Participatory filmmaking for development

Over the last few years the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures has run a series of participatory arts projects to support marginalised communities to advocate for change in their lives. This story gives a flavour of some of the projects we've been involved with and where we are going with this work.

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A short film that gives an overview of some of our arts projects.

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We've been involved with a wide range of projects in the UK and abroad. What they have in common is that they are all focussed on dealing with the legacy of 'difficult pasts' and also on supporting marginalised groups to effect change in their lives.

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All this activity began with the 'Screening European Heritage' project. This was an AHRC Care for the Future project looking at the ways in which historical dramas across Europe reflect, and generate, debates about history, heritage and national identity. It was led by Paul Cooke and Rob Stone.

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A showreel of the project made by Rob Stone.

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The project looked at a wide range of films across Europe. We were consulted by the government on the relationship of film to national identity, tourism and 'soft power'.

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As a result of the 'Screening European Heritage' Project, we were invited to spend a week working with young people from Leeds, East Germany and West Germany at the former main prison of the East German Secret Police. We explored the way Germany's difficult past is represented on TV and cinema screens and what lessons can be learnt from the period of history for young people today. We worked with the British Film Institute Academy, Landesverband Kinder- und Jugendfilm Berlin e. V. and Bautzen memorial to make a series of short films about the issues we discussed.

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This is the film we made as a 'trailer' to the project, which discusses what we did during our week at Bautzen II Prison.

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Here are some of the films we made during the project.

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Here's the project film we produced that shows the films the students made, but also how they felt about the project.

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This is a film that the UK students made after their week in Bautzen, reflecting on how the issues raised by their research on East Germany relate to their experience of life in Leeds.

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These projects led to further work with different communities, looking at how digital tools can be used to help them explore difficult historical questions and how they relate to their lives today.


It was a privilege to attend Year 6’s assembly at Webster Primary School last week. Pupils presented work relating to the Holocaust and World War II to parents, teachers and fellow pupils, including details of their visits to the National Holocaust Centre and Museum and Westminster Abbey. We received some great feedback about using Yarn from staff and pupils and it was great to see how well Yarn worked as a presentation tool in the assembly, allowing the class to play previously assembled video content and audio recordings directly from their story. Staff commented on the intuitive design of Yarn and the fact that it lent itself well to classroom work on tablets, whilst giving a polished finish to presentations and helping to teach pupils about how to structure their ideas. Pupils said that they enjoyed being able assemble their own work alongside videos and web content. The performance was also attended by National Holocaust Centre Educator, Sarah Wetton, who was especially interested in how Yarn stories could provide a window onto how the Holocaust is being taught in primary schools. We hope to build on what we’ve learnt so far by putting together a knowledge exchange package. This will suggest ways in which digital engagement can be built into school activities and museum outreach and engagement.
From BLOG: Digital Tools in the Service of Digital Heritage by Rosie Wilkinson

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Our work led us to collaborate with the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation.

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A film about the first project we undertook with the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation, led by Stuart Taberner.

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We also worked on another AHRC participatory arts project exploring the legacy of the Holocaust for young BME students from Leeds through dance.

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This is a short film of the first set of workshops we ran in Tshepo Hope 'Safe Park', Tsakane.

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In South Africa we also began to work with the Bishop Simeon Trust and Themba Interactive to use filmmaking and other artistic practices to support the young and vulnerable people they support across Gauteng to raise awareness of the issues that they face in their daily lives. This became the #Changing the Story project that we continue to work on today.

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We later took out some students from the University of Leeds to work on our second round of filmmaking.

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This work continues to grow, and we've received funding for 2 more AHRC projects connected to our work with Themba and Bishop Simeon Trust. These project are part of the broader Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), set up by the UK government to support international development.

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One of the films made by a group of young people inspired by our work the the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre.

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The second of our GCRF projects saw our participatory arts programme expand to work with groups in India (led by Will Gould) and Brazil (led by Stephanie Dennison). The particular focus was on the privileged place historical dramas made for the large and small screen frequently have in 'nation-branding' exercises. The project began with an investigation of how all three nations use their history as an important asset within their 'soft power' strategies, focussing in particular on the instrumentalisation of film in each country.

The project then worked with international development agencies to explore how these national narratives are experienced by some of the most marginalised groups within these societies. Through a process of co-production the project team made a series of video responses by these groups to the way their nations' histories are presented to the world. The purpose of the videos was be to support these groups to reflect upon their place in society, allowing them to contextualize their struggles globally by learning from the experience of our other case studies, and to develop awareness-raising campaigns.

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An earlier film made by Will Gould of the University of Leeds and our project partner Dakxin Bajrange.

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A short film of a workshop organised by CWCDC as part of the University of Leeds' 'Sadler Seminar' series. This was funded by the University, the AHRC's GCRF and its Open World Research Initiative.

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At the start of 2017 we organised a seminar looking at the role of participatory arts in development, as part of our GCRF work and to explore future ideas.

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More recently our work has developed still further. We just been awarded some further GCRF funding to work on a participatory filmmaking project in Nepal. This will use filmmaking to support communities to find solutions to the wide-spread misuse of antibiotics across the country.

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A picture showing some of the work undertaken by HERD INTERNATIONAL

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