Looking back on ‘Filmmaking and the Engaged Curriculum’: Why I’m so proud of Born of Coal

Barnsley Main - the last remaining pithead in Barnsley

Barnsley Main – the last remaining pithead in Barnsley

Undergraduate student researcher Ryan Bramley from the School of English shares his experience of working on an Engaged Curriculum Funding Stream project.

Well, I did it. There were early summer mornings where I considered taking the easy option and calling it quits, but I made it in the end. Being out in the field; having conversations with real-life people; learning new things from previously unheard voices, then making a film to allow those voices to be heard by many more – it might seem odd to hear the doubts of a researcher doing something that they love, and you’d be right to question me for doing so.

It’s as simple as this: I was an amateur filmmaker, being allowed into the private living and working spaces of my fellow townsmen and townswomen as a stranger, and then, having intimate stories of personal experience entrusted to me, with the task of representing these voices ethically. In short, I was worried that I wasn’t doing a good job. The hardest part of the project by far was the editing process for Born of Coal. I spent hour after hour sifting through almost 6 hours’ worth of footage – cutting things out, putting them back in again, nearly pulling my hair out when I had to take out something that I really liked – in order to create a 50-minute long ethno-documentary. Working just about full-time on the film, that process alone took well over a month to complete.

I could have quite easily included only the bits and sound bites that I liked, and probably completed a much shorter film, in a far shorter space of time. I was never going to do that. From day one, I promised myself that whatever came out at the end of this project would be fair, ethical, and, above all, as accurately representational as possible. At the same time, the film needed to stay on topic: Barnsley stories of the Miners’ Strike, and the comparative experience of community 30 years on. I heard some wonderful tales and anecdotes across the seven interviews – something I am likely to return to at a later date – but for now, they had to be left out for the more relevant narratives to be told.

When I set out to do something, I always try to honour that commitment, and follow through with it. I haven’t always been able to stand and say that I’ve done that, but here, I can. Sure, I still cringe when I hear the sound of my own narrative voiceovers for the 100th time, and I do wish that I’d managed to focus the camera better on certain shots. But that doesn’t matter. The primary aim of ‘Filmmaking and the Engaged Curriculum’ was to engage an external community in co-productive research, and to allow that research – those narrative voices of personal, human experience – to be heard by the wider world. That’s what we did, and that’s why I’m so proud of what we’ve done.

With the film premiere of Born of Coal being planned now – and the subsequent online release soon to follow – I can’t wait to see just how far this project can go.

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