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Cutting films for social change

Rachel Bull
Claire Eades's campaign videos tackle everything from teen pregnancy to female genital mutilation. Rachel Bull speaks to the founder and MD of Marmalade Film & Media about video for social change.

A director and film producer with a passion for women’s issues and social change, Claire Eades is one of life’s energy givers. When we meet, Eades has just returned from two weeks in India, where she’s been shooting a film about rural female entrepreneurs, but shows no hint of weariness.

Claire founded creative production agency Marmalade Film & Media four years ago and has come back to the launch of Plan UK’s ‘Because I’m a Girl’ campaign, which aims to raise awareness of, and ultimately end, female genital mutilation (FGM). Eades produced the campaign video (above), featuring a single red rose being slashed by a pair of scissors. It makes for uncomfortable viewing – which is, of course, precisely the point.

How did you come up with such simple yet effective creative?

I knew that FGM was referred to as ‘cutting season’ and as part of my research I started thinking about types of positive ‘seasons’ girls experience, such as a ski season or a prom season. I picked out some images of girls going to their prom, and found a picture of three girls with delicate rose corsages on their wrists. I was drawn to the flowers and just knew cutting one would be the perfect analogy. It is culturally sensitive but metaphorically graphic.

Was it difficult to film?

It was complex in terms of timing. Ironically, it was such a beautiful set. We had 100 roses in the studio – our art director winced every time we cut one. 

How do you feel about David Cameron putting the issue on the political aid agenda?

The government is holding an event next month, where Cameron will spotlight FGM and early forced marriage in the UK and internationally. It’s important because it puts a framework in place, and legalities around which people can underpin their rationale for change.

This issue is culturally ingrained into so many societies – it’s seen as a rite of passage – so there is a big question around behaviour change and education. In the UK, 20,000 girls are at risk of FGM every year. But 90% of women in Egypt go through this procedure. In this sense it seems far removed from Downing Street, but that’s why it’s important for charities such as Plan UK to go in on the ground, and be supported by government policy.

You aim to drive awareness and change behaviour with your work. Do you think of yourself as an activist?

I feel in a really privileged position to be able to use my craft and creativity to put important issues on the map – get a video to go viral or be shared on Facebook. I’d say I am a creative activist. I want to channel my creativity to raise awareness and generate a movement. Having people watch and engage with your content is fantastic because you know the message is penetrating.

How do you strike a balance between galvanising an emotional reaction and the shock factor?

It’s about understanding audiences and their reactions. Teenagers resonate with things that are very shareable and graphically shocking. When people talk about viral media, most of it isn’t just luck. It’s part creativity, part methodology. There’s a science around it. I always engage target audiences and get their views on our initial creative work – it is a process of collaboration. Sometimes you just have to be more provocative to cut through the online conversation.

A lot of your work treats issues affecting young girls. How do you go about creating content that will resonate with them?

You can’t talk at them. I’ve covered girl gangs, alcohol issues and teenage pregnancy. I’ve done a lot of research groups with them and I think teenagers are somewhat undervalued. Their intellect, creativity and understanding of political issues is huge.

The teenage pregnancy video I directed for NHS Leicester showed a girl giving birth on a school playing field, it was hugely graphic and there was a lot blood. That was based on research which found the biggest turn off for girls in terms of preventing them getting pregnant was the pain and messiness of the blood. We had to go shocking to hit that mark.

Conversely, I created a teenage pregnancy campaign aimed at boys, which used comedy. They wear bulging football shirts and complain of swollen ankles in the film. It’s a different take on exactly the same subject, but it still had an impact.

How did you feel when the NHS Leicester video was banned from YouTube?

Initially we seeded a non-branded version of the video, knowing the shock factor may see it banned and that the press would pick it up. We kept uploading it, then once the story hit in the press we released the branded version. It was about playing the platform to generate enough conversation to underpin the campaign.

Why do you think your work has gravitated towards women’s issues globally?

Once you start working in a certain arena you develop an understanding, which brings expertise. I get emotionally involved in all the projects I undertake – I can’t help it. It makes me determined to focus the direction for Marmalade so that we are using our creativity to get those messages out there.

Do you think film and video content allows you to reach a broader audience?

I do, especially in terms of reaching men on women’s issues. It’s important we speak to them too. In other media, it might be easier for them to shy away from an issue like FGM. Film can be much more far-reaching when you’re talking about such a hard-hitting subject.

marmaladefilmandmedia.com. Rachel Bull is editor of Brand Republic. @RachelBwrites.

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