Hear directly from the trainees about how it feels to be selected

Neil Aitken (25, Dundee)

I have always been fascinated with stories and how they are told, across history, cultures, and different mediums. However, film and television have emerged as my main passion when it comes to storytelling. As part of my studies at Queen Margaret University and the University of Dundee, I have been lucky enough to pursue this passion, creating short films and documentaries and immersing myself in the production process. A process which I find endlessly challenging, enlightening, and rewarding, and one which I want to make a career from.

I firmly believe that documentaries in particular provide the perfect vessel for showcasing the kind of stories that need to be told. Stories of people, places, and issues that have been overlooked or ignored - the kind of stories, when brought to light through the visual medium, can change minds and provide new perspectives. I hope to one day share my perspective with the world - a perspective concerned with stories of neurodiversity, Scottish history, culture, and identity - as well as those on the fringes of society whose stories have been so far ignored or misreperesented.

I am delighted and honoured to be welcomed into the Grierson Doculab scheme. Their dedication to diversity and inclusion is so vital and necessary in today’s world, and I hope I can contribute to their aim of giving a voice to those underrepresented in the industry. I am nervous, excited, but above all else, determined to make the most of this wonderful opportunity and learn all I can from it.

Mariam Aliabadi (25, London)

From a young age I have been fascinated by the medium of documentary as a portal into the lives of others. I was captivated by the way storytelling, moving images, light and sound could combine to immerse the viewer into other peoples’ realities. For me, documentary film has always been a vehicle for new ways of seeing and thinking about the world.

I grew up in Iran, a country governed by religious fundamentalists where the effects of war and sanctions are deeply felt, before moving to the UK when I was 8 years old. This profound culture shock taught me to question everything. It taught me that there is no one truth – people will see things from different perspectives. Part of what I love about documentaries is that they can shift the angle and make visible things that are hidden from us.

Whilst studying Economic History at LSE, I was very involved in filmmaking activities because it was a passion of mine that I was keen to explore. In my second year I received a grant from the university to make a film about a queer Arab-Israeli performance artist in Israel/Palestine. I was also a multimedia intern at a media organisation in the West Bank, shooting, interviewing, and editing short films on human rights abuses across the West Bank from Jerusalem to Hebron. Part of my motivation to work there was seeing the documentary Five Broken Cameras, a film that, for me, epitomises the power of documentary film to reveal realities and to move and inspire people to action.

It means the world to me to be selected for the Grierson DocLab 2022. For me, Grierson DocLab represents the first step to making my dreams of working in documentary filmmaking a reality. I’m so excited to start learning new skills and develop ideas alongside industry professionals as well as the rest of this year’s cohort.

Rebecca Cudmore (25, Manchester)

After spending 8 years dedicated to the study of animals and their care, the moment it all became clear to me, that documentary and factual tv needed to be my desired career path, was when I was sitting in a forest surrounded, overwhelmed by the fauna and flora, waiting for anything to pass by my camera. In the fifth to sixth hour of stillness, a badger came into shot, scratched his bum and walked away. All my planning, scouting and preparation was now rewarded with pure joy and giddy excitement. All from that 10 second encounter. I realised this is what I wanted to do with my life.

I have always had a keen interest in wildlife and the landscape it abides. I have been lucky enough to travel to some of the most beautiful places for research and have always found myself making little films along the way. Upon completing my Undergraduate BSc in Wildlife Conservation with Zoo Biology I was unsure of what career I wanted and felt lost. My love of media, photography and nature was always a constant and in pursuing these ideals I found a master’s that encompassed both. Graduating in 2021 with a Wildlife Documentary Production Masters Degree, I learned the basis of documentary work and found my eyes opened to the media industry where wildlife sciences can be applied, and I knew I had found my place in the world.

I am beyond delighted to receive a place on this years Grierson DocLab scheme. I feel this is the perfect space I needed to transition from education to a career. In fact, I have never wanted something so badly and am still in shock I made it! I am primed and ready, eager to start this new chapter and jump into unfamiliar territory.

Lauren Dawkins (19, Lymington)

Growing up between London and a small, rural town in the New Forest, I have certainly experienced diversity in different extremes! Questioning myself, I realise this has opened my mind, and helped me to discover the themes that connect us.

I have always been inspired to communicate visually, and whilst I have enjoyed creating fictional films, it is the truth within a story that I am most drawn to. I am currently working on my final project in my film production course: a documentary that explores climate change and youth activism. I want to show how despite our environments, we are united in our similar hopes and fears.

Through the lens of factual filmmaking, I am finding an identity I have long been searching for. I am learning to understand what I can bring to the world around me, and in an attempt to put it into words, it feels like my call to adventure.

