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Inspiring kids into TV production – a hard task!

I was asked recently to talk about my chosen career in two separate education settings, of course I was more than pleased to take part.

The first was an event called Inspirational Women at the Thomas Alleyne Academy, a comprehensive secondary school in Hertfordshire where “success is expected, achieved and celebrated”!

The Inspirational Women event paired year 9 pupils with around 50 local women in industry & business in a speed-dating style set up.

There was the usual mix of incredibly enthusiastic girls asking intelligent questions and those that wouldn’t make eye contact and yawned while I was talking (about something I thought was fantastically  interesting, but obviously not!)

With one particular pair I shared how I’d started at the bottom, firstly doing some weekend work with a local Newspaper and later opening bags of post on BBC1’s Watchdog, working late into the evening to clear the studio and sometimes getting up really early to drive to pick up a director ready for a day’s filming. All of this I recounted with enthusiasm as I remembered how I’d felt taking on these small but important responsibilities – if no one picked up the director there wouldn’t have been a shoot, and if no one opened the post, there wouldn’t have been stories to follow up. But “Didn’t you feel exploited?” one of the teenagers retorted “I wouldn’t have done it, I’d have walked out, you can’t be treated like that”. The girl was one of the confident, and enthusiastic ones. Ok maybe TV production isn’t for her, but no I didn’t feel exploited. Conversely I thought it was an opportunity to show I could achieve something, even if it was only following some directions to get to the director’s house without getting lost.

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The second opportunity came when I was asked to take part in Arts & Culture Week at Gothic Mede Academy, a primary school in Bedfordshire. I was to be introduced as an example of someone who actually works within the arts. So with small groups of year 4 pupils we explored the concept of Documentary and how to get information out of an interview situation. Each group got to have a go using the clapper board (much fun!) and do a Jeremy Paxman style interview with a classmate. Of course these children are much younger and perhaps cynicism will creep in with age, but just as I was beginning to reflect on whether they’d understood the concept of a career within the arts, (given that they weren’t very good at understanding the most important rule of being on a film set is to be quiet!) one of the more timid ones came up to me at the end and asked, “when will you be coming back?”

If school children are being brought up to believe that success is expected and achieved, then I hope it is clear, that success is defined by who you are and how you feel – and that every responsibility no matter how seemingly minor, is important. Because frankly if no one wants to do them the end result will be failure for everyone. The girls who thought I’d been exploited hopefully had their eyes opened to the idea that success starts small, and the quiet girl who asked when I was coming back achieved something last week, and I hope both days, despite it being a hard task inspired a least some of the children and got them thinking about documentary film!

Silver Award at the inaugural Charity Film Awards held at BAFTA.

The charity film awards have been created to celebrate the success of film in fundraising, to increase exposure of charity films and to encourage donations for good causes.

Two films I produced and directed last year for international development charity Kidasha were finalists at the awards. They had already made it through a public vote and a round of judging so I was pretty overwhelmed to have made it that far.

Kidasha support children living in entrenched poverty in Nepal. I spent time filming with these children and created a series of six films about each of their projects.

One of the films that made the finals followed a day in the life of some glue sniffing street kids in Pokhara and another titled, Escaping Abuse, gave a glimpse into the lives of two girls living in a safe house after escaping trafficking and persistent sexual abuse.

The awards ceremony held at BAFTA hq and hosted by Sally Philips was a great chance to see how other organisations are using film to tell their stories and promote their cause.

A Champagne reception was followed by the ceremony in the auditorium. 
Our film Escaping Abuse won a Silver Award in its category. Here’s Janice, Kidasha’s CEO with the awards … and a big BAFTA.


Winning the award is not really about crediting the film maker, its about giving a platform and a voice to a small organisation doing amazing work. I hope the awards do raise the profile of some of the incredible organisations that were showcased last night.

To see the Silver award winning film Escaping Abuse, check out the showreel page or Kidasha where you can also donate. And thanks to Kidasha for allowing me to accompany Janice to the awards!

Thoughts from Nepal

Nepal, a place where giving way at a round about is not a thing. A place where the men wear vests as underwear in 30degree + heat precisely to soak up the sweat. And a place where tea is drunk and offered possibly more times a day than in the UK.

During my filming trip to this warm, stinking, busy, beautiful and exciting country I posted a few private facebook post to friends about some of the projects I’d visited. These posts generated such a response I’ve decided, with Kidasha’s blessing to share some of the anecdotes more publicly.

Little of this is about the actual filming process or indeed about the final film- its more about my personal journey and experiences whilst filming.

