaces that are now filled with screens don’t have the right content for that audience. You think you’re solving a problem, but you’re not really taking the customer into consideration.”
After years of deep-dive research and customer discovery, Barral launched BELLA, a streaming service designed to deliver stunning cinematic content to television and projection screens in hospitals and other shared spaces.
Starting out with a series of one-minute “beautiful videos” that he calls “bellos,” Barral hopes to provide patients, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers a much-needed biophilic connection with the outside world.
In fact, says Barral, research shows that a mere 40 seconds of exposure to nature makes the brain suspend critical thinking, reduce energy consumption, and amplify good feelings.
“We can help really improve the customer experience with a lot of benefits that are added to the well-being of the patient,” says Barral.
“We know the effect of this content, because we already know the research that has been done around biophilia. I think most of these hospitals are not going to be able to redesign their spaces completely to create the built-in environment that we need to thrive as human beings, so they can do it through the screens. I hope this can help institutions to make the right decisions to improve the quality of care.”
Barral originally conceived BELLA to deliver a series of inspirational short films to these shared spaces in celebration of humanity’s connection to nature. However, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the mental health crisis it sparked amongst healthcare workers and others on the front lines, compelled Barral to introduce BELLA to the world now, via digital platforms.
“That’s something that we all are facing right now,” says Barral. “Everybody’s stuck at home. There’s so much negativity … that you have to find a moment of [relaxation]. I hope that’s what BELLA is going to do for people, when they watch these moments of inspiration.”
Barral is partnering with hospitals to deliver content to television screens throughout their shared spaces through subscriptions. He also plans to offer a VIP option that will allow BELLA to deliver site-specific content to its partners.
“[Hospitals] can actually partner with us to specifically curate content that targets that audience,” says Barral. “Think of a hospital in Savannah, Georgia, and the geography and beauty of that area. They know their customers are used to that because they live in the area.”
In addition, Barral has also announced partnerships with The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (MOCA GA) and Terminus Modern Ballet Theatre (TMBT) to create original bellos. He released the MOCA GA videos earlier this week, and plans to release his work with TMBT during the last week of April.
“They are performing for the camera, but they are also bringing that human connection that we’re lacking right now,” says Barral.
In time, Barral hopes to extend BELLA’s reach beyond hospitals and into other shared spaces like airports and hotels. For now, Barral remains focused on helping those fighting COVID-19 find a little human connection in a world where people can barely touch.
“I really do love stories,” says Barral. “I know the power of storytelling, and I know the power of beauty. I felt this duty [to help] not only the doctors and nurses that are on the front lines, but the patients in those situations.”
“We can help because [people are] eager to find something now that can give them that space to calm themselves and not stress about the uncertainty of the future.”