Lights, Camera, Pandemic

Alex Joyce on creating the NU Women film

I began interning for NU Women in September 2020 alongside my MA in Film, Theory and Practice. Whilst studying and working within the university I knew that the academic year ahead was going to be unusual in terms of structure, delivery, and assessment but nothing prepared me for experiencing this time as an emerging filmmaker.

Pre-Covid-19, my typical film practice was over-familiar with working in big collaborative teams, working in multiple locations, interviewing participants face to face and travelling in-between carrying a bulky camera that captured the world and all its movement. Approaching NU Women as someone who could contribute a film to their community, I had all these in-person ideas about interviewing female staff and PGRs returning to campus after the first lockdown and documenting their movement within this transitional period. I began storyboarding the shots I would take on campus, how I would network with these women in person and started planning the face-to-face interviews. For a brief hopeful, perhaps naive moment, I believed that the lockdown restrictions would be lifted to an extent that the university would open up the campus, go back to in-person teaching and some sense of normality would be restored… How wrong was I?

The tightening of restrictions meant that travelling to locations, meeting people, and exchanging direct contact was strictly not allowed – all the elements I thought were necessary for film production. At this time, I was living by myself in a room with a mobile phone and computer, I didn’t feel very much like a filmmaker and questioned if I would even make a film this year, never mind one for NU Women. I couldn’t go out and borrow a camera or equipment because of the contact, nor was there anybody around to film so I had to get even more creative. During this period, I made a stop animation out of the magazines I read during lockdown, using my desk lamp as the studio lights, filmed on my mobile phone which proved to me that a film can be made even with the absolute bare minimum.

Returning to my initial ideas for the NU Women film, I realised that I did not have to dismiss them as quickly as I thought. I firmly believed that there could be a story amidst the current context of Covid-19 by interviewing female staff over Zoom and attempting to reach female staff and PGRs through NU Women’s social media, newsletter and monthly online talks. I approached the film from the angle of considering the NU Women community in 2021, centralising the topic of women’s work at Newcastle University during the summer period of 2021, whereby lockdown was not just a brief phase at the beginning of 2020 but a firm reality now in 2021.

After receiving 9 participants’ overwhelming enthusiasm to be a part of the film, the interview questions and their answers molded the film narrative into reflecting on what work was like before the pandemic and the impact as the university and staff move forward. In these interviews, female staff and PGRs articulated their career pathways, their role within the university, the advice they would give to future female staff, their enjoyments and challenges, their development opportunities, support mechanisms and aspects of Newcastle’s gender equality work they are most proud of. These rich conversations gave insight into women’s experiences across the board during the lockdown. As most know, Covid-19 has given many people time to reflect on their own experiences and I believe this short film is a positive testament to how the NU Women community have kept connected, informed and creative during these difficult times.

In terms of my own experience filming the project, I feel that I have regained those elements I thought I had lost. I had the pleasure of meeting new staff and PGRs, being virtually transported into someone’s work environment and trying to network and exchange contact virtually. I feel that I have dug deeper in the creative process, focusing on what I have got rather than what I have not, which is the never-ending support of the NU Women community.

A special thank you to all participants who helped to make the film a reality and for showing me their corner of what Newcastle University means to them.

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