By Gabriela Gergova, Journalist

03 January 2024 - 10:00

Two young people stand with their backs to the camera, while they are filmed and recorded by two other students, while other students watch.
"It was a great learning experience for both the students and local filmmakers." ©

Conall Melarkey

Gabriela Gergova, a young Bulgarian journalist and grantee of the British Council’s Stronger Together programme looks at how a group of young people used film to tackle important issues.

What is it like to be a young person in Derry/Londonderry today? The answer lies in a captivating collection of short films produced by media, journalism and performing arts students from North West Regional College (NWRC) in Derry. Guided by professionals from the Nerve Centre, Northern Ireland's leading creative media arts centre, and fuelled by the Citizenship Workshop part of the EU/UK Youth Stronger Together programme, which is led by the British Council and co-funded by the European Commission - the students had the opportunity to investigate the cross-border issues facing young people in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The resulting films offer a window into the world of Derry’s youth culture and insight into the challenges posed by the rising cost of living, health and border control issues, as well as the unique situation from the legacy of The Troubles. Participants were not just participating in a filmmaking workshop but rather in an immersive experience making meaningful connections for a shared future.

Serious should never be boring

In the context of filmmaking and the portrayal of modern-day issues, John Peto, Head of Development at the Nerve Centre, emphasises the challenging nature of balancing making a provocative statement and keeping an audience engaged. For that reason, the filmmakers dedicated themselves to the task of presenting their ideas in both а captivating and professional manner. As members of the younger generation, they recognise the challenge of producing content in an age dominated by social media. They aimed to create long-lasting pieces that would resonate with young audiences across Europe.

Skint – takes a look at young people taking their first steps of independent living

‘Skint’ is a short film that masterfully blends drama with a touch of comedy. The film aims to highlight the difficulties of unemployment and the cost-of-living crisis and describes the challenges faced by young people taking their first steps of independent living.

The film came to life because of the creative efforts of the students, who, under the skilled guidance of filmmaker Sean Coyle, transformed their ideas into a brilliant narrative.

During the process of filming ‘Skint’, students had the opportunity to explore the issue from their perspectives. Ultimately, this experience added significant value to the cross-border communication amongst the students and the film itself contributes significantly to creating an ongoing dialogue.

Emergency Wait List – cross-border emergency medical care

Set in Muff, a border village in Ireland, the short, staged film ‘Emergency Wait List’ aims to highlight the critical importance of cross-border communication regarding healthcare and well-being. It focuses on the trials faced by a young person who finds themself in a situation involving their friend, who needs urgent medical care because of substance abuse. The film shows that the medical care needed is only obtainable across the border and the difficulties this causes the characters in the plot.

The young filmmakers used their creativity to illustrate the magnitude of the matter and the consequences it has for the border community. The film also addresses the challenges associated with substance abuse among young people. The students were mentored by Rachael McNamee, a professional coordinator in media production history.

On The Fly – using comedy to look at border control

The film ‘Оn The Fly’ uses comedy to tackle the issue of border control. The plot involves two friends trying to go on holiday to an EU country from Northern Ireland. It is a comic take on an issue faced by young people in Northern Ireland.

In the film, the two friends are divided from each other while travelling through airport security due to their different nationalities. The film makes the point that political division formerly caused problems for cross-border friendships; now the problem is modern border control.

The group of budding filmmakers were mentored by Joe Millar, a camera assistant from Derry, who coached them through the film and the wider contextual areas and tones that the production projected. The group gained a wider understanding of ‘Common Travel Area’ rights, and the benefits and strains it causes.

The Secret – looking at The Troubles from the perspectives of different generations

The documentary ‘The Secret’ seeks to capture perspectives of ‘The Troubles’ from both young and older generations. It endeavours to reveal the history and the legacy, to gain a deeper understanding of the heritage. The focal question of the documentary is “Why have you not spoken about The Troubles?”.

Guided by experienced filmmaker Fiachra O’Longain, the documentary embarks on a journey to bridge the gap between generations and the complex historical narratives that have shaped their lives.

When creativity meets purpose

The Citizenship Workshop brought together young minds from Ireland and Northern Ireland and guided them towards finding innovative solutions for pressing cross-border issues. North West Regional College provided a valuable space for the young filmmakers to refine their skills, not just in terms of technical aspects but also in using their craft as a medium for positive impact.

Beyond the filmmaking aspects, the workshop developed meaningful connections and friendships between the students. In essence, the impact of the workshop extends beyond the created films, creating a newfound sense of purpose for each student to carry forward as a change-maker.

As Eirini Kareta, Programme Manager of EU/UK Youth Stronger Together, told me:

“The Citizenship Workshop has real significance in enabling youth to work together cross-border, cross-country. The workshop offers an opportunity for collaboration, and cooperation, addressing community issues, and bringing the youth together to talk about their concerns and hopes. Unity is needed to overcome challenges that are above borders.”

Joseph Millar, Filmmaker and Mentor of Citizenship Workshop, said:

“It was a great learning experience for both the NWRC students and local filmmakers. The students were all very into the entire filmmaking experience and I think despite the very short time period to do it, all the students’ films were great standalone pieces.”

Talking about the project, Ryan McGill, Student at NWRC and participant in the Citizenship Workshop, said:

“My experience on the Stronger Together project was nothing short of incredible, from the lifelong contacts that I've made from a professional and personal standpoint, I was lucky enough to be able to take part in the project - it taught me a lot about myself and introduced me to different parts of the media world that I didn't know existed.”

Aidan Lynch, another of the students, said: “It was a very good experience. I felt that I learned a lot, even in such a short time frame. I felt I also became friendly with people I had only known in passing before that week. Overall, I felt it was a very good experience and I would happily do something like that again.”

Take some time to watch the short films, they are free to view on YouTube.

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