Sense of purpose
How a film-making project is helping residents of specialist housing association St Martins move forward with their lives.
The themes of death, fear and alienation can be found in the work of many young film makers, but the experiences of residents of St Martins housing association give added strength to their work.
The association works with people who have been involved in the mental health, criminal justice or psychiatric systems, and it is clear from watching the work produced by residents that they have drawn heavily from their own lives.
Although the issue of mental health is seldom addressed directly in any of the three films screened earlier this month at Holloway Odeon, it forms an undercurrent to the productions.
The first, The Legend of Jason Tristan, focuses on a young man struggling to come to terms with the violent death of his father. When he discovers he has developed supernatural powers, his feelings of loss and injustice cause him to question whether he should use his abilities for good or ill.
The resident behind the film, Oliver Bowes, acts in the piece, co-directs, and wrote and performed some of the music that is featured.
Issac Batchelor, the creator of the second film, has also drawn on his own experiences. His production, The Escape, looks at how events can quickly spiral out of control just when you think your life is starting to make sense.
The final film in the screening is made by Ibi Vaughan, the creative director of arts company Art of Life that has worked with St Martins on the project. It features numerous residents of St Martins, looking at their involvement in the scheme.
Art of Life started working with St Martins about two years ago, when chief executive John Thompson contacted the organisation. ‘St Martins has always done arts projects with residents, but we were looking to do something more,’ he says.
Ms Vaughan started working with residents. ‘Initially it was me trying to work with the whole group, but we found that there were so many people doing different things that it made more sense to work with individuals,’ she says.
Now she works with residents individually, but encourages them to stick to a regular schedule of meetings once they have started a project. Word of mouth and curiosity is often enough to get people involved, and Ms Vaughan’s obvious enthusiasm and energy also helps.
Mr Thompson says: ‘A lot of people are very happy to get involved. Ibi is very engaging.’
Residents work at their own pace, and lead their own individual projects within the wider scheme. Ms Vaughan says she is there to provide the skills they need, but that the idea is the residents will start to work by themselves.
The ultimate aim of the project is to help people move forward in their lives. Mr Thompson says: ‘Most of the people in the films, and who were involved in the scheme, have come from high security hospitals. This is what St Martins does, it is about rehabilitation.
‘These are people who probably had very serious mental illness, still have, and who have committed very serious offences in their lives.’
Ms Vaughan says she has seen residents gain confidence and get better at interacting with other people as a result of the arts project. ‘They feel that what they are doing is worth something. It makes them think about what they can do in the future,’ she says.
The film screening was a first for the project, but it does not signal the end. Mr Thompson says he is keen for it to continue, and organise further screenings.
‘Having seen this, it is something we would like to do every year,’ he says. ‘It is an incentive for all the residents to see their films up on the Holloway Odeon.’