Film and Social Justice

Film has long been able to transform lives. Whether through narrative or documentary, cinema engages with challenging social and political subjects, providing a platform for a range of communities. This is the subject of York St John University’s showcase screening at ASFF 2019: Film & Social Justice: Making a Difference. Dr. Steve Rawle, Associate Professor & Subject Director, discusses the programme ahead of the festival.

ASFF: What types of films are you bringing to ASFF 2019, including genres, styles and subject matters?
The films at the York St John showcase this year largely span across experimental and documentary. The focus of the films ranges across gender, mental health, human rights, Brexit and climate change. Our focus is on how filmmaking can have impact and help change the world for individuals and social groups. The documentaries range from very stylish, high end aesthetics to more low-fi looks.

ASFF: Can you expand on the key themes featured in your showcase?
York St John is strongly committed to social justice and our students’ work has traditionally engaged with a range of social and political topics. This has varied across themes of racial and gender equality, LGBT+ rights, disability, inclusivity and topics relating to mental health. This has been a strong element of our department’s history, going back decades, but has also been strengthened as our programmes have expanded to include Journalism. The showcase this year will also be focussing on the work of the Prison Partnership run by our colleague Rachel Conlon, which delivers weekly drama provision for female prisoners providing opportunities to develop creative and life skills in the run up to release. We’ll be screening her film Keeping Mum, which developed from the partnership.

ASFF: What is your chosen topic for the discussion, and why is it important to foreground in 2019?
We live in some of the most highly politicised times of recent history and artists play a key role in these events, documenting or challenging it. Some of the films we’re screening directly address the zeitgeist, considering the impact of automation on workers’ rights or the protest movement Extinction Rebellion. Others engage with significant themes of social justice, such as gender equality and mental health. Our panel will discuss how media engages with these aspects not to just stay relevant, but to challenge the status quo or give voice to the underrepresented. In an era when journalists are regularly under attack for producing such work, we think this makes this topic not just interesting to discuss, but socially and culturally vital.

ASFF: How significant is the short form to emerging filmmakers, and how is it changing in the 21st century?
Short film is really the format for emerging filmmakers. It acts as both calling card and training ground for those who want to develop careers in the film industry. Over the course of my career, I’ve experienced the shift from analogue to digital, which has manifest as boom in creativity for short filmmakers as the means of production have become cheaper and more accessible. Of course, this throws up other challenges, such as actually getting work seen amongst the competition online, but this also means that filters such as festivals – like ASFF – and funding bodies like BFI Network play a much greater role in nurturing and helping to discover new voices and promote talent.

ASFF: The cinematic landscape is constantly growing to incorporate new media and techniques. What future projects are your students working on?
Our students are always working in surprising ways, and we’re just seeing their projects develop at the beginning of the new academic year. Their projects have tended to range across traditional short film dramas and documentaries to immersive 360 content, podcasts, multimedia campaigns and even print (it isn’t just new media these days – the old ones are still relevant!). I’m sure we’ll be seeing a few of those films at our showcase next year!

ASFF: What are you most excited about screening and attending at this year’s festival?
Personally, I’m really looking forward to the whole festival. It’s not only a chance to watch some great films, but the atmosphere in York over the week is genuinely exciting and abuzz with creativity. It throws up so many opportunities to meet producers, directors, writers, as well as the masterclass participants who come to York St John and other venues. I’ve been chairing panels and coffee mornings at the festival for most of its lifetime, and thoroughly enjoy meeting the talented folks who are the lifeblood of the festival.

Attend the Showcase Screening and Panel Discussion on 7 November at York Theatre Royal. Find out more here.

See the full ASFF 2019 programme here.