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August 2016

# Update 1 on filming in Nepal:
I’ve spent a few days in the Terai of Nepal. Tourists don’t come here. Its stiflingly hot or pelting monsoon at this time of year. It’s radically different to the trekking shops and Buddha worshipping attractions we all associate with Nepal. I’ve been to this area before (when filming Ram the boy who meditated for months on end for the discovery channel) So I adjusted pretty quickly, no major culture shock, no intense surprise at the colours, smells, bumpy roads and mud huts. I filmed the equivalent of a nursery school in a rural village built of mud and straw huts. The women have been trained in early years teaching and take it in turns to provide a healthy meal each day for the children. It’s an incredible example of community cohesion and the children generally do better in school (that means stay in school) because they learn Nepali (many speak a native language only at home) and how to interact with each other in a learning environmtoys-picent. They make toys using local materials which means when they break, they are replaceable. Well-meaning donations of expensive plastic toys often don’t survive very long in the conditions here and of course are too expensive or not available to replace when they’re broken.

 

The women have plans to grow vegetables to then cook for the children creating a kitchen garden, but for now the cows (which roam freely like they own the place) keep destroying the plot so they are trying to raise some funds themselves to build a wall!
What’s unique about this is, Kidasha train a facilitator who in turn trains the local women, the local women then train each other, thus making it sustainable and eventually the charity move on to other communities. They are currently working with 9 communities and the one I visited is pretty much self sufficient now.

Despite the rain, mud, burning sun, sweat and not to mention jet lag, it has been an enlightening couple of days.
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# Update 2 on filming in Nepal:
I’ve been in the bustling city of Pokhara, this IS where tourists come as a base for the Annapurna circuit or general Annapurna trekking.
The tourist area round Lakeside is full of bars, cafes, hotels and trekking shops and is vibrant and chilled out. It’s a far cry from the Pokhara I visited 11 years ago which was just some dirt roads and a lot of hippy type bars built of bamboo, but development and progress has seen this place thrive as a tourist destination. Its not trekking season and in case you weren’t aware there was a huge Earthquake here last year, so international tourism is at a low. Despite that there are a few western faces about, sipping beers, wearing Buddha tee-shirts musing on their great exotic adventure no doubt.
However my days have not been spent on Lakeside, I’ve been in the slums filming young children doing glue in between begging round the bus station – an horrific and distressing sight. Young kids, with nowhere to sleep except the streets or at home with abusive fathers and absent mothers. If they’re lucky the police don’t burn their blankets. Pointing a camera at the faces of 9 and 10 year olds with wild eyes high on glue is something else indeed. Yet some of them are trying to get off the streets, and are attending informal education programmes, which not only are teaching them reading and writing skills, but also life skills about how to buy food, visit a bank, talk to an employer and how to behave in different environments.
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I’ve also been filming with children who are domestic servants or child labourers. One girl I interviewed has been sent here by her family as payment for a family debt, she’s attending an informal education class which hopefully will enable to her go back to school at some point, but when I asked her about her hopes for the future, she said the future was not hers to determine, and that she has no hopes only wild dreams of ever not being in labour. A stark reminder that it is not just as simple as getting her back into school, its about enabling choice and the right to choice, a subtle and complex task.

Kidasha are working with contact centres in the city to train teachers in educating these children in life skills, and run a government accredited programme which fast tracks them into school. Its embarrassing if you’re 12 but have to join the class at school with the 5 year olds because you can’t read or write or even sit still in a class room for ten minutes. So this programme enables them to join in an appropriate level. In many cases Kidasha and its partners have negotiated with the employers to let the children out for an hour or two a day to attend these classes. As you can imagine these are the lucky ones.

 

