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“We can play with metaphors which hopefully have massive impact”

Andy Glynne is Managing Director of London based production company Mosaic Films and initiated the animated documentary project "Seeking Refuge". In this interview he talks about the filmmaking process and the chances of using animated documentary while working with children and young people.

Andy Glynne is writing and producing documentary since 15 years. He has been winning the BAFTA- British Academy Film and Television Award, twice.Andy Glynne is writing and producing documentary since 15 years. He has been winning the BAFTA- British Academy Film and Television Award, twice. (© Privat)

Your video project "Seeking refuge" deals with five unique stories of children who were forced to leave their countries and to seek refuge in the UK. How did you came up with this idea?

Glynne: We have made many animated documentaries in the past. Most of them have focused on mental health – under a project which is called "Animated minds". We were very successful with those films and we almost created a new way to look at very difficult issues that you couldn’t film. The animation helped to give a strong sense of somebody's inner world. So, because of the success of "Animated Minds" we realized that there are lots of other ways in which we can use the animated documentary form for. One of which was looking at children and more specifically refugees.

What were your main goals in presenting stories of refugees from the perspective of children to a broad public?

Glynne: At the time these films were made, I was really interested in the issue of young kids in schools for whom English wasn’t their first language – so the language barrier. I remember talking to my children who were discussing about the boy in the back of the class who doesn’t speak English – or the girl who doesn’t speak much. And I was thinking, wouldn’t it be really interesting to hear what they actually have to say – to get to know their stories? So that there is not just the awkward kid in the back of the class from a different culture or country, who doesn’t speak the language, but someone who has a story. So that was the beginning, that was the rational - to make films that give voices to those children and to tell their stories from their perspectives.

But the interesting thing was that our initial idea which we had about the situation of this kids was wrong. So we thought that those children having a bad time in school and that they are facing prejudice and problems from the other kids. And before we went into production our initial idea was that we could address issues of stigma and exclusion with those films. And although those things of course do exist on the whole we found that not to be the case here. Especially in primary schools kids were really good to learn more from a person from a different country and they were very helpful and friendly. So then the issue was more what the individual was experiencing rather than to address the experiencing of racism or prejudices or that kind of thing.

So the issue of the film has changed within the research process?

Glynne: We always wanted to realize those films for two reasons. One was to address stigma and discrimination in class, but the other one was to talk about the experience of refugees in a way that other children understand more and get a sense what kind of problems refugee children are facing. We wanted to establish understanding and empathy for refugee children. There is this psychological theory which is called “Theory of mind” and this relates to the ability to see things from another person's perspective. And I think it is always challenging for parents, teachers or anyone who is working with children to improve this ability – this theory of mind - the change of perspective. So to get into someone's skin who is bullied in class or has an argument with his parents or - how in this case - being a refugee who sits in a foreign school class.

Do you think that it is easier to tell such sad and traumatic stories through animation?

Glynne: Yes, firstly from the refugee's or from the contributor's perspective - obviously they remain anonymous. We’re not filming them, we’re not waving a camera in front of them – it’s just me and them in a recording studio. And you get something very real though, without them being intimidated. For one of the films, Rachel's story, the anonymity was very important – that’s why we didn’t say what country she comes from. Because some of her family members are still in her home country and they still face prosecution there.

Through animation people can more easily identify with individual stories. When I am filming a person, telling their personal story, the film ends up to be very much about this person. When you’re doing an animation film, the main character becomes representative for anybody who is facing the same difficulties. The film becomes a metaphor rather than being one person's story. So I think it allows children to identify much more. And of course, it allows children to see things which are un-filmable – for example in terms of where the children came from and what happened to them. But it also allows you to play with the motion of visual metaphors – it allows you to see things in terms of what they are experiencing inside their own minds. For example in Ali’s story we play with the cracked window when he is in his bedroom and tells how much he is missing his parents and how sad that makes him. Or the story of Rachel's deportation – she was describing this men as monster who took away her hope for safety, ripped her out of her home and put her in a detention center. And that’s exactly how we showed the men in her film – as big huge giants. You can’t show that in a normal film and that’s why animation is such a powerful way to talk about this difficult issues. We can play with metaphors which hopefully have massive impact.

Were the five children included in the process of the filmmaking? Did you ask them for their opinion? Did they want you to add certain images or parts of their story which you didn’t want to put in?

Glynne: First, we did an interview which was usually about an hour. Than we cut it down to four or five minutes. Before we moved on in the production process we gave the interview back to the person and of course their parents or guardians as well. At that point they had to be completely happy with the audio they were hearing. If they wanted to have anything taken out at that stage we would have done it. Then in terms of the next steps it totally depends on the kid. So for example with Ali’s story, there is a scene at the end where he is drawing – those are his drawings which we incorporated in the animation. So we discussed with him while the creation process as he was really interested in our work. Same with Rachel, who rang up a couple of times and we discussed the visual process with her. But on the whole the children decided themselves how much they wanted to be involved in the process. We hadn’t had demands to change something visually – all children gave us positive feedback on the final videos.

How did you got in contact with the children?

Glynne: In part through British refugee organizations as Refugee Council, Refugee Action or the Center for Refugee Services but also through my old working place – I am a clinical Psychologist. It is a horrible word to use in this context but there was a "casting process". I think for the project "Seeking refuge" we started with a long list of over 80 children and we ended up to have conversations with 20, we probably recorded ten and used five. It’s hard to find children who are that young and articulated that they are talking in a way which leads you to visual metaphors. We interviewed lots of refugees, lots of people, who went through really bad things but they were unable to articulate those things in a way that you could use it for animation. What we also did: sometime we interviewed people but we wouldn’t use their stories for the film and we didn’t want them to feel that we didn’t acknowledge that. So we would give them their audio and allow the charity to use that audio as a podcast or something like that. So some of the organizations put them online as audio files.

Do you still have contact with the kids? Do you know how they are dealing with their migration today? And has Ali been reunited with his family yet?

Glynne: Yes, we kept in touch with some of them, the whole project has been realized quite a while ago and already then some of them had been already older when they told us their stories. Rachel, at the end of the film she says her dream is to become a lawyer and then she really got into law school – into London School of Economics (LSE), one the best places in London to study law. She rung us up after she got in – that was great. But I have no idea what the others are doing by now – so unfortunately I don’t know anything about Ali and his family.

The interview has been conducted by Katharina Lipowsky.



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