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  • Joe Sims

Strength through adversity

Morning all! This week’s nomination comes from a beautiful soul (though I’m yet to meet a bad one in our gang!) Nathalie Pownall who through her unimaginable struggles growing up that saw her in adolescent psychiatric facilities has dedicated her life to the betterment of others. She’s spent so much of her time, energy and money making a film made by young men in a Young Offenders Institution talking about their experiences and helping dissuade other young people from taking that path and navigating the perilous pitfalls facing adolescents on the streets of the U.K. Nathalie has battled bravely to get the funding together to get this important message out to young people and needs our help to make that happen. We thank Nathalie for her dedication and these young men for their bravery and candour.  Here’s Nathalie’s nomination in full:

Thanks for speaking to me last week regarding INSIDE OUT the film project I have created alongside 8 young men in an HMYOI over the course of the last 18 months - though the project has been in development for more like 18 years. I’m writing to ask if a pioneering, unorthodox project might meet the requirements  for some support to help bring it to completion and for the young men, who I have had the absolute privilege and delight to work with, to see their voices have a positive impact. You can read more about it here The project exists on 3 levels;  1) to create a positive platform where these young men's voices can be heard and they can empower young people who may be at risk of falling into similar circumstances,   2)  to shift the often negative societal opinion of what it is to be a young man with a now criminal record.  3) to provide these young men with a piece of professional work they have created to show prospective employees upon leaving prison.  I believe these young men are the legacy builders and the very fabric of our cities but due to lack of resources and opportunity both prior and upon leaving prison, their potential is often smothered in shame, fear and trauma, lost in a cycle of criminality, disregarded by society, if not killed before they have even reached maturity. I share some context to my heart for these young men to be seen for who they are beyond what they may have done: The project stemmed from an experience I had when I was 19, and had spent 5 years  in and out of adolescent psychiatric units with severe anorexia, an illness that I was told by professionals would take my life or at least negatively impact it for the rest of my life. It was an illness that I was defined by irrespective of all the other gifts that made up my identity. I was under 24 hours observation, unable to leave  my bed without supervision, wasn’t allowed to bath, had no privacy, limited access to education - and was told I was too ill to have a voice and for my feelings to carry resonance. It was a place that didn’t understand trauma and unimaginable things took place. However, outside of these units, I was also known as an actress and upon leaving one of these institutions I was invited by the Bristol Old Vic Youth Theatre to help run some Shakespeare workshops in  a youth remand prison. This centre housed young men - my age  - who were unlikely to be free for many years. When we walked in, a fight had just been subdued and we were told to not look the men in the eye. This comment angered me; it felt inhumane and it triggered memories of seeing patients being treated as nuisances, in place of being listened to and seen. Half way through the session I excused myself to go to the bathroom and along the corridor were some of the young mens poems. As I trailed the corridor, what I read was far from inhumane but full of longing, remorse, seeking and the desire to be forgiven, known, loved and understood.  I remember leaving on the bus, through the security gates of the prison, thinking how I never thought I’d be free from the institutions I had spent the best part of my adolescence and yet here I was with young men my age who were potentially facing the next 10-20 years locked inside,  and for the most part unheard. Though we may have had different experiences, the  experience of being institutionalised, labelled and stripped of any former identity and voice resonated  - A seed in me was planted deep within. Fast forward almost half my life and a lot of development, volunteering and prison training, I find myself writing to you to ask for some support to finish a short film that 8 young men and I have created in one of the most negatively spoken about prisons in the country. While I ran daily workshops incorporating screen writing, acting and discussions about identity, what you see in the final film was entirely written under their own initiative and inspiration, alone in their cells. Officers commented on the young men's enthusiasm and engagement in the project - something that is rarely seen with such commitment. I was given unprecedented access to film in the prison with professional actors and film crew  - a feat that has never been done before. The young men were invited onto set to see their work come to life and it was unbelievable to see the prison place their support in this project and for the young men to see that it was their creativity that had made this happen and what can be achieved when we all work together.  To witness the impact being involved in this project has had on the young men is priceless  - you can read their experiences here The reason I ask for help from 500 REASONS to finish the project is because, while I was supported by a charity to apply for funding and I was originally awarded a Grant through the Mayor of London, due to the Charity’s administrative costs exceeding their original budget, a huge amount of that funding was re-absorbed back to the charity. This put significant pressure on pre-production, shoot and post production as our funding to make the film was reduced.  It also placed a huge strain on me as I have run this project for the most part single handily and suddenly found myself scrambling around to get the film finished for way under the original budget and with no time to seek extra funding in the midst of the deadlines we had to meet.  A talented crew were brought together but we were then beset with technical challenges beyond our control or expectation and we weren’t able to capture the entire script. This, together with the loss of funds, resulted in Key crew removing themselves from the project. This has resulted in me picking up roles I have no previous experience in, in order to find the narrative in the footage we had and to ensure the Young men's work was honoured with integrity. I have regularly worked 7 days straight for the past18 months, the vast majority of which has been unpaid which has meant picking up random work to make ends meet in between all of it. I don’t say this to complain or receive a pat on the back, it’s a cause I chose and I am passionate about, but rather to hi-light how important it is that this film is finished well and the young men's creativity is heard and seen.  Unlike many familiar narratives of their lives, it was important to the men that their film displays no violence, swearing or blood but leaves the audience with the power of choice. What they have created is a piece of artwork that is reflective not reactive, brave in the vulnerability that these young men displayed in  order to share the deeper places of their hearts in an environment that often doesn’t encourage it and then to share that bravery with the outside world.   If Inside Out was successful in receiving some support from 500 Reasons, it would help finance the last stages of post-production so we can present a piece of work to a professional standard, allow it to stand proudly alongside other short films of calibre and substance and in doing so say to these young men that their lives are worthwhile, their futures are important and they have the ability to positively impact the world around them.  We will screen the film in the prison before the end of the year and it is then my hope to have a private screening in London for as many people to attend as possible before we decide what happens next. I’m not on social media but if you are interested to know more about the project or be involved in getting it seen you are welcome to contact me
Many thanks Nathalie and the 8 Young men from the HMYOI
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