# Update 3 on filming in Nepal: (if anyone’s still interested!).

As I said, I came to Pokhara 11 years ago for trekking, and its almost unrecognisable to me now. There wasn’t a slum then, or at least my delicate western eyes were protected from it if there was – the slum is made up of families who’ve migrated from the hills looking for work. There’s a multitude of problems facing slum dwellers, not least the constant threat of their shacks being destroyed and bulldozed. I interviewed a very inspiring young man who after his father left the family home, couldn’t cope with his mother’s mental health issues, he dropped out of school, took to the streets and ended up doing glue. After he got beaten up badly on the streets, he got some help though an informal education programme and eventually went back to his house. He’s now 20, works in a hotel legitimately and cooks for his father (who returned after his mother committed suicide shortly after the Earthquake, she couldn’t cope with the aftershocks) and younger brother. Its a terribly sad story, and I was interviewing him in his one room slum house, but he was such an engaging young man, I couldn’t help but feel he’ll be ok, I just hope he can help his younger brother make the right choices too.
I’ve also spent a lot of time this week getting to know some girls who live in a safe house having escaped sexual abuse. Some of them are very young and some of them have been trafficked. One young girl, only 11, told me what happened to her not just once and not just by one perpetrator and it was very difficult to stomach. Again there was a sense of hope for her, she recognises what happened was wrong, she has aspirations of becoming a Doctor, possibly the first person I’ve met who had such grandiose ideas about her own future.
I’ve been meeting those entrenched in poverty, children facing the worst experiences and what I’ve learned is that poverty isn’t all about having no money. By western standards yes it immediately looks like economic poverty, but when you scratch beneath the surface you realise many of the people I’ve met work or hustle and earn something, and all seem to manage to eat. Its about educational poverty, social poverty and intellectual poverty. Even if you have nothing material you need to have the ability to make a choice and that can be the difference between crisis and survival. But for some they’re not able to recognise the choices and that’s what makes them and subsequently their children very vulnerable.

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In other news on my Nepal experience, I’ve realised its almost impossible to stay clean and smelling of roses and now think nothing of wiping dripping sweat from my grimy face with my tee-shirt and then wearing the same tee-shirt the next day. I’m fitting in very well! : )

# Update 4 on filming in Nepal: (cos you said you were interested!)
Spent almost two days filming in a night shelter for the street kids. The same ones doing glue and rag picking that I met a few days ago. I interviewed one boy who hadn’t eaten for two days and then insisted on giving me a boiled egg. Its rude not to accept a gift so however bizarre accepting food from a malnourished street child seemed, there I sat on the concrete floor eating a boiled egg with a boy who can’t sleep on a mattress in the shelter because it will become infested with flees.
The shelter is pretty impressive, the social workers there dealing with all sorts of behavioural and dependency issues, each one unique and challenging. My boiled egg friend is a work in progress, he’s still doing glue and rag picking, but he also attends the non formal education programme (when he’s in the mood) and he told me he looks up to some of the ones who have managed to kick the habit and return to school.
I also spent the day with a slightly older boy who told me now he feels sick if he smells glue and he has returned to school. He ran away from home due to an abusive alcoholic father & uncle and ended up on the street. He is both a role model to the younger ones and a friend. He sleeps with another boy who has also kicked the habit and is learning to be a metal worker (which I could literally film all day long : ) ) they sleep in a different room to the boys still on glue and they are very proud of their promotion to the “clean” room. I filmed in the evening when the monsoon came and rather hilariously they all stripped off and danced in the rain with soap, the older ones ensuring the young ones washed “properly”. They filled their buckets up with rain water from the gutter and threw it over each other squealing with laughter – a bit of light relief from their incredibly hard existence. But soon the monsoon season will be over and water shortages will ensure washing is less frequent. There are strict rules at the shelter and they have to learn to accept them and abide by them, which is hard for any child, but with such chaotic lifestyles as these its incredible to see how successful the shelter is.
This morning I bumped into three of them on the street, “Miss, Miss” they shouted, “Namaste miss” with big smiles and their hands clasped together to their chests! Despite their grubby clothes, solvent aroma and their flees, I shall miss and worry about these boys when I’m gone.

# Final instalment

Well I am back now and about to embark on the mammoth editing task ahead.

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But a note on what I’ve learnt about this type of entrenched poverty. Its very easy for those of us in the developed world to be shocked at seeing some living conditions or lack of material utensils & technology, but ultimately none of that matters. Replacing slum houses with shiny brick built carpeted palaces won’t bring happiness, or cure alcoholism or domestic violence. Nor will building shiny new schools and decking them out with glorious plastic monstrosities that we call toys, permit those in child labour situations to actually go to school. Enabling belief in choice and a right to education, safe working conditions, and sustainable life skills is what will slowly, slowly create positive change. But of course this hard work, this is long term commitment, a one off volunteering opportunity building schools or teaching English in an exotic location won’t really make much difference – what happens when you leave, what happens when the shiny new school remains empty?

And of course this is what impressed me about Kidasha, all of its staff bar one (And you could be forgiven for thinking that one has never been out of Nepal ; ) ) are Nepali, all of its partner organisations staff are Nepali, some even coming from the same difficult backgrounds with a deep understanding of the problems the children face, not a text book understanding a real understanding. All of its volunteers go with purpose and an achievable goal. The aim is not for communities to be reliant on the charity but for the charity to enable social mobility and create the foundation for a sustainable way of life. For all the work I’ve done with charities over the years, this is possibly the most impactful example of this type of approach I’ve seen.

