Young people’s film on women who changed the world

March 18, 2010 — Comment

Written by Harmit Athwal

A fantastic new DVD about four women who made an impact by changing society (with accompanying website and magazine) has been made by young filmmakers.

The DVD, Hidden Herstories: Women of Change, consists of four 15-minute films, each on a woman whose contribution to society has been hidden from history by the passing of time. First is Victorian social reformer and co-founder of the National Trust, Octavia Hill; second, Amy Ashwood Garvey, a stalwart of the Garvey Movement and anti-imperialist campaigner; third is Claudia Jones, creator of The West Indian Gazette and ‘mother’ of the Carnival and then, finally, one of the leaders of the Grunwick industrial dispute of the 1970s, Jayaben Desai.

Hidden Herstories: Women of Change, was launched on International Women’s day at a packed lecture theatre at the London School of Economics. The event was attended by the young filmmakers, their families, friends, interviewees in the films, youth workers and teachers. On the day, we not only saw the premiere of Hidden Herstories but also heard from the twenty young filmmakers aged 13-24, of diverse backgrounds and abilities, all from west London. At the launch, two of the filmmakers on each film, made themselves available for a Q&A session with the audience about the film and the woman at its focus.

A short film was also shown about the making of Hidden Herstories, which revealed the extensive and sensitive preparatory work that had been carried out with the young people by staff from the Octavia Foundation, not just on film and sound and interviewing techniques, but also on the history and politics of the times of each Herstory. The participants talked to camera about issues such as the dynamics of group working and what they had gained from the experience.

The project, funded by the Octavia Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund, builds on similar work already carried out by the Octavia Foundation, which produced Grove Roots in 2009, another film made by local youngsters on the history of their area – Ladbroke Grove. (Read and IRR News story: ‘Exploring belonging through film’.)

It is hard to believe that something so professionally and imaginatively turned out as Hidden Herstories was – from shooting to editing – entirely made by young people. The films, with in-depth interviews with protagonists and experts, stills, archive footage and individual soundtracks, are informative, funny and thought-provoking. They could easily have been produced by a professional company. The magazine and website, which have also been produced by the group of twenty youngsters, are equally slick and catchy.

The film on Jayaben Desai is particularly good. But that could be my own bias as she is a heroine of mine. Jayaben is the only one of the four who is still alive and the interview with her, as result, is particularly moving. The history and the implications of the Grunwick strike are still relevant. And this is attested to by contributors to the film, such as Jack Dromey, Chris Thomas, Jeremy Corbyn, Bob Crow and Jenny Bourne, all of whom speak about the wider implications of the strike and its importance in the history of industrial relations and fighting racism. In fact all the films stress the importance of action and how these four women were moved to act by the injustices they saw.

Reading the magazine and the comments of the participants, is also telling. They speak of learning new skills and seeing these women as agents of change and doers.

  • Hamda: ‘Apart from the obvious filming skills that I learnt the project also taught me that anything worth fighting for requires a sacrifice; a lesson that all four women demonstrated.’
  • Moktar: ‘I hope that our film will forever remain a product of our dedication, serving to celebrate all four of the inspirational women as leaders of their times. The whole experience truly has been electrifying, teaching me lessons I can’t imagine learning anywhere else, and meeting amazing new people.’
  • Adam: ‘A friend once asked: “Can you change the world?” I replied: “Yes, of course”. So he said: “Why don’t you?” Hidden Herstories was a place to seize this opportunity.’

No doubt the DVD, magazine and website, as well as the film about the film will prove to be incredibly important tools to use with young people whether in formal educational settings of schools and colleges or in more informal youth work. The message of the film is about social change, but the process of the making of the film changed the young people at the same time. The medium is the message and the message is the medium.

The films can currently be seen across the London area and copies of the DVD and magazine are also available directly from the Octavia Foundation, see links and contact details below.

Related links

Hidden Herstories: Women of Change

Download the Hidden Herstories magazine (pdf file, 4.5mb)

Read and IRR News story: ‘Exploring belonging through film’

Octavia Foundation

Hidden Herstories on Facebook

For further information please email: hiddenherstories@octaviahousing.org.uk or join their facebook page. Octavia Foundation, Emily House, 202-208 Kensal Road, London W10 5BN. Tel: 0208 354 5572.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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