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Waterfront Festival

Homeless Film Festival 2012

2 April 12 interview: Penny Reeve
photos: Ash Bird

This April sees the inaugural Homeless Film Festival, a nationwide turning of the spotlight back on to a problem that’s getting bigger and runs deeper, than ever before - and it’s all down to Notts and Manchester collective, Donkey Stone. We spoke to Jamie Rhodes about its aims and ambitions...

Jamie Rhodes from Donkey Stone Films

Bring us up to speed on Donkey Stone.
We were set up in 2009 by four people who all went to Manchester Metropolitan University together. First and foremost we are a creative filmmaking collective who produce evocative
and visually exciting work. We also do a lot of education work through Broadway - one of the biggest educational projects we did was with eight schools throughout Nottingham, making eight short films over a period of five months, which was pretty intense. Our educational and community work is about making film more accessible to everyone, encouraging others to explore their creativity through this medium. You also get a lot of amazing stories from being around and working with people.

What sparked the interest in homelessness?
We went to Cannes the week before the film festival and took some cameras in case there was an opportunity to make a film out there. We met a few homeless people, some of whom mentioned how homeless people came to Cannes from all over Europe because of the influx of wealth during the festival. Then before the cameras arrive, the police quite forcibly throw them out. Also, one of our team has an uncle who did some photography work for the Framework charity which got us thinking about how we could work with them as an organisation.

And you went from there to covering the Homeless World Cup in Paris last year.
It was an absolutely brilliant event, fantastic - it was very moving to see the pride on people’s faces as they represented their country. We shot over 390 fifteen-minute football games, so it was hard work. This year it’s being filmed in Mexico; hopefully we can get out and film it again.
So tell us about the Homeless Film Festival.
We wrote an application for funding to IdeasTap, and were chosen from hundreds of applicants to receive funding to get the festival off the ground. We set up filmmaking workshops for homeless people that were about pulling together as a team and raising confidence and self esteem. In filmmaking everyone matters, which is important - they often feel that they don’t. Their films weren’t about being homeless - there are already lots of movies out there about that and they’re quite harrowing - it was about giving them an outlet for creativity, which can be very cathartic. They can also earn UCAS points and get access to further education through this scheme. The point of the festival is that it’s a celebration of all the good work they’ve done, and putting it in the media spotlight.

And it’s not just the films we’ve shot; we’ve had films submitted from all over the world, free feature films that’ll have UK premieres - even one that’s a world premiere. There’ll be Q&As with the producers and directors after the major feature film, and Tony Garnett and Ray Brooks - the producer and lead actor from Cathy Come Home, the massively influential BBC drama about homelessness in the sixties - are going to be there. There’ll also be other visual arts on show, such as photography and paintings.

Why is this a good platform for raising awareness of homelessness?
The nature of being homeless is that you don’t have a voice or representation; you can feel quite separate from society. Visual arts are a great way to represent things, put ideas across and bring to light things that you may not have thought about before. It just makes sense to marry the two things.

Has working on the festival altered your opinion of homelessness?
Definitely. It’s really made me aware of the wide scope of degrees and reasons of homelessness, and the stereotype that all homeless people are addicts and are homeless due to substance abuse and dependency. People end up homeless for a lot of

Will you keep working with the filmmakers from this year’s festival?
Ideally they will be able to come next year and work in a mentor capacity – they will have gone from learning to helping other people to learn. It won’t be the case that if they’re no longer homeless they can’t be involved, but we’ll also target new groups each year. We’ll keep working alongside WISH and Framework, it’s be great to work with a charity in each area that we hold the festival so that everywhere has the option to do the workshops, as well as show the films. We’d also love to get more sponsorship and funding so that we can donate cameras to the homeless centres so that they can make more films.

Did you encounter any issues whilst filming?
Because of the chaotic nature of the homeless people’s lives, one of the biggest challenges was trying to get a core group of people to come every week. Someone could come one week and then not turn up and you didn’t know the reason, then some weeks we’d have a whole batch of new faces and we’d have to start all over again. In the end we had a core group of about five, but some of the story that was written right at the beginning was written by people that had moved on and we don’t know where they are. It can be quite sensitive, particularly with the women’s shelter because some of them are fleeing domestic violence. We can’t use their pictures to help promote the project as it puts them at risk.

Did you receive any negative responses from people during the workshops?
We had people that came once and weren’t really interested so didn’t come again, but no-one was really against what we were doing. Some of the people wanted to get involved but were a bit, well, suspicious - they had a bit of a wall up against us. They did warm to us though and that’s a valuable part of the experience that they’ve formed relationships with people that they may not have otherwise. When we went out, for instance we shot a scene in a shop and they had to go in and ask if we could shoot - for someone with low self-esteem it’s quite a big thing to do that.

How do you think the recent recession has affected the homeless?
I think there have always been a huge variety of reasons why people have been made homeless, but the recession has caused money issues that have affected more people - the number of people on the street in the past couple of years has risen a huge amount. Also, a lot of the funding has been cut from the shelters so people have to be moved on a lot quicker, it feels a bit like turning tables at a restaurant now: getting them in, getting them out and then getting the next ones in. That’s not good because homeless and vulnerable people often need prolonged support. 

How can the people of Nottingham help out?
Donate anything you can spare - we’ve set up a donation point on the website. Spreading the word about what we’re doing in different cities is great because we’re putting homelessness in the media spotlight throughout the nation during April in Nottingham, London, Sheffield, Manchester, Belfast, Newcastle, Dublin and Derby. Like us on facebook, follow us on twitter and blog about what we’re doing. If anyone wants to do community screenings of any of the films, in schools, community centres and such, they can show them to raise awareness.

The Homeless Film Festival takes place at Broadway Cinema on Wednesday 4 April and nationwide throughout April.

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