I want to live and breathe factual storytelling; and being selected for Grierson Doclab is the most exciting thing to happen in my career (and perhaps my life!) to date. I am writing this in awe of those who have come before me; joining the Doclab Alumni network fills me with confidence to pursue my path, knowing I won’t be alone in my journey. I love that this industry is a constant learning process, and it is an honour to be guided and supported by the Grierson Team. I cannot wait to give every opportunity my all!

Assiah Hamed (24, Leicester)

My first brush with documentary filmmaking was watching Fahrenheit 911. I have since been fascinated by real life stories with people in the centre of those stories, and the events that shape us.

Despite getting my first understanding of the industry through studying Journalism and International Relations, I began to find my path through taking on an Investigative Journalism MA course. Through my Masters, I delved into the world of documentary filmmaking from developing ideas to editing- and I felt that I fit right in.

I’m looking forward to taking the next steps in the industry I hope to break into, as I am so fortunate and blessed to have been accepted onto the Grierson DocLab scheme.  To have been accepted onto the following stage was already such an accomplishment, I am honestly ecstatic to be meeting some of the industry’s best and getting a foot into the door into a field that I’m passionate about.

Deshawn Hillman (19, London)

Hello my name is Deshawn and I'm a 19 year old freelancer. I'm currently working at Elam as an assistant in the film production and helping my colleagues with masterclasses and anything else. This opportunity will be a life changer for me to get more experience from professionals about documentaries and having the ability to share my own ideas and get critiques and room of improvements. I know after the training scheme, I'll be leaving with a lot of new knowledge and confidence for the industry. To conclude, I'm really excited and ready to start.

Ruby Hubbard (21, Norwich)

Since a young age I have been fascinated with documenting the world around me and I have always tried to do in life what I enjoy. This ultimately influenced my university choice of Film and Moving Image Production. During my degree I found myself drawn to factual and unscripted productions so much so, I specialised in documentary filmmaking. My most recent documentary ‘Collision of Two Lives’ is about an Afghan war veteran who survived a suicide bomb attack. It focuses on the day that changed his life, his feelings towards the suicide bomber and his mental and physical recovery. Previous documentaries include ‘Jane’, which seeks to dispel myths around disability and deafness and ‘Out in the Cold’, focusing on homelessness in Norwich and the associated stigma which inhibits integration back into society. Since graduating I have worked freelance as a runner which has confirmed my love for this industry.

I enjoy watching a wide range of factual programmes as I am drawn to content that presents real events; real emotions and a window into someone else’s world, providing the audience with alternative life perspectives. Recently, I have become fascinated with documentaries which feature the sea; such a foreign environment to me that I have found them captivating.

I am over the moon to be accepted onto Grierson Doclab 2022. This scheme has given me an opportunity to one day be a part of making amazing documentaries. Different genders, cultures and religions see the world in very different ways, and it is important for the industry to embrace this. I am under no illusions and know the industry can be demanding with long hours, but all worth it if I can be a part of something that has an impact on the audience, whether that is through allowing them to switch off, experience different emotions or learn something new. I can’t wait to make the most out of this scheme, get training from professionals, network and undertake a work placement.

Erin Lister (24, London/Bolton)

I have always had a passion for storytelling, and I think there is even more beauty when those stories are true! As a result, I’ve always loved documentaries and factual programming. They give me the opportunity to travel the world, back in time and into space. I also believe there is a real art to telling those stories visually. To work in documentaries would therefore be a dream for me, as it brings all the things I value most together into a career.

As a journalism student, I want to continue exploring new and interesting ways of sharing the stories that have inspired me, stories from all the amazing communities I am and have been a part of and stories that never got the opportunity to be told.

I am incredibly happy to have been offered a place on the Grierson DocLab and to have been recognised for my passion and interest in documentaries and factual programming. I am very hopeful that this scheme will help me to progress my career, gain industry knowledge and learn so much more about the world of documentaries than simply watching and appreciating them has been able to teach me.

Frazer McLean (21, Leeds/Sheffield)

I have been interested in the world of factual programming since I was young and have always felt that it occupies a unique place in the world of media and in my life as well. Documentary has the incredible ability to fight ignorance and help to spread empathy for people with different experiences and lifestyles.

I have certainly found that my frequent viewings of factual content have helped me to better understand the people in my own life which I think is the most important function that media can possibly have. I have always felt that the North of England, specifically small towns, and cities which have struggled economically for so long, have their own stories to tell, stories that can so often be drowned out by the large media productions which exist in the UK’s big cities. When I began studying media at collage when I was 17, I knew that this was how I felt but had no understanding of where to get started in amplifying the voices of the people around me.

Being chosen for the 2022 Grierson Doclab is a dream come true for me as that it will help me to continue pursuing a career in the media industry after finishing my BA Media undergraduate degree at Leeds Trinity University.