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Check them out www.kidasha.org and check back for details of the film launch!

 

 

Thoughts from the airport

Late August 18 years ago I found myself alone in Heathrow’s terminal 4. I was 18, it had been a great year so far, Arsenal had won the double for the first time in 25 years, I won 50 quid on France winning the World Cup, I’d finished school and was about to got to Australia to live and work and learn about life. But I found myself feeling lonely and a little bit scared, or perhaps apprehensive would be better. To put those feelings to the back of head I used the public pay phone in the departure lounge to call the only person I knew who was guaranteed to pick up, and that was because they were the only I person I knew who owned a mobile phone. Rob O’Reilly. He answered, he was playing James Bond on the Nintendo 64. He wasn’t hugely interested in my chat about feeling lonely. And I only had about 50p for the pay phone anyway. It was a short chat.

Today I am again sitting Heathrow’s terminal 4 awaiting a flight to Kathmandu, there are no phone boxes, I’m charging my very own mobile phone and writing this on my wifi connected lap top – I didn’t even own a computer that time I was here! Its also been a good year, Arsenal haven’t won anything, but team GB have done well at the Olympics, Oliver is starting school and Minty Films seems to be motoring along quite nicely. But I do feel a bit lonely and apprehensive. Lonely because I’ve left behind my family, which I’m feeling terrible about. Oliver has given me one of his cuddly toys, so security have scanned “Carrot Bunny” and took a second glance at my Tupperware box of breadsticks which were lovingly snuck into my bag by the 4 year old.

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Carrot Bunny and I enjoying depart lounge!

And apprehensive because I’m going to meet some desperately poor children, surviving conditions Oliver could not even imagine. And that of course that is the point of the trip. Not to educate Oliver specifically, but to make a film that highlights some of the issues facing those in deepest poverty.

People have wished me a good trip and told me to have fun. I don’t know that being away from your family (which makes you feel pretty bad) and then being immersed with those living in the most shocking of conditions is going to either be “fun” or “good”. But its an important trip, and similar to that trip 18 years ago, its one I never thought I’d do.

Yesterday’s News

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Now, I’d like to invite you to a new exhibition I’m involved with. It runs from the 8th to the 11th of June (2016) at Platform Gallery in Southwark (right near the Young Vic).

Platform is a new art and performance space. Once derelict and empty, the ex cork warehouse has been taken over by a collective of artists who not only provide a temporary project space for the local community but also have a remit to encourage and promote groundbreaking art, music and performance.

The exhibition is called Yesterday’s News and brings together the work of three photographers, documenting three major disasters, across thirty years: Chernobyl, Bosnia and Nepal. Despite detailing three very different tragedies, all the work shares an interest in examining how people live in the wake of catastrophe.
There are a series of mixed media immersive events going on as part of the run. A panel discussion featuring Jane Corbin (of panorama fame) and Tony Barber of the FT is on the 8th – I have the great honour and responsibility of chairing this discussion but despite that I’m sure it will provoke an interesting debate as we explore what the concept of Yesterday’s News means in today’s context. Please contact us if you’d like to attend the discussion.

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I’ve made a short film called ‘A Trilogy of Portraits which gives an insight into each photographer’s inspiration and motivation. It will be shown as part of an installation by set designers to create an immersive journey for viewers. The photographers present their work in collaboration with other artists and the experience intends to create an atmosphere that engages all of the viewers senses. A bespoke sound design which is mirrored during the introduction and ending of the film will fill the room and visitors will be invited to become involved in the textures of the three dimensional installation.

The film as always was good fun to make, I’ve tried to tap into each photographer’s soul – unearthing what makes them tick and why they express themselves through the medium of the lens. Each individual portrait follows a loose format where we meet each of them on a shoot and in their private workspace, and the whole narrative is interspersed with smatterings of their own work.

A Trilogy of Portraits

For a full run down of all the events, artists and speakers involved in the exhibition take a look at the Platform website here or the YN facebook page here.

Big Love

Jodie

Eventing (with a film)

Not the sort with dancing, leaping horses. I mean the type where you wine and dine guests

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Image from John Harwood’s flickr  page

 

under the thinly veiled guise of a not-to-be-missed high profile social occasion which of course we all know is really about selling or fundraising.

But your event doesn’t have to be a soulless sell out. The swell of emotion that can grow in a room of people reacting and experiencing something together as they feed off each other is extremely powerful if harnessed and used positively.

The importance of an exclusive shared experience that can be generated at such events shouldn’t be underestimated, and how better to create such an atmosphere than through screening a film.

