Breaking the Silence: The Women of Bosnia

“In all our public appearances, the message to victims is to break the silence and speak out, publicly and loudly about what they survived. Not just for us, but for themselves and for future generations to know, if, god forbid, such evil happens again, how to stand up to it, how to fight for their dignity.”

Bakira Hasečić – Bosnian Women’s Activist and Rape Survivor

In 1995, at the height of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serb Nationalist forces conducted a campaign of rape, sexual abuse and torture against Bosnian Muslim women as part of a policy of ethnic cleansing.  It is estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped, many of them in ‘rape camps’ where they were forcibly detained to prevent them terminating unwanted pregnancies as a result of the attacks.

The genocidal campaign also resulted in the deaths of more than 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica and the surrounding forests.  Some men and boys managed to find their way home years later from internment camps and centres in neighbouring countries, others will never be found, so we will never know the true number of victims.

How does a society even begin to process such brutality?  How can the survivors begin to rebuild their lives as single parents in a war savaged society?  How can we find the language to speak of these atrocities to ensure that they are never repeated?  When I started film making, it was to try and redress the balance in media – to amplify voices of people who are rarely heard.  In places of conflict, the need to hear other narratives is even more important, to foster understanding between people and create conditions for peace and reconciliation.

It has therefore been a privilege and a challenge to play a part in sharing the testimonies of survivors of genocidal rape for Remembering Srebrenica.  The Charity is encouraging the public to ‘Break the Silence’ on violence against women and girls, and has used these powerful stories to highlight just how important it is to speak out against such extreme violence and hatred.

A Bosnian film crew interviewed a number of women, who recounted their horrendous experiences.  Unbelievably, many people deny that the genocide took place and many women live alongside the perpetrators of these crimes, who continue to walk freely.  Speaking out is a brave and radical act, which risks repercussions.

It has been my job to edit these interviews together into two films, alongside archive footage from the conflict.  The films are available to view on Remembering Srebrenica’s website and Social Media accounts – to date they have had almost 80,000 views between them.  The longer, seven minute film, was screened in May at the Scottish Parliament at a special event hosted by MSPs Ruth Davidson and Johann Lamont.  Scottish Labour Party leader, Kezia Dugdale has since been out to Bosnia to learn more.

Tomorrow I am attending a very special event at London’s Guildhall for Srebrenica Memorial Day.  In attendance will be some Bosnian women who have been active and vocal in ensuring that such atrocities are never repeated.  They have dedicated their lives to seeking justice in their communities and in the courts.  Politicians from across the political spectrum will also be there and will watch the film.

We all have a role to play in challenging the bigotry, intolerance and hatred which create the conditions for these horrors to occur.  That such events happened so recently and so close to home should act as a warning to us all that dehumanising groups of people and creating a climate of fear and paranoia can have real and devastating consequences.

Both films contain graphic accounts of sexual violence.

Anyone for tea and cake?

On Thursday I will be representing the People’s Heritage Co-operative at Arts Connect’s Artist and Teachers Tea Party.  It’s an chance for teachers to explore opportunities for commissioning creative projects in schools which can enhance the school curriculum.  I’ve blogged about some of the projects I’ll be showcasing over on the People’s Heritage Co-operative blog, including giving a sneak peek of the Women’s History Birmingham project pictured above (more on that soon!).

If you are in any doubt as to how important the arts are to education then it’s well worth 20 minutes of your time to watch Ken Robinson’s TED talk: Do Schools Kill Creativity?  In his talk he outlines the importance of encouraging young people to access creative learning opportunities.

If you are a teacher and are interested then book online.  The event runs from 3:00pm-5:30pm at mac Birmingham.  Come and say hi – there will be cake aplenty!

Feasting on Brain Food

Freelancers may recognise the conundrum.  We get to pick and choose projects, working nomadically, taking inspiration from those we work with, learning new skills and forging new relationships.  But getting tantalising tastes of what others are doing and not having our own roots can be a frustrating experience.

Over a decade into working in this way, I’m seeking a way to develop projects with more depth, more impact and longer term relationships and collaborations.  That means standing back and asking some important questions.  How can I be braver in using film and media (or another medium altogether?) to tell stories that matter?  How can I find co-conspirators and collaborators to develop projects which are genuinely participatory and have a positive impact on people’s lives?  What is it that I do well and what is unique about what I do?  What skills am I lacking?  How do I define what I do when my interests seem so broad and hard to pin down?