Jyoti Rajput (25, Leamington Spa)

The idea that documentary film is an objective medium, which tells objective truths, I find misleading. Any viewpoint can be both proven and disproven through the medium of film. In Dust, Caroline Steedman, stated: “you find nothing in the archive but stories caught half way through: the middle of things; discontinuities”. Supposing that documentary film and TV has an archival function in the production of knowledge, Steedman makes a potent point. The kinds of documentaries I like, both recognise and embrace their own subjectivity through reflexivity and nuance. Before looking outwards to draw overarching narratives, they first look inward. This is the kind of work I want to eventually create, and I am really excited to gain practice making films using this approach through the skills I will learn in the DocLab scheme.

I am absolutely thrilled to have been accepted onto this year's DocLab. Knowing from a young age that I’ve always wanted to work on making documentaries, it’s a dream come true. I have just finished my degree in Politics and can’t wait to combine my research skills with the practice I will acquire through the scheme. A firm believer in documentary as a social and political agent, I feel proud to take part in the continuation of John Grierson's legacy, as he utilised film to confront the challenges facing democracy. Documentary subsists of the creative treatment of reality, and it is that ‘reality’ that makes documentaries, to me, especially powerful. As much as I enjoy fiction and fantasy, it’s the stories that are real and the people in them, that remain in my memory. The world can be a wild and absurd place and the extraordinary can be found in the ordinary. Documentaries have the power to make sense of the unknown and through building familiarity with our world, they also foster our collective responsibility for it.

As a self-taught independent filmmaker and portrait photographer, I really enjoy meeting my subjects who come from all walks of life, people and their stories are at the heart of my work. I believe that gaining the experience through the DocLab scheme will help me draw out these stories and subjects and help me present them effectively. I also look forward to hearing advice from industry professionals that will help me get my foot in the door. As a first-generation immigrant born in a working-class home, this world seemed out of my reach. I am thankful to DocLab for bringing me one step closer to it.

Sarah Russell (21, Solihull/Reading)

For me, factual TV is all about creating community. My interest was sparked watching Countryfile as a child with my parents every Sunday evening, and since then it has been a way to connect with others, in real-life and online.

I’m currently finishing up my degree in English Literature and Film at the University of Reading. My studies have exposed me to a wide range of literature and media, but I noticed that the programmes I gravitated towards were primarily factual, from documentaries to reality - and any competition show I could get my hands on.

The representation of women both in front and behind the screen is really important to me. My dissertation project is focused on the novels of Jean Rhys, analysing her depiction of femininity, identity, and selfhood in a masculine world. I am also particularly interested in regional identity and how it can inform factual programming. I recently participated in a collaborative photography scene based around the 'unseen side of the West Midlands', and I would like to continue to help my community be represented creatively.

I am beyond excited and honoured to have been chosen for this year’s Grierson DocLab. Discovering the scheme confirmed to me that this is the industry I want to be a part of professionally. It will undoubtedly push me out of my comfort zone, but I hope to grow in confidence and meet new people - both industry experts and the rest of the cohort alike!

Arnold Thornton-Rice (25, Horsham)

Being selected for this year’s Doclab feels like getting through to the live shows on The X Factor, except none of us have to sing (as far as we know) and there’s no sign of Gary Barlow (as far as we know). Needless to say, I’m elated. Though I’ve spent the last few years as a mental-health social worker in Coventry, I've always been chipping away at little film/comedy/music projects and quietly keeping the documentary-shaped dream alive. Now Doclab's programme is the perfect place for me to combine and develop my skills, and move toward representing on-screen the sorts of complex issues and stories I’ve been immersed in within social work.

And at the risk of sounding like a total loner, I’m really excited to get to know the other participants – building a diverse community of new collaborators and just having some real dorky discussions about ethics in factual-filmmaking. Massive thanks to The Grierson Trust for granting all these invaluable in-roads; can’t wait to get stuck in and show Gary Barlow what I’ve got!

Hasan Zakria (23, Slough)

As a Queer, Pakistani, Neurodivergent person- society continously reminds me of my ‘otherness’. I used to see this as a weakness, until I realised there was strength in my diversity. Societal norms and expectations often limit people’s capacity to push boundaries, but as someone who exists outside the artificial margins of ‘normality’- my creative thinking has always offered a unique perspective. That’s why I am elated to be part of this year's cohort, because I know The Grierson Trust and its partners are eager to bring new voices into the industry.

I am also excited to get involved with initiatives to support greater diversity off-screen, to match the strides that have been made on-screen. As it is a personal ambition of mine to hold a ladder for others like me and inspire a new generation of diverse talent to join this incredible industry.

Lastly, I understand being a freelancer means the next job is never guaranteed, but I am ready to pull my sleeves up, and create opportunities where there are none. And I hope you stay tuned to my journey.

Published: 21 April 2022

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