Facing Fears On Both Sides
Almut Dieden tells us about her documentary on female autonomy
1. How did you end up making this documentary?
“Facing Fears” is my dissertation film for the MA Visual Anthropology in Manchester, UK. I had been volunteering in a charity in Manchester called MASH, that supports female sex workers. There, I met so many incredibly strong women. For the first few weeks of the dissertation project, I just talked to the women who came to the daily drop-in centre, without a camera or a microphone between us. Their experiences were very diverse, yet there were a few themes that most stories had in common: the violence female sex workers face, and the stigma surrounding their profession. With “Facing Fears”, I wanted to create a film that talks about these issues, and also challenges stereotypes surrounding race, gender, sex work and drug use. The film shows one woman’s life who has lived through rape, abuse, death of her twin sister and son, yet without defining the character as a victim, as just “a sex worker” or “a drug addict”. Rather, she is a sister, a mother, an aunt, a friend, a choir singer, a hobby cook, a poet, a human being with hopes and dreams.
2. How did you find this brave woman to tell her story to the world? Was it difficult for Jackie to open up?
About one month after starting the research, one of the charity’s staff members introduced me to Jackie, who used to come to the centre before she got into rehab and quit sex work. We immediately got along - and soon after started our collaboration. It was like we had both been waiting for each other - Jackie wanted to tell her story, and I was there to give her voice a platform. Before we started filming, we took time to get to know each other, to become friends, to share our visions of the film. It was very important for both of us to build this relationship, because we knew that the summer would take us on an emotional rollercoaster through Jackie’s life. I believe this intimacy was pivotal - it would have been impossible to make the film without our mutual trust and close collaboration throughout the production.
3. How did the documentary change you and your views?
From a filmmaking perspective, making “Facing Fears” showed me what kind of documentaries I want to work on in the future: Intimate, in-depth stories that are based on a close collaboration between filmmaker and protagonist(s). As this is my first solo project, of course I also learned a lot along the way, about camerawork, collaboration, storytelling, editing, etc.
On a personal level, just by spending time with Jackie and listening to her stories, I felt inspired and empowered in so many ways. She has this amazing ability to “infect” others with her courage and positive outlook on life. Also, while working on this documentary I became aware of the many subconscious stereotypes - not just about sex work or addiction - in my head. I hope that becoming conscious of my prejudices is the first step to overcome them.
4. Did you personally had to face some of your own fears while making the film?
Yes! After the first week of editing, Jackie came to the editing suite to look through the footage and the rough cut. That was one of the scariest moments I ever experienced, being exposed to the criticism of my protagonist. But Jackie was the best editorial advisor I could have wished for. She also was there for the premiere and for my graduation, and her words of encouragement helped to overcome my general fear of showing my work to the public.
5. What was your most memorable moment while making this film?
Getting on the train to Glasgow with Jackie - it felt very symbolic, like both our lives were moving forward to new adventures and exciting opportunities, and we were lucky enough to share that moment.
6. The theme in Viscult 2017 is autonomy. How can this be seen in your documentary?
Autonomy is about independence and self-determination. “For a life full of pride, and freedom from drugs, I chose recovery, it felt so good” - these are Jackie’s words, written in a poem while she was in rehab. Autonomy for Jackie is also about emotionally liberating herself from the trauma and pain and fears that have been part of her family for generations. To sum it up in Jackie’s words: “That’s what it is, it’s facing fears and facing feelings. Because I’m in recovery and working through the process of having a healthy fear, I don’t have to go back to use drugs to bury that pain. Just let it come up. The quicker you accept it, the quicker it comes up, the quicker you re-heal.”
Facing Fears, presented on the 25th of October, Joensuu Science Park