For over two decades Belfast based, esc films has been using the power of film to create change, to challenge thinking and to transform lives. Using group work and creative storytelling, esc films takes participants on a journey through their own lives, giving them new perspectives to enable them to make real and lasting changes themselves.
esc films works with a wide range of marginalised and socially excluded people including those with severe mental illness, veterans and ex-combatants, victims and survivors. Skilled in working in sensitive environments and with complex issues, esc films prides itself on its person-centred approach to filmmaking. The co-design and co-production approach adopted by esc films gives voice to the voiceless, in inclusive and non-judgemental ways, that foster choice, respect, courage and creativity.
Participants are empowered to find their voice through storytelling, visual metaphors and symbolic representations and communicate their inner struggles and experiences. In telling their story voices are unlocked and, through a process of self-examination and reflection, new beginnings imagined.
In 2023, esc films collaborated with MindWise and Action Mental Health on the Snakes & Ladders project involving a small group of participants with drug / alcohol dependence and mental health issues. The participants in this project were identified as triply stigmatised – by addictions (often attempts to self-medicate their past trauma), by their enduring mental health difficulties and frequently, by crime.
The objective was to create a short peer-learning film to highlight the triggers, pitfalls, risks and positive lessons for understanding and combatting addictive behaviour patterns, whilst helping the group itself learn from each other, building a therapeutic and supportive community, focusing on teamwork, confidence building, communication skills and creativity.
“When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending”. Brené Brown
The premiere of Snakes and Ladders represented a powerful and insightful sharing of personal stories of recovery in front of over one hundred people representing friends, family, supporters and professionals.
For Johnny, it was books that provided the ladder that he needed to climb out of his heroin addiction, whilst Geoff shared how he chose heroin over his family until he discovered fitness in prison. Kevin, who found himself in the pit of a mental health crisis, identified creativity and photography as his ladder.
The personal stories were complemented by a behind the scenes documentary of the Snakes and Ladders project charting the increased understanding, confidence, self-belief and empowerment of participants as the project unfolded.
Since the launch, the co-creators of Snakes & Ladders have taken the project on tour reaching out to others in addiction and sharing their stories – the perfect embodiment of a brave new ending!
Re-writing the Script
Drawing inspiration from the doctrine of Augusto Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed “Empowering passive spectators to become active performers in the rehearsal for change in their own lives”, founder Tom Magill has overseen the evolution of esc films as a pioneer in therapeutic filmmaking.