Lately I’ve been investing some time in trying to find answers to some of these big questions.  The first step was actually articulating some of this to people around me.  It turns out I have some very wise and inspiring friends who were able to see a perspective on my work and career that has eluded me whilst in the midst of raising two little ones.  Special thanks goes to Jane Ralls for her excellent coaching session, Sandra and Lee at Friction Arts for insisting on making space for me to get curious and Aimee Green Bourne for prodding me to play.  Note to self: meet up with friends more.

The next step has been to enrol in some more formal learning around leadership, participatory arts practice and facilitation.  I am on the cusp of completing Arts Connect WM’s ‘Arts Leadership Development Programme’.  Learning about the journeys of other ‘Leaders’ in the Arts and Cultural sector has been really inspiring – I guess that’s why I’m determined to share my own thoughts, to throw open the conversation a bit more.  There is so much to learn from others in the arts, yet we usually just see the finished product, rather than the journey that people have made.  That’s the bit I want to learn more about, warts and all, and I hope to interrogate people a lot more in the near future!

I have some rough ideas of next steps that I’m not quite ready to share – there are a few more courses and conversations planned in the near future which will help me decide on what happens next.

I’m curious as to whether any of this resonates with anyone else reading this.  Where are you on the journey, what have you learnt along the way and is there value in sharing your own journey with others?  I’ll be sharing updates from time to time, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

If I Could Reach Home

If I Could Reach Home‘ is a project which brings together Bharatanatyam and Kathak dance with exploring themes of home and belonging.  Devised by the very talented Magdalen Gorringe, both professional and non-professional dancers have been choreographing their own works to perform at mac Birmingham and Rowheath Pavillion.  Both performances feature BBC Young Dancer Category Finalist Vidya Patel.

14650350_639046379602380_1254002525419318708_nBharatanatyam is a traditional Indian dance form which is set to classical poetry, but Magdalen wanted to play with the discipline and incorporate other voices into the piece.  The two performances will feature poetry created by female asylum seekers and two community groups from Kings Heath and Bournville.

I have been documenting some of the project to date, and it has been inspiring to observe how the easily dance has developed alongside a narrative – even for people who may not regard themselves as dancers.  I have one more rehearsal session to film before I film the final performance at Rowheath Pavillion.  Tickets are sold out at mac, but do try and nab a ticket for Rowheath.  And if you REALLY can’t make it, then I will be sharing the work online in the next few months.

mac Birmingham – 20th November – 4pm.  SOLD OUT

Rowheath Pavillion – Friday 2nd December – 8pm.  Tickets available online or by ringing 0121 458 1711.

Confessions of a lazy blogger

Hum – so it’s been a while since I’m blogged anything I notice.  I’ve not gone away.  Or at least I did go away, had a baby (yes, another one!) then got back to the business of making more lovely films, albeit on a part time basis.  Fellow travellers in the world of creative and freelance work will know that time is precious when small people enter the equation, so I’ve been head down in work when I’ve not had small children tugging at my legs (and sometimes even when they have been tugging at my legs!).  Sorry for the silence!

So, what to update you with?  Here are a few projects I’ve worked on to give you a flavour…

I’ve been so lucky to work yet again with the fabulous team at DanceXchange who as ever are doing pioneering work in bringing Dance to new audiences.  This time I documented ‘Strive’, a training scheme devised to support Dance Artists in their work with vulnerable and marginalised groups.  The rigor and thought that went into the scheme was fantastic, with plenty for me to take away and use in my own practice.

There have been some really powerful stories that I have been privileged enough to share over the past couple of years.  A series of short films for Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust focused on the stories of patients and carers to try to unpick what ‘care’ means to them.  From a mother of a terminally ill child to a nurse with an unapologetically forthright approach to delivering care, the films really showed how complex a subject it can be.  The films are now part of a package of training materials shown to medical students prior to placements.

Another project in Rowley Regis brought to the screen some research done by a group of adults with learning disabilities. They wanted to share their experiences and frustrations as they navigate their way through the many challenges they face in the day to day – including paying bills and filling in forms, finding work, doing shopping and paying for the Bedroom Tax.

