What A Difference A Film Makes

Social Change and Moving Image

Ross Hunter

One of the largest questions to come from the current Post Office Scandal is: “Why did it take a TV drama to draw attention to the injustice suffered by the postmasters?” Although it is a fair question from a journalistic perspective, as a creative practitioner, I understand fully the power of drama to engage with larger social issues, resonate with audiences on a deep level and motivate social change. It is something that, at The Iris, I have been fortunate to be a part of.

When working with narrative drama based on true stories or experiences, a good piece of work can distil the essence of the subject matter at hand, understand the points or methods that will connect with others and find a way to tell the story that offers justice to those directly affected. At The Iris, we believe that the best way to do this is to make sure that those who are affected by a particular issue or set of circumstances are empowered and educated in equal measure; that they have the power to tell their story in a manner that is truthful, sympathetic, open, transparent and evocative. When the reality leads the narrative, we find exciting new ways to communicate with others, using a medium that has been a part of our collective upbringing: the screen.

Last year, we were proud to be involved with two film projects that made a big difference in terms of social change. We produced The Weekend, a short film that was written, directed and performed by young carers with our guidance, expertise and support; a group of young people who look after parents, siblings and older family members whilst attending school, managing households and trying their best to have the same quality of life as other people their age. When we first started listening to young carers share their experiences, it became immediately obvious that there is no cookie cutter solution to the issues they face. There may be some similarities, but being a young carer means so many different things. The reasons you must care for someone, the needs that they have, the impacts on their lives. As a result, the short film we created focused on three central characters over a shared period of a weekend. Normally a time for young people to pursue their own interests, these young people spent their time selflessly giving to others.

The film successfully told these stories, but the true marker of social change is the legacy of the film once it is in the public domain, engaging with audiences. We were fortunate enough to work with Claire Flanagan, the Young Carers Strategy Lead Officer for South Ayrshire, whose tireless energy in using the film as an instrument for social change has led to the film being used in schools nationally, raised awareness of what young carers face across the UK, won various innovation awards and led to Government looking at ways to better support young carers in their roles. By using film to share their stories, a group of young carers who thought that what they did every day was pretty unremarkable, have now been able to make positive and lasting change for a plethora of young people in the same position.

As well as social change, film can bring about social justice by reframing existing narratives in a modern context. Ayr is littered with statues of prominent men from a bygone era who are celebrated without context, whereas infamous names such as Maggie Osbourne exist within the local public conscious without an understanding of their reality. Our work with the Ayr North Time Team in looking at the women accused of witchcraft in our town led to Hystayria: The Ageless Persecution of Women, a piece of theatre that we later developed into a short film that tells the story of the 29 women and one man who were executed in Ayr for witchcraft, 11 more than in the notorious town of Salem in Massachusetts. This was a film, devised and performed by a local group of historians that focuses on the reality by exploring the way that simple things that we take for granted, such as airing opinions, were twisted and used as ‘evidence’ to execute innocent women. The film will also be used in schools and was screened across the three Ayrshires in the 16 Days of Action-a campaign that highlights violence against women and girls and how we can make positive changes. This will start by looking to publicly exonerate the executed innocent who are still marked as criminals to this day, drawing an important parallel to how we first began this conversation, that drama on our screens can bring about positive social change.

As a creative practitioner, through my work with The Iris, I feel like I have an accord with my audiences; a mutual agreement. I promise to do my best to help the voiceless share their stories and connect with others to highlight the change we’d want to see for ourselves. And so far, it has been the case where audiences have used their collective voice to take what those people have tried to share and use that power to create that change.

Long may it continue.