Healing in being heard and accepted: Create filmmaker Aoife Twomey on community storytelling
Since 2014, professional filmmaker Aoife Twomey has been working with Create to bring film and animation workshops to a wide range of disadvantaged participants, from young people with disabilities to adults who are homeless. She’s enabled participants to boost their confidence, learn collaborative skills and express themselves through film.
Aoife talked to us about the power of everyday stories, how filmmaking can help build community and a special note she received from a young carer:
“Having access to creativity and play is so important for both young people and adults. Creativity provides much needed respite in people’s lives, and also an outlet to tell their stories in a safe place. Often the films we make on Create projects seem unconnected to participants’ stories, but through the workshops there are many opportunities for them to express themselves and this always makes it into the final cut in some way.
“One of the main barriers to people accessing the arts is confidence. Somewhere earlier on in life, people are receiving the message that they aren’t good at art – they can’t draw, for example. I love it when someone creates something amazing in my sessions and they say they never thought they could be creative.
“Creativity also brings people together. I always love lunchtime on my projects because, after all the ice breakers and working in teams, people seem more open and it’s here they feel most safe to share their story and find healing in being heard and accepted.
“Filmmaking is an incredible medium to work with in a community setting. It cuts straight to the heart of storytelling. People already know so much about filmmaking just by having watched films before and this creates a wonderful springboard into building confidence and positive learning experiences. With access to resources becoming easier, more people have the ability to make really good films. I love this about my work because I know people can transfer the skills they learn with me to making films on their phones and at home.
“I recently worked on an incredible project for Create, making a documentary with adults who are homeless and attend a drop-in centre in Deptford called 999 Club. I was so humbled by the experience of working with these men and women. We made sure there was space for their stories to reach completion fully and to show them that we were here to listen to their ideas, not to tell them what to do. I loved welcoming everyone as they returned each day (something we didn’t necessarily expect given their circumstances). I remember the day I didn’t even have to introduce the workshop; everyone just sat down at the computers and continued work from the day before. I think the participants gained a lot from the sense of achievement, from group work, from being valued within the group and from hearing each other’s stories.
“Create is an amazing charity to work for. The emphasis on getting it right for the participants is really special. As an artist I feel valued within the Create team, which is fairly unique. I love the Artist Sharing [Create’s six-monthly artist training event] and when asked to lead a session one year I felt honoured. As a freelancer it’s rare to find an organisation to feel so a part of and I feel really supported.
“I took an unusual path to working as a filmmaker. While doing a Masters in Community Arts Education, I completed a module on Digital Media for Social Change that introduced me to the power of film in storytelling and working in communities. I most admire the people working as self-shooting directors on a mission to uncover a human story, usually people I am working with on a project with or a director I’ve met at a small community screening. I believe in the power of storytelling from the bottom up, so I admire anyone who’s put the contributor in the driver’s seat and made an engaging film out of an everyday story.
“I have a card that young carers wrote for me after a Create project. One of them wrote: ‘Thanks for letting me in’. That made me realise the importance of the simple act of opening the door to people, welcoming them in, asking their opinion, giving them ownership. Some people struggle to find a place they fit, and I love that by the end of a filmmaking project people find somewhere within the process that they fit best.”