On a much more lighthearted note, I continued my longstanding relationship with The Lichfield Festival by helping a group of young people film a series of shorts, all filmed at Chasewater Light Railway.  The filming was silly amounts of fun and hopefully that’s reflected in the finished films!

I have also been collaborating with other Film Makers – the very talented Sam Lockyer and James Watson of Iconic Productions.  We worked together throughout last Summer to film twelves short films for Nottinghamshire County Council, focusing on The Care Act and the range of services being delivered throughout the County.  You may recognise the voice on some of the voiceovers!

Right – back to it with an edit. And this time I will be sharing it widely when it’s done!

I’m back!

IMAG0056

It’s almost a year since I last updated the blog (If you read my last post then you will have some idea why.  Little Bean is now a big, crawling all over the place Big Bean who goes by the name of Adam – or Adamdamdamdam if you ask him).

I’m now working part time and I’m fortunate enough to be working on a really interesting and diverse range of projects.  Some of them are a continuation of work I was doing before Maternity Leave, most of them are completely new projects I’m working on.

I’d like to say a big thank you to all of the people that I’ve worked with that have been willing to be flexible as I juggle being a new Mum with my freelance work.  What I feared would be a really stressful period has been really enjoyable!

A new member of the crew

Within a matter of days I’ll be welcoming the latest member of the crew on board… ‘Little Bean’ as our as yet unborn offspring has come to be known, will be joining James and I sometime in the next couple of weeks, so I’ll be somewhat distracted from work for a bit!

My Maternity Leave is now underway (no really, it is!), and I am officially on leave until September. However, do get in touch through the usual channels with questions and job offers as I’ll gradually be returning to work, albeit on a part time basis.

About a week to go?

I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who has wished me well and supported me throughout my pregnancy (especially those who have happily lugged film equipment round for me!). I’m looking forward to getting stuck into some new projects with a fresh perspective when I return!

2011 – The Year in Review

This year has been a pretty shoddy year for blogging. Thankfully that’s because it’s been a fantastic year of increasingly ambitious, interesting film projects with wonderful people. This blogpost is a bit of a round-up with some thank yous thrown in!

2011 montage

Pool of Memories

One of the most exciting and rewarding projects has been finally getting the ‘Pool of Memories’ project underway. After months and months of plotting and planning our funding application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, ‘Friends of Moseley Road Baths’ were able to throw ourselves into implementing an extensive and exciting programme of oral history interviews about the swimming baths and its 104 year history. I’ve been working in schools around Balsall Heath and Moseley to bring History to life for local pupils through using our interactive Virtual Tour website and Pool of Memories archive, then guiding groups through filming their own oral history interviews with members of the public. The response has been wonderful and it’s been difficult to keep a check on my enthusiasm in order for us to actually get the projects done!  Here is a taster of what we’ve been up to in the six projects completed so far!


What’s Wrong With Wolverhampton?

There was also no shortage of enthusiasm, or talent, from students at Mediacove who I worked with at the start of the year to create a documentary ‘Wolverhampton in Focus’ which investigated the claim by a Lonely Planet article that Wolverhampton was amongst the worst cities in the world!  Needless to say we uncovered a huge amount of positive stuff going on.  The documentary was a springboard for a live streamed debate, where the group took charge of finding panelists, chairing the discussion and filming the whole thing in the Mediacove studio.  I thought it was a fantastic template for empowering and innovative media work, but don’t take my word for it… here’s the Behind the Scenes film where the group talk about how the experience has changed their lives.  More information on the Mediacove blog

Young people making films

As the cuts to youth projects began to bite I spent some time with young people at Fox Hollies Forum in Acocks Green producing a short film with them to highlight the need for good quality, safe youth provision in their neighbourhood.  The group did a fantastic job of making their case and the film formed part of a wider campaign of lobbying and demonstrations that certainly puts any notion of apathetic young people to rest!

Meanwhile pupils in and around Billesley took part in a range of fun after-school clubs organised by the lovely crew over at Balsall Heath’s very own Round Midnight.  I led a range of film-making workshops which saw Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils getting to grips with using camera equipment and exploring how they can create their own short films.  I also joined the gang at Round Midnight to help pupils document arts activities happening at King Edward VI Girls Grammar School in Handsworth.

