How a hedgehog gives a glimpse into Romany Gypsy life

By Kameron Virk
Newsbeat reporter

Image source, Random Acts

If you want a snapshot into what people aged 16-24 in the UK care about, the 300 films commissioned as part of the Playback exhibition are a good place to start.

You'll find a lot about mental health, employment and identity - as well as subjects considered less serious and much harder to categorise.

One of the filmmakers is Lisa Smith, a 26-year-old woman from the British Romany Gypsy community.

The festival, which has toured England over the past year visiting 20 venues between Newcastle and Plymouth, aims to provide funding to people who wouldn't otherwise be able to get into filmmaking.

"Filmmaking is a powerful tool for telling stories, especially with regards to my community, where most films made are from the perspective of an outsider looking in," Lisa says.

"In my film we get to define the narrative."

It was co-written with her brother Jason and "provides a glimpse, a window" into what life as a deaf British Romany citizen is like, based on a story from Jason's life.

Media caption,
Hotchi was commissioned as part of the Playback exhibition

A lot of what you need to know about it is in the film's name, "Hotchi" - Romany British for "hedgehog".

"Hedgehogs are perceived to have a hard exterior with the spikes, but are actually quite introverted and can fold into themselves," Lisa tells Newsbeat about the film, which she hopes can combat stereotypes.

The film, which was produced with Random Acts, was Lisa's introduction to filmmaking.

"We forget these people exist because we get such little opportunity to hear from them," she says.

Playback, which receives thousands of applications and has been running for the last three years, doesn't discriminate against what could be considered less serious films.

The idea for Goathland, a film by Pippa Young from North Yorkshire, was born in Waterloo station while she was nursing a particularly bad hangover - a state she says leads to some of her best ideas.

It features two young people walking across the Yorkshire Moors playing with balloon animals. And despite having no voices, it will make you laugh.

Media caption,
Goathland, for Playback Festival

Despite being light-hearted Pippa did have a message to send with the film.

"Everyone has their guard up and wants to assert dominance and power when meeting new people, but once they join forces everyone's better off."

The £3,000 budget provided by the Arts Council seemed impossible to burn through for Pippa, aged 23, who'd previously only spent up to £150 making a film.

"At first I thought: 'I'm never gonna spend that much,'" she says.

But as she paid for professional colourists, balloon artists and musicians she found "this amazing pressure to do something really good".

It was a similar story for John Ogunmuyiwa, whose experience with cameras started aged six, being asked to take group photos at family events.

Although his film covers something "everyone goes through" - a reluctance to say how they're really feeling - the inspiration for it came from an experience not everyone has had.

John's dad has aphasia following a stroke, which makes it hard to express himself.

"Even though in his mind he can say all the words, his brain can't relay the message. It makes his vocabulary limited," John says.

"The idea for the film stems from that - some people can't speak because of medical reasons, and some of us don't do it by choice... which is quite tragic."

Media caption,
Wilson was never meant to be about mental health, John says

Mental health is a topic covered extensively throughout the 300 films at the festival, but John, who had never made a film with a narrative before, said he never set out to make that film.

"Sometimes you're not happy, you're not sad, you're somewhere in between. That's where this came from."

Image source, Folaju Oyegbesan
Image caption,
This was John's first film with a narrative

Tom Peyton Green, a 26-year-old from Sheffield, made a film about unemployment.

"I'd just graduated and signed on to Jobseeker's (Allowance), so was attending weekly job sessions," he says.

He didn't have a a terrible experience, he says, and as one of the people on the scheme who studied filmmaking at university, he's now freelancing in his chosen field.

His film is all about the mundane aspects that go with signing on - and the internal monologues that can occupy your day.

Media caption,
When Standing in a Queue, commissioned for Playback Festival

"When you give anything a bit of humour it makes anything easier to navigate through," he says.

All 300 films are being exhibited at the ICA in London until 25 March.

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