I got into youth film making projects because I needed some work, and for a while felt pretty out to sea with it. But the more I did the more I got into it, realising that just because I'm working with a group of young people who are new to filmmaking doesn't mean we can't make something worthwhile and 'good' together. Stuff I'd be proud of if I'd made it on my own. More often than not I find a kind of freedom in these projects. Sometimes a participant will do something with a shot or piece of equipment that I've made a loose rule against for one reason or another, but it totally works. Or we'll work in a style I've always wanted to try but never got round to, etc etc. And I like sharing what I've learned so far. The whole package pushes me and gets me psyched.
Take the KIN project with Vox Liminis for example - a project led by a group of young people working creatively to open a dialogue about having a family member in prison.
We've all been young which is usually the common denominator I start with when confronted with a new group, but family imprisonment is a topic I have no experience or knowledge of, and this group were mostly in their early twenties. Goodbye once again comfort zone! I didn't need to worry, this was a very creative, deep-thinking bunch, and it was a privilege to be let into their lives briefly.
So, as an unusual project for me, I thought I'd write a little about the process that went into making KIN.
I often start a film with a piece of text, and KIN has definitely strengthened that part of my practice. Before we met, Vox sent myself and two other artists working on the project some short videos and pieces of writing the group had worked on in previous workshops. I was immediately reminded of the power of tackling a topic without taking it head on - most of the writing was anecdotal and abstract, making it all the more intriguing, and building a picture of these young people that went beyond a relative of theirs being in prison. Funny how much is said in what isn't said. One small sentence that struck the whole team was about a participant talking to trees when they were younger. It made us think of being able to speak without worrying about a response.
We had less than 48 hours to decide on a concept and shoot the film during a residency at Hospitalfields in Arbroath in January. The plan was real collaboration with the young people taking the lead, but other than that we were starting from scratch. We had a beautiful old house and its grounds to work with, the individual and collective experiences of the participants, a camera and a massive topic to explore and communicate. Performance artist Lou Brodie suggested we got started with each of us personalising a passage from Full Metal Jacket, and this became the foundation of the film.
We recorded these passages sitting on the floor in a quiet room for voice over, and took the talking to the trees idea outside. Each member of the group found a spot in the grounds they liked for one reason or another, I hooked them up to a radio mic, and they spoke without any of us knowing what they were saying. Some went through their pieces of writing, some spoke to a family member, some talked through the ideas which had become their piece of writing. It created a personal space, an intimate set of rushes, and looked pretty sweet. In the edit we were able to weave these moments together with the voice over to create a sort of stream of thought, at once specific to an individual, then shared with another group member as they happened to say the same words, or were almost able to speak to one another through what they had written. Multi-faceted if you will.
Next was how to adapt our surroundings to fit our concept. What did a big, grand old house have to do with us? We found that we were drawn to filming outdoors more than indoors, and decided the house and its grandeur represented a box, conforming, judgement, old ideas. Being outdoors was a fresh start, breaking out, turning away from established ways of thinking. This is why we focused on a sunrise, grass growing through leaves, climbing a tree. It was important to us all that there was joy and hope in our film. Again, we explored the space as a group, with each participant pointing out shots they wanted to get because of what a certain part of the house or grounds represented to them.
The edit has been equally collaborative. More accustomed to sitting alone at my desk to bash out a rough cut, we watched the rushes together at the next group meeting and talked through our ideas for the film. Everyone was inspired by Gigi's moment of talking to the trees when she says 'I regret not saying this before but...', and we decided to take that idea and develop it a little, with each participant recording a message there and then to their family member. I think this was an important moment - while the bulk of the film is quite abstract and open, we also wanted to talk directly about the participants' relationships with their relative in prison because of the open dialogue they are trying to build. I then went away for a few hours and presented the beginnings of a rough cut which we discussed again - what was working, what wasn't. This was a totally new way of working for me, which I don't think would work with just any old team. Since then I created two more fine cuts between which feedback was collected and changes were made, finishing with this final film.