Promoting health

2011 has also been a year of promoting some important areas of the NHS, specifically services aimed at supporting children and families.  The year began with a whopping 10,000 DVDs of my Health Visitor film going into production to be distributed to new parents across Birmingham.  As I type there are a further 1,000 copies of a film about the referral process for children with suspected ADHD in production.  A third film aimed at young people and carers outlines the health services provided through the ‘Looked After Children’s Health Team’ for children and young people in the care system in Birmingham and will go into production shortly.  That project involved working with pupils at Firsbrook School in Quinton to create a short animation – loads of fun and my first animation!

A day in the woods

One of the most fun parts of my job is the opportunity to delve into other people’s worlds.  I was really lucky to be able to join a group of three and four year olds in Moorcroft Woods as they explored the woodland through the use of stories, crafts and their own observations.  The ‘Forest School’ supported by the Wildlife Trust and run through Rowley View Nursery School is all about getting kids out of the classroom and giving them opportunity to get muddy and let their imaginations run wild.  The response from the kids was absolutely wonderful to see and it’s hoped that more schools will grasp the opportunity to get involved in similar schemes off the back of the short promotional film we produced.

Film training

Finally I made a couple of trips down to London to deliver film-making workshops to the lovely folks at Friends of the Earth.  This is one of my favourite bits of work as it’s always hugely amusing to see what adults get up to when they’re given free rein to play with a camera!  I’ll leave you with a short film produced in one short hour long session – it shows you what can be created in a short space of time, as well as giving you some tips for your own film-making!

Huge thanks to all of the organisations I’ve worked with over the past year and all who have assisted in bringing some great stories and projects to light! Happy film-making for 2011!

Moseley Road Baths

As you may or may not be aware, when I’m not making films I’m running around doing stuff with the rather lovely group that call ourselves the ‘Friends of Moseley Road Baths‘. As the Baths’ friends we highlight its current plight (open at half capacity with just one pool, in need of urgent repairs and with its future hanging in the balance), campaign for its future and importantly, help celebrate its past.

Pool of Memories Day

As part of that I worked with members of the group to make a successful funding application to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a whopping great £48,000 for a ‘Pool of Memories‘ project!  I won’t go into huge detail about the project here as I’ve already spent the evening blogging, tweeting and mailing like crazy. However, I draw attention to it now as we have a rather exciting event coming up on Saturday 30th October.

It’s the Memories and Memorabilia Day and there’s loads of stuff going on, including a talk by the lovely people at Victoria Baths in Manchester, tours of the building, and yours truly interviewing people about their memories of the place.  We also have cake!

Come along and find out more about it!

Lichfield Festival roundup

A week after the film-making workshop at Lichfield Festival and I’m still smiling!  Last Saturday saw me running around the Festival Market with a band of aspiring film-makers, grabbing interviews and bits of footage of some of the highlights of the Festival.  With a carnival atmosphere, gorgeous sunshine and the whole thing overlooked by the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral there was plenty to film!

We focused on the Festival Fairies, found out the true story of Punch and Judy, scouted for Scouts and caught some of the live dance performances.  Whilst I gave some guidance on planning the shoot and showed the group how to use the equipment, the group worked together to do all the filming, even approaching complete strangers to get interviews.

Lichfield Festival film crew

The night before had been the Premiere of the Memory Box project.  I’m now going to be producing DVDs of the films, which will be shown to school pupils to give them a better understanding of the Second World War.  The National Memorial Arboretum will be playing the films in their Visitor Centre, and of course we will be giving copies to all of the interviewees.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to staff at Stowe Short Stay School and St Francis of Assisi Catholic Technology College, the National Memorial Arboretum and the interviewees who kindly agreed to share their memories with us.  I’d also like to give a plug to Jennifer Smith who has made both projects happen.  As well as her sterling work setting up Learning and Participation programmes for Lichfield Festival she runs Spit Spot Theatre Company and is active in The Grange Players in Walsall.  She’s a busy gal, but if the opportunity to work with her ever arises, grab it with both hands!

Lichfield Festival Premiere