We always deliver our training courses in close partnership with organisations that share our ethos and values and work alongside highly skilled practitioners. One such person is Cornetta Williams, who works as practitioner for Action for Change of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Action for Change is a European Union sponsored project supporting women who, as a result of ongoing domestic violence, have had at least one child removed from their care or are at risk of having their child removed from their care. Action for Change’s purpose is to stop the cycle of multiple care proceedings.
Cornetta played an instrumental role during in our recent film training project with Action for Change, and today we chat about her experience of working with See Change Films, the importance of respecting everyone’s truth and why she believes in sharing stories through film.
“The filming project with See Change Films spoke to me for many reasons; I’ve got experience in group work, and have a background in arts and creative work - we also had a handful of parents that were all interested in group work and filmmaking.
My role in the project was largely to be there to help the parents feel safe enough to share their stories. As a person who knew them intimately, I was able to bridge the gap in the forming stage of the group and encourage the group to be more experimental in their way of thinking.
When we first started out the project, Helen and the whole team made an enormous effort to engage everyone in the process in a way that felt safe and warm. Looking back, for many of the women, and Louise in particular, it was still a very raw time. You can see that in the film; it comes across strongly that she wasn’t in a very hopeful place back then. Looking back at the film now, I think she was able to reflect on her own role in the process and the distance travelled. Film can capture special moments and different nuances that you might not see or remember otherwise.
One thing I really liked about the filming project was that it’s really collaborative. There’s something about the group work in itself that helps people with similar stories realise that they’re not alone. The journey was a shared journey, and the parents were very much engaged in the journey and the voice of the film. I also like the idea that they had the opportunity to learn new skills and find out their own niche within the area of filmmaking. Some people liked the idea of sound, some really liked the interviewing side, and I think that was a really interesting way to learn.
My job as a systemic practitioner is very much about focusing on a problem, which can sometimes be overwhelming. I think having a vehicle like making a film can be beneficial especially when things get difficult; focusing on the narrative of the film or the technical side of it can give people a much needed break and distance from their problems.
More than anything else, with this project we wanted to tell the parents’ stories in their own voice; not Action for Change’s voice, not See Change Films’ voice but the voice of these parents and their lived experience and journey. I think the film showed well how the parents felt. On the whole the parents were happy with what made it into the final film, but it was also quite frightening and rewarding; I think this was also the first time they heard the truth. It’s one thing to tell professionals the truth in session, another thing to actually expose yourself on a film; to see yourself in all your vulnerability and also show that to a big audience. I think they were amazingly courageous to do that.
I think this story needed to be told and the film gave it a platform. There’s this public idea of who’s a ‘good enough’ parent, and it’s important to talk about the mistakes parents can make and the support they deserve. Documentary film allows the story of these parents to be told in such a way that it has an emotional impact on people.
Documentary film, at its best, is looking at life through the lens of someone else. The women’s film, it tells their truth and it can make people uncomfortable because it’s so different from their own experience or maybe so similar to their experience. But sometimes we need to be uncomfortable, and documentary really enables you to become a voyeur into someone else’s life.
I’d like to think this film can just remind any aspiring or qualified social worker that there’s a human being at the other end; that the work they do has a very tangible impact. It’s not about accusing the practitioners for not doing their job properly, it’s about thinking - could I do my practice in a different way, could I find new ways to help this parent?
If I had to summarise my experience of working with See Change Films in three words, they would be mindful sharing practice. Mindful because of the conscious effort and awareness around all the vulnerabilities of the women, and sharing because it was very much a shared experience. And practice because that is what making a film is all about; it’s very practical.