Second Chance for Change Film Screenings

The Educational Shakespeare Company focus on patients at the Holywell Hospital in a new series of short films to be screened during Creativity Month

A series of short films, made by and featuring a group of men with individual histories of mental health and associated behavioural problems, is to be shown at the Skainos Auditorium on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast on Tuesday March 12 as part of Creativity Month.

Second Chance for Change is a unique project within the UK, using film as the means by which to address mental illness, substance abuse and criminality. The organisation behind the production of these powerful films is the Educational Shakespeare Company (ESC), in association with the Northern Trust’s Community Forensic Mental Health Team.

Second Chance for Change: Including the Excluded is a scheme that offers a deeply personal insight into the lives and experiences of the men, each of whom has been profoundly affected by the issues covered in the films.

The participants are all patients at Antrim’s Holywell Hospital. They represent a section of society that has experienced difficulties in accessing mainstream services for the treatment of similar conditions.

Under the guidance of ESC’s creative director, Tom Magill, the project uses storytelling and film to get its messages across. It seeks to encourage the participants to consider fresh perspectives on how their illnesses and activities have affected themselves, their families and their victims.

‘We found that using film-making with vulnerable groups allows them to be present in their absence,’ says Magill. ‘Film-making can incorporate the skills, interests, talents, experience and abilities of a wide range of people, playing a wide range of roles both in front of and behind the camera. It also produces the critical distance that enables people to gain insights into their own behaviour and motivations.’

Crucially, Magill points out, ‘it allows them to reflect creatively and critically upon their own lives, particularly where they made judgements and decisions that were harmful to themselves or others'.

ESC has been working in this arena for almost a decade (see an example of recent work, Lifting the Label, above). A vital part of its activities involved working with inmates at HMP Maghaberry Prison, who take part in creative workshops focusing on drama and film-making. For Kirsten Kearney, ESC’s chief executive, its ability to give a voice to people who find themselves on the edges of society is important.

‘ESC focuses on criminal justice and has recently become interested in the crossover and overlaps with mental health issues. There are no arts organisations in Belfast, that we are aware of, who focus specifically on using arts education to help people with mental health issues. For us, work like this is key to who we are. We focus on the most marginalised.'

Kearney explains that the subjects of Second Chance for Change are stigmatised on three levels, resulting from their substance abuse problems, mental health issues and criminal records.

ESC has an enviable track record in film production. Mickey B, a feature film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth made with the Maghaberry drama group (see trailer above), won the 2008 Roger Graef Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film at the prestigious Arthur Koestler Awards.

One of ESC’s stated goals is the prevention of crime and re-offending. Artistic interventions appear to be working. Evidence from participants’ testimonies and an independent study based on one year of the programme suggest that enhanced skills, a more optimistic outlook on life and improved self-confidence go hand-in-hand with lower rates of recidivism. Magill, who works directly with the men on their films, confirms that they have all responded positively.

‘We can evidence that in terms of both hard outcomes like attendance, punctuality, cooperation, a reduction in security status and classification,’ he observes. ‘In terms of soft outcomes we can evidence improved social interaction, self-esteem, goal-setting, communication and interaction skills, team working, problem-solving and, of course, improved creativity.’

The forthcoming screenings at Skainos comprise selected films, which have resulted from the project. Available to watch online through the ESC homepage, they exhibit no little talent among the main protagonists, both behind and in front of the camera.

The topics are dark but there is a great maturity to the way in which the tales are told. If anything, it seems as though the film-making process has served as something of a relief, a release even, for these fledgling producers.

In spite of its success, however, the scheme lacks funding beyond the current year. According to Kearney, a strong commitment is required from potential backers.

‘We are having to simultaneously seek core funding to run the organisation and also project funding to make it possible to continue on and roll out this specific project. It's a big ask, but we are keen to find a core funder who shares our vision for using the arts to work with people who are extremely marginalised, and perhaps unpopular, within society.’

There is scope for expansion, Kearney says, beyond the field in which ESC currently operates. ‘Ideally we would continue the project at Holywell Hospital but also roll it out within the Belfast Trust. We are also pitching for funding to work with young people with mental ill health, who find it difficult to access services which are usually directed at adults.’

Second Chance for Change: Including the Excluded will screen at Skainos Auditorium, 239 Newtownards Road, Belfast on March 12 at 12:30pm as part of Creativity Month 2013. Admission is free.

Second Chance for Change