Can indie documentaries change the world?

Hayley documetary - taken from their website


A media forum hosted at Goldsmiths University this week informed students about the importance of documentaries in changing the world and how to get involved in making their own films.

The forum, which was chaired by Tony Dowmunt, a senior Lecturer in Communications at Goldsmiths, who was joined by two special guests; Sue Clayton, a British feature film writer and director and Steve Presence from Digital Cultures Research Centre at the University of West of England, Bristol.

Clayton, who has recently joined the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, showcased her documentary Hamedulla: The Road Home on Thursday, 23 October.

The 2012 documentary Hamedullah: The Road Home tells the story of an Afghan teenager who came to the UK alone as a child, and was seized and deported to his former home in Afghanistan after a dawn raid in Canterbury in November 2008 at the age of 18.

The award-winning documentary has an emotive and personal tone with the use of footage captured personally by Hamedullah on a video camera Sue gave him before he returned to Afghanistan.  It documents his fight to survive and fit into a country that is completely foreign to him.

After the screening Clayton, spoke about her own struggle to get her documentary commissioned by television executives and provided students with useful tips. Clayton said: “I went to docs, arts, current affairs, and undercover with no luck. Everywhere I wanted to tell it I had imposed on it:  impartiality, entertainment or even game show formats. This is why we need an independent sector.”

Clayton took the documentary around the world to 127 events.  It became key in changing policy and laws. She said: “The network I created over 3-4 years had political effects. Someone saw it from the UNHCR – and screened it at one of their big events. I was invited to Geneva at UNHCR to address the policy unit – who construct the documents that advise governments as to what should happen to young asylum seekers.

“This year I was invited by Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords to work with them to draft new amendments to their Immigration Bill.  Two clauses in the new Immigration Act says that all young people should have an independent guardian and legal representation. At the moment they don’t have a chance.”

The documentary has also been influential in court cases in which lawyers show the film as part of evidence to keep young asylum seekers in the UK.

The second speaker, Steve Presence who is a co-founder of Radical Film Network  – a group that has been instrumental in getting radical fiction documentaries screened nationwide in pioneering ways.

Presence explained that he was disillusioned with the lack of radical documentaries that were actually being commissioned and being shown to audiences.  The radical film network incorporates independent organisations from around the world including companies in Greece, Russia, America and Canada. Presence said: “It fundamentally increases visibility and sustainability of radical film culture.”

All of the organisations can be reached through the radical film culture website that works as a directory of organisations and Presence encouraged Goldsmiths students get involved and contact the various organisations.

Next year they are hosting an inaugural conference of the RFN at Birmingham City University of which all the organisations from around the world will be together for the first time to discuss what they are working on. It runs from 7-8 February 2015, students are welcome free of charge.

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