Angie and Richie from John Smedley Limited being interviewed by animator Bexie Bush
Joe Smith and the Stories of Change team have been awarded £50K in Open University Higher Education Impact Funding (HEIF) to help get “The Rumour Mill” made. This will be a short animated film set in the world’s longest established that is, as filmmaker Bexie Bush puts it ‘powered by factory workers’. A large selection of factory workers from Smedley’s mill come together and discuss whether or not they would like to see a change in where energy comes from and how they think about energy futures.
The film is set in Smedley’s 1784 Mill, set in the picturesque landscape of the Derwent valley. It is the oldest factory in continuous production anywhere in the world. Initially water powered, the Mill now runs on fossil fuels, although the management team are looking at how to replace these sources of energy. The Mill is looking at using old renewable energy sources alongside the new. Within the factory is a community of knowledge, family and superb personalities. Bexie sat down and recorded interviews with over 40 different factory workers about the future of energy. The recorded dialogue captures once slice in time in the life of this extraordinary Mill,. When edited together the film will represent a range of largely unheard voices on energy debates in an entirely original way. The film is just one example of the how the team are working with both creative and community partners to support a more lively and diverse public discussion of energy issues.
The director Bexie Bush and producer Chris Hees are graduates of the National Film and Television School, yet already have 200 different international film festival appearances, with over 50 awards won between them, and all in just a period of one year. You can see Bexie’s first collaboration with Joe on the Open University’s website: Ever Hear a Postman Whistle?, and a trailer for her enchanting graduation film Mend and Make Do online. The Postman film was one of ten films commissioned as a result of a competition co-run by Joe and the BBC’s former head of Comedy Jon Plowman with the aim of inviting emerging creative talent to respond to the challenge of communicating complex global environmental change issues in fresh ways. In addition to serving as a public resource, and an experiment in fresh ways to invite people into environmental research the short films were used on a big population Open University module, and Joe plans to integrate The Rumour Mill in similar ways into his teaching.
The HEIF funding will allow Bexie and Chris to get the project going and enable them to leverage other sources of funding. John Smedley’s Ltd have contributed considerable pro bono support including: studio space within the 18th century parts of the factory; time for employees to participate in interviews (46 to date: a valuable research resource in themselves) and props and other kinds of support.
The mix of animation techniques result in a captivating style rich with visual metaphors. Joe will be using the film as an engaging calling card for the Stories project, and an invitation to find out about the rest of the work. Bexie nicely captures the tone of the project as a whole when she says ‘This film is not just about energy, it is also about community, living life to the full, British manufacturing and most of all coming together to talk about and bring about change’.