The power of film in the fight against modern slavery

By guest contributor Melissa Blackburn, Unchosen CEO

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Unchosen are a charity who use film to tell people and professionals about Modern Slavery in the UK.

It seems almost unbelievable that slavery still exists in the UK today, but in 2015 3,266 potential victims of Modern Slavery were found in England and Wales. These victims are men and women, boy and girls, who have been exploited in the UK. They’ve experienced forced labour (the most common form of slavery), sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or forced marriage; and although many victims will be from places such as Albania, Vietnam, Nigeria or Romania, nearly 200 victims last year were from the UK.

Unchosen’s aim is for more victims of Modern Slavery to be identified in the UK, and more perpetrators prosecuted. We want to bridge the gap between the 10,000-13,000 victims the UK government suggest may exist in the UK, and those 3266 potential victims of slavery who were found last year.

Film is central to what we do. Film is a hugely powerful tool that can explain the complexities of Modern Slavery in ways that words cannot, and our films and animations show our audiences what slavery looks like in their community, in their country.

Our work starts with the creation of the films and other resources we use. We do this in two ways: through our Unchosen Modern Slavery Short Film Competition, now in its third iteration; and in house at Unchosen, through our creative team.

Recently, we have created the innovate Films Against Slavery DVDs as a standalone resource for use by individuals, professionals, and the anti-slavery sector to get up to speed about Modern Slavery, Forced Labour or Sexual Exploitation in less than 20 minutes per DVD. Designed to be used at meetings, in lunch hours, or during training, each DVD includes a short animation called What Do You See?; one of our short films based on survivor case studies; and a film of experts explaining how slavery works and how to spot the signs of slavery.

These DVDs are currently available to order from our website, and are available to anyone. We’ve just piloted these Films Against Slavery DVDs in the South West of England and as a result, since we launched in September 2015, nearly 1000 have been ordered from our website, many of them by frontline workers such as the police, social workers, local authorities and the NHS. This means that more victims of Modern Slavery are likely to identified, which is exactly our aim.

In addition to our Film Against Slavery DVDs, we also use our large library of films about Modern Slavery at events, workshops, training and conferences all over the country.

These events are central to Unchosen’s work. At a recent conference for Epping Forest Council, something quite miraculous happened. The conference was using expert speakers, panels and workshops to train frontline workers in what slavery might look like in their community. During the lunch break, one of the attendees, a police officer, went outside. He came across a woman and her two children, who had been trying to visit the police station. The woman was distressed. As a police officer he had a duty to help her – but as she spoke it became clear to him that she was a potential victim of sexual exploitation and that she felt trapped, coerced and exploited in her current situation, and was desperately trying to escape.

Because of what he had just learned in the Unchosen / Epping Forest Council conference, he was able to ask one our speakers from the Salvation Army to come and help. The woman and her children were immediately taken to safety, and she was later taken into the National Referral Mechanism, the legal means by in which victims of slavery are protected in the UK.  Proof, if is was needed, that showing people and professionals what Modern Slavery looks like in their community is central to taking people out of exploitation.

As I said, film is central to what Unchosen does, so we were delighted when Antislavery Usable Past agreed to provide a case study for our Unchosen Modern Slavery Short Film Competition, which this year focuses on Modern Slavery. Their case study focuses on the connections between narratives of slavery in the past, and those of today.

The Unchosen Modern Slavery Short Film Competition is a unique opportunity for filmmakers. The film competition gives filmmakers a chance to make a film that contributes to real social change – and to have their films shown at events, conferences and international festivals. Last year’s competition winner ‘Yoke Farm’, directed by Tim Keeling, has just been shown at Finland’s prestigious Tampere Film Festival.

All Unchosen ask of filmmakers is that their film is no more than 8 minutes long – and that it is based on one of our nine case studies, which are all based on true stories. Short listed entrants will be invited to a prestigious Award Ceremony in London in late October, where a panel of film industry and anti-slavery sector judges will pick four category winners who will all receive cash prizes of £300.

Our hope is that the Film Competition will inspire filmmakers to make the films that will be used at our events, conferences and workshops across the UK. And maybe, those films might be able to change the world.


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