Director Paul Sng (middle) with students. Poster design: Richard May
What inspired you to show Invisible Britain to your Film Studies classes?
The film tackles a variety of social issues, and lots of the content within it talks about what does or doesn’t expose us to some of these realities. Pupils that I teach fall within the kinds of groups of people that are shown in the film. Dr Lisa McKenzie, a sociology lecturer, is interviewed in it, and talks about the under-representation of working class people – that alone needs some airing to pupils whose parents are themselves working class. The role of a teacher, perhaps in my experience, has been somewhat narrowed due to curricular restraints. In an ideal world, a teacher should broaden horizons and open up new experiences to pupils. Sometimes those new experiences aren’t really welcomed because they don’t fit a more sort of broad narrative.
Was there any resistance from the school towards showing the film?
They’d never heard of the band and, once they’d listened to them, the only thing they seemed bothered about was the lyrical content being full of swearing. One of them sat next to me in the staff room and said, “Do the band have a song called Bunch of Cunts?” I looked him in the eye and just nodded. My argument was that all the kids will have heard every swear word under the sun, but they won’t know what the joint enterprise laws are, and they won’t know how austerity is really working throughout the country. We need to protect children from these social and moral prejudices that we impose on them. Let’s actually teach them something that’s relevant to them.
What about resistance from parents?
All I got parents to do was send in a signature to say they’re okay with their kids being exposed to all the swearing, and not one pupil failed to bring it back. I doubt there would be a parent that could sit in the same room, and watch the political and social issues that the film raises, and still only have an issue with the swearing. It’s been really liberally received, and I understand why the school was reluctant at first. Overall they were really supportive.
Do you think the film accurately depicts the ‘invisible’ towns of Britain?
Yes, having been brought up in very similar places to what’s shown, and teaching in a such a place too. That’s why it really resonated with me and made me want to show it to pupils. It’s not a commonly depicted view that you see in film very often.
The film is more interesting than enjoyable, I presume?
It was really interesting to look at some of the statistics to do with the Atos work assessments and how they’ve resulted in pretty much the demise of nearly 2,000 people. And about some of the statistics to do with joint enterprise law and how many people have been put to trial and been imprisoned due to that. Maybe I’m naïve, but I hadn’t heard of almost all of the things that they were talking about - in that depth anyway. It was thought provoking and, like I said to the kids, unless you do something off the back of it, nothing is really going to change It does have a social message and, if it’s taken to heart, can produce a little bit more good in the world. That’s as simple as it is really.
Had many of your students had heard of Sleaford Mods before seeing the film?
A couple had listened to them, but 98% of the pupils hadn’t a clue who they were. I did a bit of pre-teaching before we watched the film. I taught them a couple of lessons on what class means, and how the film was crowd funded. It’s interesting to watch the kids’ reaction to the band, because, like the issues of the film, mainstream media just exposes kids to acts that are on X Factor, and your Taylor Swifts, and your Justin Biebers. Sleaford Mods are about far more true-to-home issues.
Yes. The swearing shocks the kids but it also excites them because there’s an energy and relevance to it. Sleaford Mods have definitely got a few more fans after this screening. I wasn’t sure how the kids would approach the social issues, but they were engaged with it. Documentary film is not typically watched by a lot of young people.
How did the director’s Q&A go?
Really well. It was one of the co-directors – Paul Sng. I attended the premiere of the film at Broadway, with the Q&A, and that’s where I got the idea. I contacted Paul after the event; he agreed to it pretty much straight away. I was a bit taken back that he was so willing. To date, we’re the only school that has contacted him, and the only school that’s got to see it. He did a fifty-minute Q&A in the hall with all of the Film Studies classes. Afterwards he signed some posters and gave away a t-shirt or two.
Did Paul, or the film itself, inspire any of your students or yourself?
I admit it was a bit of a selfish thing - inviting him because I was such a big fan. It was nice, being really passionate about film myself, to talk to someone who’s working in that industry. He revealed quite a few interesting things about how he’d got into it, his rules about making documentary film, and about his future projects. He said that he was 38 and he’d only just done an MA in film, so this was his first film. He’d also done an English Literature degree, so on a personal level it was quite inspiring really. And even if it just ignites the passion or desire of one kid in that hall, it could be the spark that leads them into pursuing something else. It’s been a great opportunity.
Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain screened at Holgate School in Hucknall on Thursday 19 November 2015.
Invisible Britain Trailer
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