Last night Minty Films was proud to have played a small but hopefully significant part in a fundraising exhibition, ‘Aftershock’ by photographer Chris Gravett. The private view at Espacio Gallery kick started a week long exhibition of limited edition prints which detail the work of small charity Kidasha.

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Copyright Chris Gravett
(Other notable works by esteemed documentary photography Chris Gravett include the aftermath of the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh and the documentation of life in a small American town dubbed the Heart of Hometown America.)

 

Kidasha is an incredible organisation that works to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged children and families in Nepal. After the earthquake exactly one year ago yesterday, their work was impacted heavily. The risks the children they were already supporting increased dramatically, and moreover a whole load of new families suddenly were in need of the organisation’s assistance.

So last night saw a big fundraising push to keep the post earthquake aid flowing. Minty Films was asked to produce a film primarily using the stills produced by Chris, intercut with an informative yet impassioned interview with Kidasha CEO Janice Miller.

But here’s the thing, how best to use the film?

It could be been shown on a loop in the corner.

It could be put in a dark room with headphones for individuals to watch at their leisure.

It could just be on a website and a link provided in the brochure.

Of course had this been the case, most probably wouldn’t have bothered to watch it.

To turn the mini screening of the film into an event within the main event is key. Its no coincidence that at many high profile charity events the charity auction is held directly after showing a short film. Fresh in the minds of the captive audience are the real reasons they’re there.

And often a short film will be shown at an event after or preceding the keynote speech.

A film can galvanise an audience, get them on side, tap into their soul and subconsciously they feed off each other’s reactions. Ultimately it’ll help them dig in their pockets a bit deeper.

A number of prints were sold last night with all profits going to Kidasha, the silent auction seemed to be getting wildly competitive and it doesn’t close until the end of the week!  The Exhibition runs until Sunday 1st May and the film (above) can now be viewed across various social media and websites and of course can be seen on a loop in the gallery for quiet private digestion!

https://www.kidasha.org/aftershock/

 

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A Christmas Dinner Message

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Lemn Sissay is a poet. He is the chancellor of Manchester University, he has an MBE. But perhaps most importantly he grew up in care and I expect it is this that has influenced and shaped his life, and it is this that motivates him to put on this incredible event.

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Here he is being a Poet
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Here he is at Manchester

I don’t know Lemn personally but I’ve been privileged enough to be ever so slightly involved in an amazing project he has been running for the last few years.
He has put on a Christmas Dinner for care leavers. To understand what that means and why such an event is needed, just close your eyes, rid yourself of all family memories and imagine for one minute you have no family. No Family to go back to, the idea of going home for Christmas is alien. I’m 35 but every single year (except for the one spent in Kuala Lumpur Airport, and the one spent in a very strange restaurant in Bermuda, oh and the one where the cows in Auckland came to listen to the brass band playing carols on the veranda) I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to go home for Christmas. And even those ones abroad have been spent visiting friends or travelling with family.
Now, not all of us want to go home for Christmas, worse sometimes we have to go to the in-laws, but all this is a familiar comfort and we wouldn’t be without it. But what do you do if you’ve never had that. Perhaps you grew up with various foster families or in an institution – what on earth do you do on Christmas Day and who cooks your turkey and stuffing?

Well this year in Manchester, Leeds and Hackney at least, there is a huge family of volunteers putting on a fabulous Christmas dinner at exclusive locations (not some chilly dank scout hut that’s been given up for free) for young adults in exactly this scenario.

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Volunteers at the Manchester Christmas Dinner (photo from Lemn Sissay FB page)

Lemn is friends with Sally (Abbott), she lives down the road from me. Sally is a writer, you may have seen her name crawling up the credits of Eastenders, Casualty, and most recently The Coroner. – BBC1’s new original daytime drama of choice, and many more.

Sally has been helping Lemn collate Christmas Greetings from those in TV & Soap land. The messages will be played at the Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day.
Now Sally is a script writer and Lemn is a poet. What does a script writer and a poet do with this footage? Well its obvious of course. I edit it, turn it into a little film of Christmas joy. No messages from men on the moon, no fancy graphics, no mogs, nothing too flashy. Just a simple editing job and one I’m very happy to have been part of.

 

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If you think you’d like to be involved in organising or donating towards a Christmas Dinner next year then get in touch with Lemn now!

Merry Christmas.

PS I can’t share the film here because it has been especially created for those at the Christmas Dinner, but I hope you enjoyed a few of the screen grabs from it above.
Photos of Lemn from his FB & Twitter pages other stills from film.