Pastles Productions, a Bristol and Devon-based production company, is undertaking a massive project this year to raise awareness of the true stories of street homelessness in the U.K. and to give a platform to voices that often go unheard.
The team aim to fight the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding homelessness through their docudrama film.
Owain, the company’s director, has been working on the project for over a year now, gathering audio recordings with rough sleepers nationwide from Devon to Scotland and back again.
Having now cast a number of talented actors, largely sourced from Cardboard Citizens, a creative association working specifically with actors who are either currently or have previously been homeless, the film is now taking shape and moving into the production phase.
The inclusion of Megan Prescott, the actress who became a household name in Skins, and who has previously worked on issues surrounding homelessness, is also a great asset to the film, which hopes to reach a large audience nationwide through a circulation of film festivals as well as charities, schools and colleges up and down the country.
Owain Astles, the film’s director, took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk to us about the project and what he aims to achieve through it:
Can you tell us about the individuals that the film follows and how you chose them out of the many stories you heard while compiling the recordings?
Originally the film was just going to follow one male character, and was going to be shorter, but as we collected more and more interviews, with such a wide range of different stories, I realised that it wouldn’t be fair to just tell just one person’s story; it wouldn’t do justice to everyone we’ve spoken to.
Because of this, we follow three different characters;
Jack, an engineer who loses his job, splits up with his girlfriend and is forced to live on the streets, where he struggles with depression and bureaucracy.
Catherine, a young woman who moves straight in with her boyfriend after leaving care, but the relationship becomes abusive and she leaves, having to live on the street after having nowhere to turn to.
Eva, an immigrant who comes to the UK and is detained unless she finds a job. She secures a job, but it soon becomes clear that she’s being exploited and so she also moves out, having to sleep rough.
It was really tricky getting together a script for this, as it was so important to me that nothing was changed from the stories we were originally told, but a clear narrative for each character also had to be formed.
Each character’s storyline is basically made up of different events that happened to different people, but all the events are ones that have happened. Some events are quite common, for instance we spoke to so many men that moved out of their flat after a breakup so their wife or girlfriend (and often child ) didn’t have to; in the eyes of the council, this makes the man ‘intentionally homeless’ and therefore often doesn’t qualify for supported housing.
Other events, such as an immigrant that gets exploited in work, were more individual and less common, but no less relevant. Everything that happens in the film, however, is something that more than one person has experienced.
Why a Docudrama not a Documentary?
I made a 5 minute documentary early last year, just going out one Saturday, chatting to a few rough sleepers, editing the video together that evening and releasing it on social media the next day, just to test the waters. It got a surprisingly good response, with loads of people getting in touch. It taught me a lot, giving me ideas of how to go about creating a longer form film, what to focus on and how to tell it, but there were two principal reasons for making it a Docudrama.
One was that a lot of rough sleepers, for various reasons, don’t like having their faces on camera; while everyone I spoke to was more than happy to speak and share their story, there’s definitely danger, or fear, around being seen to be homeless (particularly if your friends or family might see the film).
The other is that, in this age of Facebook and short attention spans, a 3-5 minute documentary is perfect as a short burst of information, but it’s much more difficult to keep peoples’ attentions for as long as the film is going to be if the film’s a documentary.
Unfortunate as it is, our target audience is simply more likely to watch a 30 minute drama than a 30 minute documentary. It was really important to me, though, to get across the fact that these are real stories, and not to just write a story myself; for me, this would make the film lose legitimacy, and just not have the same impact. Therefore, docudrama was formed.
What do you aim to achieve with the film?
Three main things; the simplest thing we want to do is to change people’s perceptions of homelessness and rough sleepers, making people aware of the causes, what it’s really like and that ‘not all rough sleepers are junkies’. For younger people, this would also mean making them aware of the warning signs in case they’re at risk of homelessness in future.
On the next level, we’d like to get people engaged, writing to their local council or MP, going out and volunteering, and even just chatting to and connecting with rough sleepers in their area.
Finally, our most ambitious aim is to create legislative change, to change and introduce laws surrounding homelessness and preventing the causes. This starts at a local council level, where they can introduce initiatives around housing and other areas, and goes all the way up to Parliament, pushing them to introduce laws, not just helping the symptoms of homelessness and rough sleeping, but also preventing the causes.
On a personal level, I’ve wanted to do something around homelessness for a while, becoming aware of how much more common it was becoming (up around 120% in 6 years), but I was really inspired to start when I realised how negative a lot of peoples’ attitudes to homelessness are, and how ignorant a lot of people are to the situation.
In the UK, and globally, homelessness is at its peak, and we want to change that, but more crucially, we want to change people’s opinions of rough sleepers.
What should schools and pop-up venues do if they want to get involved or host a Screening?
Tell us! Getting the film to young people, especially in schools and colleges, is really important to us, to make people aware it could happen to them, and we really want to get it to the public to make them more educated about homelessness, so if anyone is interested in hosting a screening, a Q&A, a talk, or just wants to chat about it over coffee, let us know!
Just shoot us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll get back to you. We are open for creative submissions on raising awareness about homelessness at the moment and you can see one of the recent works submitted below by the fantastic Simon Tytherleigh, creator of ‘This is my home’.
Keep updated on the project through the following links: