As part of 2016’s Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing festival, and with support from Scottish Care, Documentary Filmmaker and Photographer Duncan Cowles worked at North Merchiston Care Home in Edinburgh to create a collection of short films directed by residents. From this coming Monday 20th March a film a week will be released to the public. We spoke to Duncan to find out more about this fascinating project.
Can you tell us a bit about Directed by North Merchiston?
Directed by North Merchiston is a project that was inspired by one of my previous films Directed by Tweedie where I attempted to get my Granddad to make a film, and I helped him to do it. With this new project I wanted to try and take that idea into a care home and work with the residents on making some short films.
One of the biggest issues for older generations today is loneliness. I wanted to give the residents of North Merchiston Care Home a voice, and ultimately provide them with both an audience and platform so that they could say whatever they wanted and create memories for their families. So instead of me coming in with my camera and making films about the people living there, I wanted the residents to think of themselves as the filmmakers and what story they’d personally like to tell.
The result is a series of five short films. I think each one of the residents has really enjoyed the process. Some were slightly reluctant initially, but once we got started admitted that they were having a laugh, and were glad they’d agreed to take part.
Some of them have spoken about how they’ve appreciated me simply coming in and spending time with them, and taking an interest in their lives. I think this will ultimately be one of the most valuable outcome of the project; the enjoyment that they’ve all had taking part. Hopefully that comes across in the films.
Any favourite moments from the project?
Watching the footage back with the participants, and asking them about what bits they liked the most, and the things they would like to be focused on in their films, was really touching for me. For example; Edith who’s 90 years old, talked about how her Grandmother used to say to her when she was a wee girl, that the best thing in life was that: “It was nice to be needed”, particularly as an older person. Then deciding with Edith that the film could focus on that and be a little tribute to her Grandmother, I could see meant a lot.
Definitely on a personal level, having the honour to get to know these people as they’re in their later years, has been amazing. As a 26 year old I, like many others, still have a lot to learn about life and all of its ups and downs. These people have experienced it, they’ve been through so much, and listening to them talk about it, how they’ve coped and what they think and feel looking back over it all, is just staggering. It’s an education going into a care home, and it really makes you reflect a lot upon your own life, circumstances and future.
Why are creative outreach projects like Directed by North Merchiston important?
Everyone is creative, whatever our ages, and the chance for care home residents to take part in a project like this can offer all sorts of benefits. I’ve been going in and out of the care home for the past two months and seeing a positive change happen immediately in front of my eyes. Something like this isn’t necessarily a very public facing activity, but is equally as important as it’s making a difference to people directly.
Initially we did a really small screening of the films for friends and family in the care home. The hope is that the films will take on a life of their own, as we share them to a wider audience. It’s really important that older people’s voices are heard by other generations, and often that doesn’t happen.
You can catch the first film May: This is Your Life here.
Find out more about Luminate by visiting their website