Unchosen Short Film Competition

The anti-slavery charity seeks submissions for its annual short film competition, which closes August 13

The medium of film can serve many purposes. It may tell a story or relay a message; it may even foment revolutions. Its reach is universal, its power almost unrivalled. It is this overarching appeal which forms the basis of the work done by Unchosen, the Bristol-based anti-trafficking charity behind the annual Modern Day Slavery Short Film Competition.

The organisation’s remit is at once simple and profound: it utilises film as a means of combating all forms of human trafficking and modern slavery. In raising awareness of these heinous crimes, Unchosen seeks to illuminate the dark places that hide the perpetrators and their vulnerable prey.

While public screenings of relevant pictures were, until last year, the main thrust – Unchosen counts director Ken Loach as a patron and fearless documentarian Nick Broomfield as honorary president – the Modern Day Slavery project is one geared towards creating films with a particular relevance to the topic.

Now in its second year, the competition’s goal is for human rights activists and filmmakers to combine and produce pointed, bespoke output focused on issues stemming from the title subject. According to CEO, Camilla Brown, there was a recognition within Unchosen that the material being used previously was not quite meeting its stated aims.

‘Some of the films that we were using weren’t necessarily reflecting the current reality that case workers were coming into contact with,’ Brown says. The decision was taken to harness the creative will of the various auteurs who had often sought Unchosen’s guidance about creating themed content. There was a desire to forge something which was ‘practically useful’ in the crusade to curb slavery.

In this respect, suggests Brown, collaboration is vital to the success of the campaign. ‘I know a lot about trafficking and slavery. A lot of people in the sector know an awful lot about this subject, but we don’t know very much about making films. We don’t know very much about how to translate these difficult subjects into something that a much wider audience can watch and understand.’

Founded in 2008 by Trish Davidson, the charity has worked tirelessly to highlight the plight of all those broadly labelled ‘slaves’. As Brown points out, Unchosen wishes to highlight the existence of modern slavery at home, as well as abroad.

The problem is prevalent in communities throughout the UK and Northern Ireland is no exception. Indeed, local partner organisations with which Brown and her colleagues are presently coordinating include the Law Centre (NI) and No More Traffik. In addition, Brown recently attended the Belfast Film Festival to promote the competition and Unchosen’s efforts more generally.

Modern slavery takes many different forms within Northern Irish society and Unchosen is determined to undermine misconceptions about the true nature of this hidden world. Sex trafficking is, of course, a crime requiring a direct response – an anti-trafficking bill is now set to enter its consideration stage at Stormont – but the wider phenomenon’s dark tentacles reach into areas as varied as domestic service, forced agricultural labour and indentured servitude.

In Brown’s opinion, the public needs to look beyond its accepted notions. 'People might think that for somebody to be enslaved, particularly in the UK, there needs to be the element of sexual exploitation. That isn’t the case at all.’ In fact, as consumers of products and services, we all may be unwittingly complicit in providing slavery with the oxygen, and money, that it requires to prosper.

The Modern Day Slavery Short Film Competition will attempt to aid us in recognising the signs. Drawing on a series of case studies, filmmakers from around the world are invited to create a short film, no longer than 10 minutes in duration and based on a selected case study. The successful entrants will then see their films used by Unchosen, throughout the year, as focal points at events and panel discussions.

One such study relates to Jurgis, a Lithuanian man duped into coming to Northern Ireland with the promise of honest, relatively lucrative manual labour. Met at the airport in Belfast, he was whisked away to a rural location and tricked into surrendering his passport.

He was every bit a slave as he toiled for 12 hours per day, collecting and packing eggs for distribution to Northern Ireland’s supermarkets. His weekly pay amounted to £20. Jurgis was alone and confused, unsure of where he was and unable to speak English.

It is a chilling tale of deceit and manipulation made all the more shocking by the familiarity of its setting. For Brown, Jurgis’s story, and the manner in which he was mislead, is incredibly common. She estimates that ‘nine times out of ten, in a situation of forced labour, you find that the person has willingly engaged in moving from one place to the other place'.

Unchosen’s intention, therefore, is to offer up a range of ordeals – in keeping with the diversity of the victims. Brown is keen also to stress the centrality of filmmaking to the entire movement. ‘It just breaks down some sort of barrier,’ she says. ‘It enables people to engage in this topic in a way that reading a report, reading an article in a newspaper, seeing something on TV doesn’t allow them to do.’

As slavery feeds on silence and ignorance, so too will its opponents triumph in an atmosphere of knowledge and transparency. These films, Brown concludes, act as a ‘powerful medium of sensitising people, opening people’s eyes, engaging people. They are an easier, more accessible way of communicating.’

Unchosen’s Modern Day Slavery Film Competition is now open. All entries should be submitted by 2pm on August 13, 2014. Visit the Unchosen website for information on categories, prizes and more.