Lockdown Stories curator and BAFTA-winning documentary filmmaker Victoria Mapplebeck introduces the films
The teaching I’ve done during lockdown has been the most challenging I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding. At the beginning of lockdown when I set up Skypes with my Masters students to check in and see how they were coping, many were understandably anxious. They were worried about their friends and family: many of the overseas students were thousands of miles away from home. Overnight they lost the life they’d known and loved. Many of the films they’d intended to make abroad were now on hold for the foreseeable future. The challenge I faced was getting my students motivated again. I encouraged them to film what they were experiencing day to day, no matter how hard it was.
Over the last five years I’ve made several films about personal challenges or crises. All of them have been shot on smartphones, and much of the material documents life at home. I’ve made films about raising my son alone, my cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery and more recently the challenges of living with my sixteen year old son Jim in a small South London flat, through four months of lockdown. Each week I would share my own recent footage with my students, and they began to share theirs. They took their smartphones or whatever cameras they had to hand and began filming. The results were beautiful.
These lockdown films capture fears, financial worries, claustrophobia, boredom, shopping and cooking. They capture the ways in which each of my students went on some kind of emotional and artistic journey during this global pandemic. With an uncertain future, lockdown forced us all to concentrate on the present, and each one of these brilliant directors found their stories and their creativity. The limitations of filming became their strengths and their despair became their hope
These films capture the personal experiences of each director as they deal with the challenges of being at home for months on end. They recorded phone calls with friends and family, the views from their windows, ambulances arriving in their streets, deserted roads and parks and the ‘new normal’ as gradually lockdown restrictions began to lift.
A television commissioner once told me that my films were “small”, “personal” and ‘’intimate”, as though all of these adjectives when applied to filming documentaries were bad. He told me, with almost evangelical fervour, that he wanted “big stories about true crime and space: EPIC journeys”. I was reminded of this encounter recently when I read the open letter to the film and television industry, written and signed by 3,500 signatories including Michaela Coel, Gurinder Chadha and Himesh Patel. This letter begins with a challenge to the excuses commissioners have often cited when turning down a project pitched to them by producers and directors who are too often working at the margins of the creative industries. They write: Banish “Your Weak Excuses”..Banish “it’s too small” from your lexicon. It is insulting to our stories, our history, our impact on world culture, and our worth”.
The films I’ve curated for Lockdown Stories are shot on small cameras in small spaces, but they explore big stories with a huge reach. They are insightful, intimate and moving, they begin with personal stories but they also tell universal stories. They prove that life behind closed doors can be fascinating, that the domestic space holds some of the most important stories and characters we could ever explore. These films show us that the challenges we all faced at home during lockdown can take us on some truly epic journeys.
I hope you enjoy them.
- Professor Victoria Mapplebeck (https://victoriamapplebeck.com/) is a multiplatform director and is course leader of the MA in Digital Documentary at Royal Holloway, University of London.