In their own words

2019's Grierson DocLab trainees introduce themselves and tell us how it feels to be one of the 12 selected for this prestigious scheme!

Toni Arenyeka (25, Orpington, Bromley)

I am so honoured to be chosen for Grierson DocLab.

I will be 25 this year so this application was my first and last shot at being selected. The calibre of applicants that I met at the interview day was amazing and meeting people that have the same dream as me felt empowering! I can’t wait to collaborate with the rest of the group when we complete the residential.

I have a strong passion for media and for the past three years have been working to start a career in factual entertainment. At the same time, I have been completing my master’s degree in Pharmacy. It hasn’t been easy, but the sacrifices seem worth it now that I have been accepted on this scheme.

I expect that DocLab will be challenging as it will push me to develop my ideas to a professional standard. I am prepared to take my notebook and recorder and learn as much from the experience as I can. I look forward to opportunities to network in Sheffield and during the residential.

I don’t know what other opportunities will come from this but I am sure that it will be extremely beneficial to my career. I am currently completing my degree and preparing to move back home to London. I can’t wait to get started!

Amy Jean Carlsson (25, London).

I moved to the UK from Sweden in 2014 to pursue filmmaking at University of the Arts, London. Though I had limited experience and even less confidence, I was driven by a desire to tell and hear stories on a regular basis. In college, I started my own Film Club because I loved analyzing how films shape our way of thinking and vice versa. I have always appreciated films beyond just image and entertainment and wrote amateur film reviews from a young age. It wasn't until I ended up directing a short film about my late father in 2017 that I realised I wanted to specialise in documentaries.

Making documentaries gives the freedom to say things I might be too scared to say in ordinary life, allowing us to make sense of people and places that may, at first glance, seem disconnected. I have experienced first-hand the repercussions that can come of deciding to make a film, and they are all worth the time and effort you put in because of the rollercoaster-like fun you experience along the way. I also love being able to do this within a team (because rollercoasters are always better in groups, right?).

I genuinely feel very lucky to have been chosen for the scheme. As someone who has completed a degree but still feels lost in terms of their next steps, I had the fear of being regarded as someone who ought to have "figured things out" at this point. Therefore, I also feel exceptionally grateful, reassured and excited for what's to come.

Saskia Deicher (18, Hartley, Kent).

Studying film in Sixth Form introduced me to love a creative outlet I hadn’t seen myself as ever going into. I had always cut together my own videos at home but, throughout my last two years of school, this hobby of mine developed into a goal to work in film and my interest has only grown since then.

I feel extremely excited about being a part of DocLab as I feel it’s going to be a great stepping stone into the world of documentary. I’m looking forward to meeting new people and discovering where my passions lie and how I can channel them. Not going to university after leaving school and then trying to enter into the film industry on my own has proved to be quite challenging but all the more rewarding when I am given a chance to be a part of schemes such as this.

I love film and learning about the world and the people that inhabit it and documentary is a perfect vessel for showcasing this. I’m hoping to learn more about the process of film making and everything that comes with it.

Jenni Herd (22, Glasgow).

I’m a 21-year old student graduating this summer with a degree in English Literature/Film and Television Studies from the University of Glasgow.

My love of documentary grew from my involvement in Glasgow University Student Television, which I joined in my first year. I can’t even remember why I went along to that first meeting – filmmaking or television production had never occurred to me as a career path, and my joint degree offered no opportunities for formal training. But when I filmed my first factual piece on emotional carers two years ago, I was hooked. Since then I’ve thrown myself into filming, editing, and watching documentary; I even volunteered at Doc/Fest last year, an experience that opened my eyes to the incredible variety of factual programming being produced around the world and introduced me to some amazing people.

I am thrilled to be part of the 2019 Grierson DocLab cohort. As a self-taught filmmaker, I’m very aware of the gaps in my experience and I spend a lot of time doubting myself and my abilities. I think DocLab will give me the confidence I need to believe in myself and my work. I can’t wait to learn new skills and collaborate with like-minded people in a creative environment, and I’m so excited to see what we all produce!

Alex Jones (21, Liverpool).

I'm a student from the University of Liverpool, just finishing my degree, and I feel extremely honoured to have been chosen for the Grierson DocLab scheme this year! My passion for film-making started at a young age, with a particular interest in factual programmes leading me to study the field a higher level. I'm particularly interested in programmes about current affairs, social issues, and music, which is another major passion in my life. My studying of documentary at university first introduced me to the works of John Grierson, and it was fascinating to see the early techniques of factual programming used in films such Night Mail and Coal Face. To be accepted into a scheme named after such an influential figure is simply incredible. I can't wait to benefit from the editing and shooting training, as well as being able to develop my skills with the advice of industry professionals.

Furthermore, the chance to attend events such as the Sheffield Doc/Fest and Grierson Awards, is brilliant as they truly showcase new and exciting forays into the world of documentary. Overall, I see the scheme as an amazing opportunity, and a highly beneficial step into the world of factual programming!

Karl Knights (22 from Leiston, Suffolk).

I’m an autistic journalist with cerebral palsy and ADHD. My journalism focuses on disability, representation and culture. I’m excited to learn more about factual programming, and to learn from the best in the industry. A great friend of mine once said that every person knows something that you do not. Every opportunity is a learning opportunity. I cannot wait to plunge into the opportunities that the Grierson Trust provides with open eyes and ears. My head is a cauldron of ideas, and I can’t wait to get started with the help and guidance of the Grierson DocLab!

Emily McNally (24, Jarrow).

