Community Filmmaking and Cultural Diversity: practice, innovation and policy

Lead Research Organisation: Brunel University
Department Name: School of Social Sciences

Abstract

This research aims to contribute to the debate around community filmmaking and cultural diversity by exploring how cultural diversity intersects with community filmmaking. It will examine the results of this intersection in terms of representations and identities, as well as practices and innovation. In addition, the research will develop a better understanding of the role of cultural policy in supporting this intersection, by examining how cultural organisations and policymakers work with community filmmakers and how the role of innovation in this context is understood.

The project recognises the complex set of cultural, economic and social relationships and engagements in community filmmaking. Therefore, our research will adopt a complexity framework to take a wider perspective to this object of study. Whilst the focus is on creative practitioners (community filmmakers), we aim to consider the cascade of connections which are behind their engagement with communities and partners, industries and audiences and which may impact on the cultural product and experience delivered as well as in urban/local development.

Applying complexity thinking to this field of investigation allows us to consider the role of cultural experiences and cultural identities in community filmmaking practice by taking into consideration five important dimensions by which these interactions can be mediated: representation and identity, the role of film as media, the tensions in filming practices between arts and commerce, the knowledge and innovation dynamics and the roles of intermediaries, policy and place. Complexity theory offers us the possibility to explore and understand these five different dimensions of community filmmaking but also to explore their interconnections in a more holistic way.

Community filmmakers will be the key agents considered in this complex system where practice, innovation and policy will be explored at different scales of interaction: micro, meso and macro levels. Across these levels, we will explore how different communities (through interaction, feedback, cooperation) share the work of filmmakers and vice-versa. At another level we will consider how community filmmakers are themselves embedded in a cultural field that is inhabited by major institutions (such as the British Film Institute (BFI)), other filmmakers, venues and associations, funders (such as Arts Council England) and how these shape and influence both their work and their decision-making.

Our research will be developed and carried out in collaboration with a range of community partners in three different UK regional settings (Birmingham, Southampton and London), each with different roles within this cultural field. These include Lighthouse, City-Eye and WORLDwrite, all of whom have expressed support for the project. We also have the support of the BFI who says that the 'Community filmmaking and Cultural Diversity' project will enrich the organisation's 'own knowledge and contact with this area of film culture' (BFI Letter of Support). This is significant because we hope to be able to take this research collaboration further in relation to its potential impact on film sector policy at both the national and sub-national levels.

The research project's contribution to the AHRC Connected Communities programme will be twofold. Firstly, it will gather a better understanding of community filmmaking and diversity within the context of community engagement, representation and participation, considering the role played by arts and media (through film) in shaping and involving communities. Secondly, it will look at community filmmakers as being themselves part of a knowledge and practice community and consider what kind of learning, sharing and collaborative approaches are used to foster creation and innovation and how these can feed into the wider film ecology.

Planned Impact

Our impact strategy rests on 1) working with our community partners and community film makers 2) making the whole research project part of a networked conversation and 3) generating a wide range of dissemination materials including online platforms, policy briefings and academic analysis. The research team itself is rich in impact-generation expertise and will work closely to sustain momentum through online media and other engagement activities. Our ambition is for this work to provide a reference point for evaluations of community filmmaking in culturally diverse contexts and its relationship with the wider film ecology.

To achieve this, we need to make the process part of an ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders recognising the cross-disciplinary nature of the problems we address. To this end, we have budgeted for a series of face to face conversations across the whole project and in relation to the five dimensions of the project outlined. These exchange sessions are paralleled by our online dissemination strategy which will aim to make the project a key node in national and international 'Connected Communities' research. We will begin this strategy by inviting collaborating partners to contribute to a 'Community Filmmaking and Cultural Diversity' blog; a blog will allow us to document responses from our 'audience'.

First, we have carefully selected partners who provide direct channels of impact, each with different roles within this cultural field, and in three different geographical regions. These include Lighthouse, City-Eye and WORLDwrite. Our work with WORLDwrite for example, will have a direct developmental impact upon the scale and potential of its operation. Documenting its innovative processes around community filmmaking in relation to the idea of the 'learner-volunteer' and 'citizen television', will provide a motivational illustration of what can be achieved by an informal community of creative citizens; this aspect of our work could be influential in communities which lack strong connections to mainstream media and indeed higher education. We also have the endorsement of the BFI for our project; significant because we hope to be able to take this research collaboration further in relation to its potential impact on policy. One of the objectives of the project is to support cultural organisations in how they reflect on their own practice around community filmmaking and in how diverse practitioners are engaged.

The second aspect of our impact strategy is to produce a range of outputs with utility in different sectors. Our media platform and policy briefing will find users throughout the emergent network of local/national organisations supporting connectivity in communities through innovative community filmmaking practice. The workshop and conference will provide fora for community filmmakers and organisations to make their views heard and their contributions felt. The events will provide an opportunity for academic and non-academic users to share knowledge about the scope of and issues around community filmmaking culture in current culturally diverse contexts and the role of innovation here. This potential will be sustained after the events through the development of a mailing list of all attendees which will serve for further communication about the project.

