The team behind the film ‘John’s Fight for Freedom’, which is launched officially during Co-Production Week 2023, explains how the idea came about and how fruitful their co-productive approach was in the making of the film: SCIE Co-Production Steering Group member John Evans OBE, telling his story of being a Disability Rights campaigner; filmmakers Sybil Ah-Mane and Russell Hall from Flexible Films; Jana Bleckmann-Evans, John’s wife, who filmed some additional footage and features in parts of the film; and Laura Able, who instigated the entire project.
Laura got in touch with us and John after visiting the exhibition about the “Nothing About Us Without Us” Movement, currently on display in the People’s History Museum in Manchester. She told us about how proud she was to see this exhibition take place, and how pleased she was to see a photo of John in there. Soon the idea unfolded to create a whole film about John and his life and work.
We immediately loved that idea. We had met John in 2004 and have filmed him for lots of SCIE and TLAP projects. John’s story is so inspiring, as it is full of challenges and breakthroughs.
I feel that John’s story is very important. He and his colleagues of “Project 81” not only paved the way for Independent Living in the UK; they are also still crucial in keeping the boat afloat, working tirelessly to ensure that the situation doesn’t worsen among austerity measures, Brexit effects, the implications of the Covid pandemic and other obstacles.
To now watch and hear John telling his story is as exciting as it is necessary – especially for younger generations, as the message John and his fellow fighters have been sending out over the years is so relevant.
The beauty of this project is that John’s story is basically one of co-production – and the film itself is a perfect example of what co-production can achieve. As Sybil and I usually work co-productively, it was natural for us to involve John and Jana in the production from the very beginning.
We decided on the key messages together and John and Jana were part of the editing. When we realised that we needed more visuals, Jana was happy to film them after a training session with us. Both Russ and I strongly believe in the power of co-production, and the final film proves the point: it is informative, authentic and heartfelt, and I can say we are very pleased with the way it turned out.
I was quite taken by the idea of producing this film with “Flexible Films”, as Jana and I had been talking about a film on my life’s journey for a while, so the time felt right with Sybil, Russ and Laura on board. We knew we could do it as a trustful collaboration, so I agreed immediately to go ahead. It felt that they were the right filmmakers for the job.
What has been most impressive to me is how natural the making of the film has felt from the word “go”. I think it has to do with the fact that it was co-produced as well as with Sybil and Russ’ unique personalities. They have the ability of making you feel comfortable and relaxed with the filming situation almost instantly, despite all the gear they put up around you, so it is easy to open up and tell your story.
I was in control of pace, content and the editing of the interview. To me, the positive effects of this approach shine through the entire final film. As Sybil told us, this does not come naturally to filmmakers, for they often have a vision of what the film should look like and seek control. To hand control over to me meant setting the tone for what I think is a unique account of my life and work, rather than their idea of what it must have been like.