FILM-MAKING WITH CHARITIES: PT.3 – other ways of working with charities

Posted: April 12, 2013 in Charity stuff


As well as getting charities to support your ideas and films, there are other ways of working with charities on film projects – albeit maybe not YOUR film projects.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a number of charities on user engagement projects – projects engaging with the charity’s target client group to make music, drama, theatre pieces and films. In these cases, you become less a film-maker, more a facilitator, with the participants becoming the film-makers. However, whilst these may result in films that are not entirely yours in vision, content and direction, they may produce films that are more heartfelt and insightful than you would anticipate; they can provide a unique and authentic insight into the lives of those you are working with and supporting… And it may lead to more links with that charity, or with their media contacts.

Shelter – animations

The first time I experienced this was working with Shelter and the superb ‘socially engaged’ animation company Salmagundi Films. I managed an animation project with a group of ten 8-13 year olds from Newham, east London. All had experienced life in temporary accomodation, and made stirring and incredibly powerful short animations about their experiences, hopes and dreams – which subsequently led to Shelter’s Director of Communications, Policy and Campaigns hailing them as ‘the best piece of AV I’ve seen in years’. (See some of their shorts here) The films were subsequently screened at the Stratford Circus, and the children involved got a standing ovation – which I can honestly say, given my understanding of these children’s backgrounds and situations, was also one of my proudest moments in my life

The success of this film also subsequently led to further film work with the project (including the excellent spoken word project, which worked with teenagers to discuss their dreams, hopes, fears and issues through spoken word); and also opened up further discussions with Shelter about other support they could provide for other film projects.

D.I.Y – volunteering with a charity

In 2007, I co-founded WAYout, an international arts charity originally working with Sierra Leonean street children and disadvantaged youth on music and video projects, but soon expanding to include (and largely focus on) film projects. These projects gave young people the opportunity to get their voices heard but also improved their confidence, got them off the streets and building relations with their families again, and led to actual jobs and careers in the Sierra Leonean TV industry. The benefits to the beneficiaries have been immeasurable – but the benefits and impact on the volunteers who led the projects – music video producers, TV professionals, screen-writers and aspiring film-makers – has also been huge. And I include myself in this. The opportunity to work in such a setting and support aspiring creatives in a totally different country, seeing life from their perspective, has provided a whole new sense of appreciation for the potential and passion of film-making. Don’t take it from me – read some of the volunteers’ own comments and come and volunteer with WAYout here! (plug plug).

Sierra Da Paradise, music video made by street homeless youth from the Black Street Gang, supported by music video producer and WAYout volunteer Brian McAndrew

As an individual, it also provided me with an opportunity to work with another NGO, Marie Stopes International. WAYout worked with Marie Stopes to run a script-writing competition in Sierra Leone about STIs and family planning. The standard of the submissions was very high, and subsequently led to both WAYout and Marie Stopes wanting to make the two winners’ scripts into full films, to be shown across Sierra Leone as part of Marie Stopes’ campaigning. And, in the absence of a readily available director, this is where I jumped in. We had a very short timescale to cast, rehearse and shoot the films (I was only in Sierra Leone for a few weeks, and working on other WAYout projects at the same time), and both films had to be filmed in English and Krio – the latter of which I had a limited understanding of. We had one day to shoot the full films (both with multiple locations and numerous cast to coordinate), and the heat was something else. It was a test of endurance for all of us, but given the very tight turnaround, we were pretty happy with the final outcome. And – again – it was a great experience, opportunity and learning curve for me as a film-maker, and gave me the confidence to use Krio in one of my films ‘AK’.

Trouser Trouble, produced in Krio, for Marie Stopes International

Open Cinema

In a previous role working managing a homeless support centre in west London, we worked with Open Cinema. Open Cinema runs film clubs and workshops in homeless shelters and hostels. They invited Paul McGann to present to the charity’s homeless users, and invited BAFTA-award winner Martina Amati to run a successful film-making workshop, inspiring the attendees to make a film about their dreams. Florian’s Dream went on to be screened at the Open City Film Festival, with several of the film-makers attending – a hugely important and inspirational moment for them.

There are a number of charities and not-for-profit organisations that support working with film-makers in this way – and some even have funding to afford film-makers to work with them on these projects.

Humbled and inspired

All of these experiences were thoroughly enjoyable, quite humbling, and provided incredible insight into the lives of these people – insight that has subsequently gone on to inspire screenplays and short films (including my recent shorts ‘AK’ and ‘Move’ – both of which worked with talented young people I had first worked with on the Shelter film projects). Whilst the project you work on may no longer be ‘your’ film, more their film you are facilitating, and the outcomes may be not what you expected – they may also be surprising, and on occasion more insightful and better than you could’ve hoped for.

This close-working with the charity may also again open up other opportunities to work with the charity on film projects in the future. Again, as a charity manager, should I be in a position to commission a campaign film, I would be more likely to approach a film-maker that I was aware of, familiar with and trusted their work than some unknown faceless ad agency.

We’ve also found that they can help connect you to interested media partners and, all importantly, they’ve helped us find contributors as well.

Well worth doing, if you can.


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