Let Us Learn
Let Us Learn is a short documentary which follows the lives of young people volunteering for the campaign group of the same name. The film tells the stories of the group of young migrants who are blocked from accessing student finance because of their immigration status and is part of a wider project funded by In Our Hands, a youth media initiative which aims to encourage and develop storytelling, media and journalism from youth, working class and underrepresented perspectives. In Our Hands launched in a packed out lecture theatre in January 2018, with around 200 young people crammed in a room. The event, titled ‘I am Not De Problem’ (inspired by the Benjamin Zephaniah poem of the same title), was the screening of four original films including Let Us Learn. The ensuing panel discussion asked ‘Does Britain Care About Young People?’; a timely question given the current socio-political climate.
We speak to film-maker behind Let Us Learn, Precious Arabambi, and fellow film-maker and founder of In Our Hands, Dhelia Snoussi, about what to expect from them in 2019 and beyond.
Tell us a bit about yourself
Hello my name is Precious Arabambi. I’m 19 years old. I’m a student at Ravensbourne University studying Digital Television Production. I was born in Nigeria but came to the UK when I was little. I enjoy making documentaries about social justice issues. I’m interested in how we use documentary to hold people in power to account and to tell humanising stories. In my spare time, I’m really into comic books and superhero films. I’ve also gotten into K-drama and my friend got me into K-pop. This February, I signed up for a Korean language class, so hopefully I’ll be fluent in Korean soon.
Can you tell us why you wanted to make this film?
The reason why I wanted to make this film was due to the fact that I was forced to take a gap year due to my immigration status. I didn’t want to just sit at home and do nothing, I wanted to express myself through the only way I knew how to, which was through making a documentary.
I wanted to tell a story through the eyes of someone who’s been through the situation and not through the traditional journalist voice, where they’re just trying to get the scoop and maximise the shock factor. I think when journalists make films about migrants, it’s usually sensationalised and it dehumanises the people involved. I interviewed friends who were going through the same situation as me, but depicting them as part of a campaign, not just as passive victims of immigration policy. I wanted to create an informative campaign video that would inspire people to do further study and take action. If people watch the film and feel better informed, that would achieve my goal for the film.
What does Let Us Learn do?
Let Us Learn is a campaign group made up of young migrants, who are proud to call the UK home. It is our ambition that all migrants should have the chance to contribute fully to British society. We began by campaigning against the laws that blocked young migrants from accessing student loan and effectively, from going to university. We are now branching out to look at the wider immigration policy and trying to educate young people to know their rights before it becomes harder for them to get some form of status.
What was the process of making the film like and what support did you get?
I completed the film as part of a wider project called In Our Hands. Dhelia helped me and I created my first official short film. The process was really fun. The editing was difficult but also therapeutic. It was a learning process in terms of learning how to tell a moving story whilst also not making it into a really soppy, TV charity fundraiser video. For example, with the music and scoring, we had to change it at one point because the music in one scene was too sad and made the person telling their story appear as a victim.
You don’t want to make people look like victims; that was very important for me in making this film.
What are you looking to make next?
When I get through the first year of uni, I’m hoping to sit down and edit a project I’ve been working on for the past 6 months about homelessness, specifically youth homelessness, and looking at different way people can be homeless. I want to highlight how you can be homeless even if you have a home: you could be living in temporary accommodation, or in an inhabitable environment full of mould or which is about to fall apart.
As well as documentary, I would like to explore historical drama, looking at my roots in Nigeria. I believe there is more to our history than colonisation and more than just Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa. Historical drama has traditionally come from white perspectives. But how many times can you tell the story of Victorians and Tudors? I would like to produce a TV drama that actually tells what other cultures were doing at the time. What was happening in the rest of the world? Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians inspired me, because it made me realise how underrepresented we are in the media and people are crying out for more ethnically diverse content. However, I feel like it comes from a sensationalised Hollywood perspective of Africa.
I’m always going to remember I’m Nigerian and British. I would like to see more, creatively-speaking, from a West African point of view.
Why did you decide to start In Our Hands?
The project's intentions have evolved significantly since the beginning. Originally, I thought I was trying to plug a gap in terms of the lack of young, working class voices in media. Now, it is less about the identity of those young people and more about thinking how and why we make films and what kinds of filmmakers we want to become.
At the moment, there is a growing wave of talented people of colour making incredible art. Simultaneously, there are incredible but under-resourced community organisations doing great work but whose activities are not well-recorded. Those groups have had to focus their resource toward delivering frontline activities at the expense of documenting and archiving their work. I felt like more could be done to bridge that young creative community with those community groups, who could benefit from the energy, skills and expertise of creative young people. In exchange, we can become better filmmakers in that process and learn from those organisations.
My entry point to filmmaking was producing campaign videos for campaigning organisations and that background has influenced the project significantly in the sense that I see creativity as a form of service.
I think so many creative leadership programmes that exist are usually geared toward breaking into 'the industry' and less about what kind of filmmaker (or person) you want to be. I think that’s a mistake and regrettably, there is a kind of brain drain happening, where our expertise and energy as young creative people leaves our communities.
In Our Hands then became about connecting those groups and finding ways to reinvest our skills into the places that we come from and the issues that are important to us.
What other projects should we be expecting from you?
At the moment, we’re facilitating a project with the American School in London and Granville Community Kitchen based in South Kilburn. South Kilburn has been a building site for over 5 decades. Amidst the changes, the Granville has been a constant: a space for weddings, funerals, celebrations for over 100 years. The collaborative film explores the importance of community space like the Granville, especially for historically marginalised communities.
We’ve been working with a group of young people to use their skills to produce what will hopefully be a really informative film that will reflect on the importance of community spaces, but also build some momentum for residents to demand what they would like to see from the ongoing Regeneration.
Mapping Us! is another ongoing art-research project we are working on. The first part involves films by four talented artists in our network. Each of us is exploring themes of gentrification, home and the changing face of the city from our respective neighbourhoods. We are producing four films: Gentrimental by Patricia Kekula, This Is Home by Sky Caesar, We Grew Up In by Sameer Qureshi & Destination Westway by myself. We hope to launch these in the coming months. Parallel to this, we’re working on a Mapping Us! A-Z map of London, which will be in the form of a book.
Can you tell us a bit about your short Destination Westway, what can we expect?
Destination Westway is a short experimental film that I originally developed for the Black Activism Map project with Stuart Hall Foundation as a part of Voices that Shake! The short film tells the story of gentrification in West London through vignettes of a real conversation between young West Londoners. The film will hopefully give context to the anecdotal stories of young people experiencing alienation and marginalisation in their area, by also exploring the history of the Westway and the local area. In particular, it will reflect on how an area like Ladbroke Grove, which was once labelled “Browntown” becomes earmarked “a top ten destination for London” and what the proposed regeneration schemes mean for the working class, and communities of colour that have so significantly defined the culture and bohemian reputation of the area.