I am 24 and from Jarrow, in the North East. I graduated University in 2016 with a first-class degree in English Literature and Language. I thrive in a learning environment and after graduating I decided to continue learning and travelling. I travelled and worked between Switzerland and France, learning the French language and engaging with exciting new cultures and people. I saw a world of new things and the experience was truly enriching.

I now feel ready to harness my creativity, my passion for the arts, and my positive attitude into practical work in the industry. I am an avid fan of factual television; I love watching anything from reality-television to high-budget documentaries. I am passionate about helping the environment and being part of a community who strive to make a positive change in the world. I support David Attenborough in his efforts to ignite change through the powerful visual medium of documentaries. I find joy in communicating with people of all backgrounds, I believe in celebrating the ordinary as well as the extra-ordinary members of our community when it comes to documentaries.

Being selected for this scheme is a great privilege that I do not take lightly. I am honoured to be learning from such talented creatives and strong minds in the industry. I feel there is not a great deal of regional representation in the industry, and I am hopeful that this mentorship scheme will bring new opportunities as we, as trainees, have the chance to network and home in on our skills with the training provided. I am proud to be from the North and hope that there will eventually be a shift in the industry which will see equality in all areas, including socioeconomic backgrounds.

Hugh Memess (23, Welwyn Garden City).

I graduated from Durham University, where I read Geology, in 2017 and subsequently completed a Master’s degree in Environmental Science at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Whilst at Durham I was heavily involved with the filmmaking society (Durham Student Film), serving as president in my final year. My interest in filmmaking began at the age of 15 when I produced a Pink Floyd music video as part of my Media Studies GCSE; a rather bizarre film which, at the time, I fancied as a prog-rock homage to Ingmar Bergman. It is fair to say there has been a gradual amelioration in my cinematic tastes and skills since then. I have subsequently worked in a minor commercial sense as a freelancer on wedding and event videos. Additionally, I have produced and directed a number of films, narrative and factual, beginning whilst a member of Durham Student Film. I am currently producing my own documentary on the geology and industrial history of the Peak District, based on research carried out for my undergraduate dissertation.

Having completed two scientific degrees, I hope to combine my experience in filmmaking and natural science, to work on documentaries dealing with relevant and important scientific issues. In this way helping to bring about important social change concerning the pressing environmental issues of our time, communicating knowledge and understanding to the public.

I am therefore grateful and honoured to have been accepted onto the Grierson Trust DocLab 2019. I believe that, as a member of this scheme, I will learn a great deal about documentary production, the factual television industry, and visual nonfiction storytelling whilst meeting potential colleagues, industry veterans, and future collaborators. I am certain this will be an excellent opportunity for me to develop as a documentary filmmaker and herald a professional career in factual television production.

Laura O'Connor (23, Sutton Coldfield).

After graduating from the University of Leeds last summer with a degree in Film, Photography and Media, I found the process of finding work extremely challenging and at times, disheartening. Due to the more theoretical and broad nature of my course and my lack of industry experience, I did not even feel confident enough to put myself out there for media-based jobs. I felt myself rather lost, with no specific honed skills or area.

However, I began to re-realise my love for documentary, Realism cinema and storytelling – the things that inspired me to study film in the first place. I have always tried to express my interest in documentary where possible in my degree, even if it was through independent photography projects.

When I read about Grierson DocLab, it seemed so perfect for me. I knew I had to apply. Even more so after learning about John Grierson himself at University and writing an essay about his work because I admired it so much. Coming from a working class background, I have always had sustained interest in issues and themes that surround working class life in Britain – so the fact that DocLab was looking for applicants from similar backgrounds gave me hope of at least being considered. To be shortlisted and then selected has felt amazing – and like my ideas would matter. I cannot wait to put my all into the scheme and utilise all the support, advice and mentoring it offers. Above all, it has given me hope and a confidence boost that I will value through my ongoing journey.


Azeem Rajulawalla (21, Hadleigh, Essex).

I am a History student at SOAS, currently in my third and final year. I have always had an interest in film and the idea of being able to make my own excites me greatly. I was recently able to incorporate this passion into my degree, making a 45 minute documentary about the expulsion of Asians from Uganda in 1972 for my dissertation, told entirely from the perspective of those who were expelled.

The Grierson DocLab will enable me to build on the skills I have already learnt, as well as allowing me to develop new ones with like-minded people. I think documentaries need to exist to inform and challenge us, and I look forward to being informed and challenged during my DocLab experience.

Mal Senanayake (24, Durham).

I have a Masters in Film and Television from the University of Birmingham as well as a degree in chemistry from Newcastle University. During my undergraduate studies I realised that I really wanted to work in documentary film and factual entertainment. However, as I am based in the North-East it has been difficult to find opportunities in the industry. I am delighted to have been selected for the DocLab and I am looking forward to sharing ideas with and learning from both industry professionals and my fellow DocLab attendees. In particular, I am eager to learn more about developing ideas and how to take practical steps towards pitching and ultimately making feature documentaries.

Dhelia Snoussi (24, London).

I am a youth worker, filmmaker and researcher. My 9-5 job is as a Youth Culture Curator on Curating London, the Museum of London’s contemporary collecting programme. My work is frequently at the intersection of youth work, arts & culture and research. Before joining MoL, I worked at Voices That Shake! & Runnymede Trust. I also studied a BA in South Asian Studies from SOAS. I work a lot on facilitating creative projects for other young people, so I'm excited to be participating in The Grierson Trust's 2019 DocLab, so that I can focus more on developing my own filmmaking. Most of all, I'm excited to have a space to work intensively on my own practice with a group of like-minded, creative people.

Published: 7 May 2019

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