The film festival encouraging audiences to Take One Action

Since 2008, Take One Action Film Festivals have engaged tens of thousands of people with hundreds of world-class films, showcasing inspiring stories that comment on issues of global concern.

Celebrating its 10th edition this year, with local editions coming up this month in Aberdeen and Inverness, we spoke to Executive Director Tamara Van Strijthem about a decade of making a difference through cinema.

Take One Action - Thank You For The Rain at The GFT

What was the inspiration behind Take One Action?

Take One Action was born from a desire to engage and connect audiences to stories of change, and from a fundamental belief that people can make a difference.

While supporting civil society initiatives in Sierra Leone, our founder and Artistic Director Simon Bateson was impressed by the level of engagement he’d witnessed. He wondered how to catalyse conversation and intent back in Scotland and, having previously worked on film projects connected with the Fair Trade movement, he felt that turning to cinema seemed like an obvious answer.

Our aim is to connect people with the world they live in – both within their community and the wider world; and to inspire them into standing up for a fairer, kinder, more sustainable world. We provide the inspiration for this through the best international cinema about global change, and through conversations with agents of change.

As a direct result of attending our festival, a young audience member is now actively involved in campaigning against the arms trade.- Tamara van Strijthem

Ten years on and you’re still going strong. What's the secret to the festivals' success?

Aside from the fantastic films we have been privileged to screen over the years, which have generated tremendous trust from audiences and have allowed us to build a reputation for cinema that both challenges and inspires, one of the keys to our success has been the space we’ve built into our events for meaningful connection and questioning.

Audiences are able to watch a wide variety of films at home, but the strength of a festival like ours is in its explicit invitation for audiences to go beyond spectating: all our screenings provide opportunities for audiences to explore their connections to the stories that unfold on screen; challenge the root causes of systemic inequality and, ultimately, find their route to action – whatever shape it may take.

By celebrating the people and the films that are changing the world, we challenge apathy and cynicism – and that is no mean feat.

Take One Action - Thank You For The Rain at The Filmhouse

What impact do you think the festivals are having, locally and globally?

We know from extensive research that a sizeable proportion of our audiences go on to take action on specific issues - joining campaign groups, supporting specific initiatives etc.

But our impact is also felt in the connections that emerge from the conversations we facilitate. From global campaigns (e.g. on climate change) to local, grassroots initiatives (that support refugees arriving into the Highlands, for example), our events bring curious souls in contact with journalists, artists, politicians, activists and entrepreneurs whose energy and commitment allow the global to flow into the ultra-local – and vice versa.

What reaction do you get from audiences?

They vary, of course. Some issues are a lot more complex than we wish them to be –  and some realities can be uncomfortable to face – but the last thing we want is for audiences to feel hopelessly overwhelmed or, worse, helpless.

Audiences often seek insight, a new perspective on an issue they may already be familiar with, but whatever their motivation they will most likely come away from our screenings feeling truly inspired by the lives they will have encountered on screen – and the knowledge that, within their community here in Scotland, initiatives exist that they can support and, if time/money allows, get involved in themselves.

Do you have a favourite story from your time running the festivals?

There have been many examples of transformation, of new possibilities emerging into something much more concrete. Through our touring of The Age of Stupid just under ten years ago, we were part of a movement that led to Scotland’s pioneering climate change bill.

In terms of personal stories, there have been so many cases of audience members and volunteers embracing a different path, feeling empowered to grasp a different route to be the change. A few that particularly stand out include:

  • The girl in Inverness whose mum brought to the screening of a film on access to education for girls across the world. She was 17 at the time, about to head to university. She took a year out to volunteer and is now studying law and international relations.
  • The young audience member who thanked us, a few years ago, for changing her perspective on the world. I thought she was perhaps particularly effusive or kind, but our paths crossed again this year and, as a direct result of attending our festival, she has been actively involved in campaigning against the arms trade.
  • One of our volunteers, who toured Scottish festivals with our Wee Green Cinema, felt so enthused by the reaction of children to the environmentally-themed short films we were screening and the interactions that were able to emerge during our bike-powered screenings, that she decided to go into teaching. There is now a new generation benefiting from her energy, enthusiasm and awareness. 

Wee Green Cinema - Princes St Gardens

The festival was in Edinburgh back in September – how did that go? What were your highlights?

There was such a great buzz around the festival’s tenth anniversary. We were pleased to be able to welcome amazing guests – such as Brittany Ferrell, one of the activists who have raised the profile and voice of the LGBT community within the Black Lives Matter movement – and to be sharing such inspiring films with audiences. 

Among the highlights were some of the events we hosted alongside the screenings, such as the community meal that followed the Glasgow screening of The War Show – a pretty tough film on Syria’s descent into war. Through this event, held at The Project Café, we were able to celebrate the country’s cuisine and hospitality, and to welcome Syrian refugees to a brilliant community venue.

Take One Action - Theater of Life - Cafe

In Edinburgh, we hosted a free screening of Theater of Life, a documentary that explores responses to food poverty, social inequality and food waste, alongside a community meal offered by the Grassmarket Community Project (who were recently awarded “Social Enterprise of the Year”) every Monday to the people they support.

Such collaborations anchor our festival into local communities beyond the conversation we may be able to facilitate in cinemas.

What have you got in store for Aberdeen and Inverness?

Our Aberdeen and Inverness programmes are selected in consultation with local steering groups, who identify films that will resonate with audiences in the area and which also provide opportunities to highlight specific initiatives.

Our opening film in Aberdeen (which will close the Inverness programme) offers a very different perspective on the reality of climate change – from the lived experience of a subsistence farmer in Kenya, who ends up becoming a co-director of the film. We’ll be welcoming members of Aberdeen Climate Action, with whom we have a close relationship.

For the screening of Bending the Arc, which celebrates a pioneering group of health advocates who fought for affordable, community-based healthcare in some of the world’s poorest communities, we’ll be welcoming a University of Aberdeen student who is the current Director of International Affairs for Students for Global Health, a network and registered charity tackling global and local health inequalities through education, advocacy and community action – another case of linking global and local action (and reflection).

Both of these films also form part of the Inverness programme, as well as Theater of Life – a particularly relevant film to screen in Inverness, whose food bank was for a while the busiest in Britain.

We're also looking forward to our primary schools screenings in Inverness (following ones that have taken place in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen) as these are always a highlight.

Take One Action - Primary Schools at Filmhouse

What’s next for Take One Action?

As an organisation, we’re making space to evaluate our priorities, to continue to ensure we can have most impact. The world around us is quite different to the one we encountered a decade ago, and the challenges are changing. We would really like to make it easier for people across Scotland not only to access the films we screen but, perhaps most importantly, to resource each other in their journey of change.

We’d like to increase the scope of the collaborations we’ve been building over the years and, ideally, make space for other art forms, too. We’re embarking on our own transformative journey and, as we know only too well, change takes time so… watch this space!

Take One Action Film Festival takes place in Aberdeen from 17-19 November, and then in Inverness 24-26 November.

It was supported by National Lottery funding through our Open Project Fund.

This article was published on 17 Nov 2017