Among the impact tools we expect to deploy are the following:
- a website & embedded blogging platform, targeted at other relevant communities of filmmakers and support organisations;
- academic papers, targeted to academics & policymakers;
- an edited scholarly book, summarising the research findings in comparison with other research and experiences, targeted to policymakers, academics & practitioners;
- a policy briefing paper, targeted to communities, practitioners & policymakers;
- one workshop event, targeted to communities, academics & practitioners;
- a closing conference, targeted to communities, academics & practititioners.
 
Title WORLDwrite: A Film About Community Filmmakers 
Description When the AHRC Connected Communities project started, and with additional funding support from a Brunel BRIEF award, Sarita Malik (PI) and Clive James Nwonka (Research Assistant) set about filming WORLDwrite to understand better some of the politics and processes involved in their daily work. Together, Sarita and Clive observed and worked with WORLDwrite, tracing its historical development and exploring the issues that affect its creative and political objectives. As well as spending time with the learner-volunteer filmmakers at WORLDwrite, and conducting interviews, several weeks were spent filming their everyday practice. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Important documentation of community filmmalking everyday practice. Screend at the British Fim Institute (London) in January 2014 Part of the AHRC Connected Communities media collection. 
URL http://ccmc.commedia.org.uk/resource/worldwrite-a-film-about-community-filmmakers-trailer/
 
Description These are some of the highlights of the lessons learned:
• Cultural representation plays a significant role in how community filmmakers themselves describe their work. Broadly, community filmmakers are deeply reflexive about their practice and very conscious of ethical issues and the political contexts that surround the communities that they work with.
• The film medium is noted for its relative accessibility. Film is also perceived to be a powerful space for community participation and engagement that contributes to strong feelings of cultural and group identity and generates modes of belonging.
• Community filmmakers perceive their work as a continuum between arts and cultural practice and financial and commercially sustainability. However, their work is mainly driven by the need to give a voice to a range of groups and issues from the communities that do not reach and/or are marginalised by mainstream media.
• Community filmmakers are connected to a wide range of networks from charities and community organisations, to policy bodies and other creative and cultural producers. They rely on these diverse sets of networks to create, promote and disseminate their work.
• Community filmmaking covers a wide range of practices. It is a terrain for experimentation for filmmakers and leads to various innovations in content, generating new 'authentic' stories, visually and narratively, but also in terms of funding engagement with audiences, notably through online media.
• Community filmmaking requires both general filmmaking skills but also skills to broker and develop relationship with communities. While some formal training exists, many filmmakers learn 'on the job', developing specific approaches depending on their personality, character or ethos. Most importantly, community filmmaking is seen as a way to make filmmaking more accessible to people who would not necessarily have access to this medium or to seeing the kind of material that is produced, from these alternative perspectives.
• An important finding from the project resides in the fact that community filmmaking is thriving in the UK, offering opportunities to better represent British cultural diversity. However, the recent stringent financial climate has weakened its support system; for example with regards to cultural intermediaries or training organisations.
Exploitation Route The project highlighted the need for a non-prescriptive take on diversity, specifically in relation to funding - to allow a wide range of diverse communities to make their voices heard and on their own terms.
The project highlighted the value of funding to support the training, networks and opportunities for learning and sharing, which cannot be covered in standard project-based funding applications
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.communityfilmmaking.com/
 
Description The research project has helped inform BFI cultural policy around cultural diversity. Dr Malik has been involved in helping support the BFI with its cultural policies around diversity since the project.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

 
Description Member of Curatorial Advisory Panel, British FIlm Institute
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guidance committee
URL http://www.bfi.org.uk/supporting-uk-film/funding-organisations/unlocking-film-heritage-digitisation-...
 
Description AHRC Connected Communities Follow Up Funding
Amount £44,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/K006495/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2013 
End 02/2014
 
Description Connected Communities Disconnection Call
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/M006069/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 04/2015
 
