THROUGH A CHILD’S EYES

12 Years Old & Caring for Mum/ 10 Years Old & Living in Poverty

Two powerful films exploring social issues that affect millions of Britons: poverty and long-term illness. Each programme tells the story of three families coping with day to day life under very challenging circumstances. Each story is told entirely from the point of view of a child. They may be young in years but, through the honesty with which they speak and the directness with which they reveal the difficult experiences that define their childhood, they hold up a very poignant mirror to the adult world.


BEHIND THE SCENES

These are the programmes that I’ve waited my entire career to make. Not just because of the brief I was given by the channel. Not just because of the tone and style that I was given the freedom to set. Not just because of the stories that I was able to tell, and the wonderful, inspirational children that I was able to work with for nearly a year of my life. But also because, in bringing these programmes to the screen, I literally had to draw on lessons that I’d learned across my entire career. This was a hard project to make. But my God, it was worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to admit that, when I was first approached to take it on, I had a big reservation. Channel 5 isn’t a network that I’ve traditionally aspired to work for. Then again, I used to have my doubts about ITV which, today, is my most favourite place in Tellyland. My reservation was that, for all the appeal held in the concept of films told ‘Through A Child’s Eyes’, the channel might want to force the end result in a tabloid direction and make caricatures out of our contributors in the name of entertainment. I wouldn’t have stood for it, but if that’s they wanted, that’s what they would end up getting. Albeit without me at the helm.

I have to admit that, when I was first approached to take it on, I had a big reservation. Channel 5 isn’t a network that I’ve traditionally aspired to work for. Then again, I used to have my doubts about ITV which, today, is my most favourite place in Tellyland. My reservation was that, for all the appeal held in the concept of films told ‘Through A Child’s Eyes’, the channel might want to force the end result in a tabloid direction and make caricatures out of our contributors in the name of entertainment. I wouldn’t have stood for it, but if that’s they wanted, that’s what they would end up getting. Albeit without me at the helm.

My fears were not grounded purely in snobbery. After all, this is a network that was producing ‘On Benefits and Proud’ at the same time as we were trying to cast our “sensitive documentary about the pressures of life in poverty”. But, as it turned out, my fears were unfounded. Channel 5 is a network in transition and with Ben Frow in charge, and high calibre commissioners like Simon Raikes on the team (collaborative, perceptive, super-bright and human) it’s definitely one to watch. Maybe even literally.

I felt from the start that we could do something special with these programmes. It’s so rare for children to be placed front and centre in a production that isn’t directly aimed at their peers. But the idea of creating grown-up films with such young narrators was a very enticing proposition. I decided early on to take ‘Through a Child’s Eyes’ very literally – a decision that by default created rules that defined the programmes’ style. 1) The only interviews we’d do would be with the children. 2) There would be no third person commentary – only the voice of the child. 3) We would never be anywhere that the children were not. 4) We would therefore only hear adult voices if they were part of a scene involving the children or if the children themselves interviewed the adult.

 

This last point would end up adding significant purpose to our use of video diary. The children’s terribly filmed conversations with their parents are among my favourite moments. In one of them the camera was placed on its side while recording. Yes, it looks weird. But that’s how they shot it and that’s how it stayed. And I love it.

It is an absolute credit to my exceptional assistant producer, Steph Chlond, that we ended up with such amazing kids. These were extraordinarily difficult shows to cast. The children, we decided, should be between 8 and 13. They must be eloquent, bright and honest. Brave enough to go public with their circumstances even though most of them had intentionally tried to keep their situations hidden from friends, for fear of being singled out as ‘different’. They had to offer a range of issues and story points for each programme. And they needed an extended family behind them that was also willing to participate openly.

As a production we put in place the most solid psychological support and aftercare that I have ever encountered. Nonetheless, for a someone like Ellie’s mum – who hasn’t looked at herself in a mirror for years for fear of what she might see, or for a child like Lyndsey – who is already being bullied for not having as many nice things as the people around her, or for a family like Maddie’s – which is battling with debilitating mental health issues, getting involved was a big decision. Happily, all of them were pleased with the end results.

Those end results were not easily achieved. Any programme about such sensitive issues is always going to have its complications. Asking vulnerable people to trust you involves a huge leap of faith on their behalf. But on top of that we were frequently asking people to confront subjects that, for the sake of self-protection, they didn’t often think about, let alone talk about. And on top of that we were asking very young people to connect with their realities in a way that not all of them had considered before. Questioning took an incredibly soft approach, and where we went was always guided by the child’s responses and willingness to ‘go there’. But as a film maker I had to encourage them to dip their toes in rough water so we could appreciate the impact of their situations.

The emotion in the films is vital and all the more powerful when the tears flow through a child’s eyes. But these, I hope, are not depressing films. And this, too, is because of the children. It is very easy as an adult looking in from the outside to think: “poor you”. That’s certainly how I initially viewed it. But that isn’t how the children see things at all. They, of course, know no different and as such they just press on, dealing with their normal day to day lives without any reference to an alternative.

In the young carer film, Maddie ends a gruelling day competing in an archery competition by having to look after her mum back at home. Just like she does every day. It’s exhausting, but “the more you do it, the more you get used to it, and I’ve been doing it seven years now”, she tells us.

In the poverty film, Lyndsey desperately wants a better room so that her friends might stop teasing her. The solution is to go ‘trash picking’, to see if they can turn other people’s rubbish into something she can use. This is the family’s best option, and through Lyndsey’s eyes it’s a really fun day out. She’s couldn’t be more excited when they find a battered old wardrobe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the reality of life as seen through a child’s eyes. Children see the world differently to adults. Thank goodness they do. But this doesn’t make their situation any less sad – indeed, perhaps it makes it sadder.

My hope is that this point isn’t missed by the casual viewer. It would, I suspect, be possible to watch these programmes and be taken in at times by their optimism and laughter, to view these as kids that are coping well with their lot, and to think that things don’t seem nearly as bad as we might expect.

But this is the wrong response. Things are every bit as bad as we could ever imagine. No child should have to look after their parent. No child should have to sacrifice their own ambitions because they are their mother’s only means of support. No child should have to rummage in back alleys to get the things they need. No child should be worrying about where their next meal is coming from.

The kids may not always appreciate the injustice and sadness that underpins their world. But, this is because, by definition they regard their world ‘Through a child’s eyes’.

We, as adults, must see what the children miss. And we must be touched or even angered by what we see. We owe them that much – and more.

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Series Producer/ Series Director/ Camera/ Edit Producer: Nic Guttridge
Duration: 2 x 60mins
Production company: Spun Gold TV
Network: Channel 5
First broadcast: July/November 2014

 

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