Fuelling aspiration and empowerment among a group of teenage girls in North Tyneside was at the heart of a film project which got a red-carpet premiere in Newcastle last night.
The girls, aged 14 to 16, from the Mishti group, based at the Islamic Culture Centre in Whitley Bay, and who gathered to enjoy the products of their efforts on the big screen, were responsible for everything which was seen during the event at the Tyneside Cinem”a in Newcastle.
The development of the idea and the writing of the script to the shooting of the action and” the post-production in the editing room was all down to the core group of eight teenagers with the support of the Young Women’s Film Academy – a collaborative project between Little Big Butterfly and Meerkat Films. It aims to promote and encourage girls and young women to develop skills and interest in the film industry.
The resulting short film Zara, ‘the local girl who has an impossible dream’, explores the ambitions and hopes of a young Asian girl and the conflicts which they may cause in terms of family expectation and tradition if she chooses to pursue them.
One of the young film-makers, Zakkiya Khanom explains: “Our project is about a young girl wanting to take her study further by doing travel and journalism. However, her mother does not agree and instead wants her to get her married.”
Zakkiya says making the film had offered her and the rest of the crew a great opportunity.
“This project has allowed me to take part in all steps of developing the film which has been a great experience. I thoroughly enjoyed directing and photography, but I have learnt many skills and one is to be patient,” she says.
“To work on a three-minute film for three days has been hard work and I’m sure I can say that for the rest of the girls.”
For Little Big Butterfly’s Clara Shield, who heads up the Academy, the project represented a lot of effort, including lots of hoop jumping to secure the funding.
In the end, the lion’s share came from the First Light initiative, which exists to “help young people from all backgrounds to develop their skills, talent, creativity, confidence and entrepreneurial capabilities”. Clara also secured support from Fabricom Offshore Services, Connexions and North Tyneside Council’s Youth Service.
“It’s just so difficult to get funding for these kinds of projects,” she says. “They’re really important – helping to show girls and young women who might have ambitions to work in the media that it is open to them. There are choices to be made.
“From the beginning, we pitched that the film would be something to do with a girl making a career choice which wouldn’t necessarily fit with her community. At the time, we didn’t know we’d be working with a Bangladeshi group, but that added an extra element - looking at the pressure girls can feel about what they can and can’t achieve in their careers.
“We did workshops around gender and stereotypes in communities and society.”
As part of the project, Clara invited the Bafta-nominated director, Tina Ghavari and Emmerdale actress Charlie Hardwick to talk to the girls.
After the session, Tina, who made the critically acclaimed I Am Nasrine, said: “They really were inquisitive and I could sense their hunger to tell their stories. It’s always great to go to the grassroots and see those at the beginning of their journey and it’s nice to be there to tell them that ‘it is going to be OK’.”
Meanwhile, Charlie, who has been involved with the academy since its inception in 2008, worked with the group during the editing phase of the film-making, and loved every minute.
“I was so impressed with this vibrant group of young women from diverse backgrounds, working positively and creatively together. They are funny, bright and passionate, and with the help of Clara and her colleagues, have produced a lovely, thought-provoking film with a big heart. What an invigorating and inspiring project.”
Another element which was explored in the development of the film and its themes was the idea of women working in male-dominated industries. As part of this work, women from sponsor Fabricom, which supplies engineering services to the brownfield offshore oil and gas sector, conducted workshops with the girls.
Joanne Wilson Baker, company knowledge manager, was one of them.
“We wanted to give them some idea of what it’s like to work in engineering,” she says. “When I came here, there were 15 men and me in an office. Things have changed a lot since then. There are now 300 people working here and I have four females who work directly to me.
“We talked about how if you plan things – but also are comfortable with the fact that things and plans can change and that’s OK – you can get a real sense of what can be achieved. We also talked about how you can get people to help you achieve what you want to and that the right academic background gives you more choices. It was a really rewarding process and I’m looking forward to seeing the film.”
Zara can be viewed online at www.littlebigbutterfly.org