Description Collaboration with City Eye, Southampton 
Organisation City Eye
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution As part of the overall research on community film making in the South region, the research team conducted interviews with City Eye and local partners.
Collaborator Contribution The partner gave time for interviews and facilitated the research introducing other participants. They also attended the advisory board meeting and talked at the final conference
Impact Malik S., Chapain C. and Comunian R. (2014) Spotlight on Community Filmmaking: A report on Community Filmmaking and Cultural Diversity research. Published by Brunel University, the University of Birmingham and Kings College London, UK.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Collaboration with LightHouse, Wolverhampton 
Organisation Lighthouse
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution As part of the overall research on community film making in the Midlands, the research team conducted additional interviews and surveys documenting the impact and role of the Lighthouse in the Midlands film ecology.
Collaborator Contribution The Lighthouse representatives gave their time for interviews, contribution to our advisory panel and presentation at our final conference but also introduce us to film makers and other relevant people to talk to as part of our research.
Impact At this stage, the main outputs have been the creation of knowledge and publication of a policy report from the research based on the outcomes of the research and collaboration undertaken with LightHouse and other partners on the project as well as a presentation from LightHouse at the final conference discussing its work.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Collaboration with WORLDwrite (London) 
Organisation Worldwrite London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution As part of the overall research on community film making in the London region, the research team conducted interviews with Worldwrite.
Collaborator Contribution The partner gave time for interviews and facilitated the research introducing other participants. They also attended the advisory board meeting and talked at the final conference
Impact Malik S., Chapain C. and Comunian R. (2014) Spotlight on Community Filmmaking: A report on Community Filmmaking and Cultural Diversity research. Published by Brunel University, the University of Birmingham and Kings College London, UK.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Collaboration with the British Film Institute, London 
Organisation British Film Institute (BFI)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution Dr Sarita Malik established a partnership with the British Film Institute who were a named partner on this research. The BFI is the lead cultural organisation for film and film culture in the UK. BFI Southbank where many of the collaborative activities and the dissemination event took place, is just one part of a wider national BFI and includes National Archive collection of film and television as well as Print and Special Collections (scripts, letters, posters etc), the Mediatheque, Education (schools, families, young people), the BFI Ruben Library and the exhibition centre of the BFI Southbank as well as wider departments recently merged from the Film Council such as the Production Fund.
Collaborator Contribution Raised awareness about academic-led debates in this area e.g. around diversity and film culture, developed partnerships between academics and a cultural organisation.
Impact Collaborated on dissemination event. Developed collaboration on the follow up project. Dr Sarita Malik was invited to be a member of the Curatorial Advisory Board Member, Unlocking Film Heritage, British Film Institute (2012-17) where she attends and contributes to 3 meetings a year about diversifying the film archive that is made accessible to the public.
Start Year 2010
 
Description Advisory committee workshop - Community filmmaking 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The aim of the one day event was to bring together the project partners and others key practioners with expertise across the areas of community filmmaking, cultural diversity and innovation from the UK and Europe to through group discussion, provide a platform for feedback on the research aims and questions to help refine the parameters of our enquiry and guide the direction of the research. In reference to our research approach, the workshop had a strong influence in the way we intend to approach the research. We decided to focus on community filmmaking and consider the role played by cultural diversity as defined and experienced by community filmmakers rather than imposing our own definition and framework. The workshop also helped to raise a number of additionsl dimensions and policy issues with regards to the research which were of concern to the participants and that we had not included in the research previously.

Participants also expressed enthusiasm about the day in terms of what they learnt as well as the networking opportunities offered and provide some additional support afterwards in helping us liaise with local filmmakers and experts or in contributing to and supporting the final conference of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Community Filmmaking and Cultural Diversity Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact The website is an important part of the Community Filmmaking project because it helps to share information about the research themes and project and also to stimulate debate and awareness around community filmmaking and cultural diversity.

The website features our advisory committee and also the project partners with whom we collaborated. This helps to promote their work and an understanding of their role in the film sector. The website also features the documentary film that features one of our community collaborators, WOROLDwrite. It also helps develop academic interest in research in this area by providing details of literature and further reading.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.communityfilmmaking.com/
 
Description Community Filmmaking and Cultural Diversity conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation workshop facilitator
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On 22 and 23 January, the end of project conference was held at the British Film Institute. Drawing in delegates from as far afield as South Africa and New Zealand, the Community Filmmaking and Cultural Diversity conference had a specific International dimension. It featured screenings, practitioners discussing their work and some of the issues that they face in their practice, alongside more conventional academic papers, reflecting the broad relevance of the project themes across theory and practice. The conference was opened by Professor Yudhishthir Raj Isar from the American University of Paris and author of the UNESCO Creative Economy Report (2013). Isar was also on the project's Advisory Committee.

After the conference, there has been a surge in interest in issues of Community Filmmaking and further discussion and collaboration with filmmakers, academics and industry professionals interested in community filmmaking.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.communityfilmmaking.com/final-conference1.html
 
Description Particpant Observation and interviews with WORLDwrite community filmmaking organisation (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Ongoing collaboration with WORLDwrite helped gain an insight into the processes and politics, limitations and opportunities for community filmmakers in London

The sessions were filmed and a short documentary film was produced by Sarita Malik and Clive Nwonka. It is now available to view on the AHRC's Connected Communities Collection http://ccmc.commedia.org.uk/
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014
URL http://ccmc.commedia.org.uk/
 
Description VIEWFINDER, Featured Article on the Community Filmmaking and Cultural Diversity Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Article raised awareness of the AHRC project and the themes of the research. Promoted the project and research and enabled a reflection on the key themes and issues raised by the BFI hosted 'Spotlight on Community Filmmaking' Conference held in January 2014.
Viewfinder is the publication of the British Universities Film and Video Council - it is published online and in a hard print version. It covers wide-ranging news, reviews, feature articles and comment for academic staff, students, researchers and information professionals exploring the production, study and use of film, television and related media in higher and further education.

After the article, a range of readers came forward to seek further information on the project and its dissemination activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://bufvc.ac.uk/viewfinder