Having begun her career working at BBC Storyville seventeen years ago, Shanida Scotland has now arrived at Doc Society, via the Guardian. In a recent zoom call, she reflected on her journey. Her voice has been slightly edited for length.
Storyville was such an incredible time for me and such an incredible place to be. Nick (Fraser) worked in a very collegiate manner. So on the one hand within the Storyville bubble I had some voice and I was able to develop a voice and develop my own language and thoughts and feelings around documentary filmmaking and the sorts of films that we did. Within the wider institutional space of the BBC, that’s a different story. I guess it’s that that I have been reflecting on since since the George Floyd protests, but obviously since before that as well.
After Storyville I went to the Guardian. That’s where it became clear to me what it takes to try to have a voice in institutional spaces. The idea of an industry or company or organisation believing or wanting to be deeply progressive, but also sometimes wanting to balance that with financial consideration. It was a great place to be and it was an interesting place to be.
I had great great relationships with journalists such as Gary Younge which I will remember for a lifetime. Being able to push his knife crime series Beyond the Blade into the multimedia space was so enriching.
Thinking through the work of image making within a new space is just an experience that I will treasure forever. It forced really strong discussions and revelations and thought processes around the work of image making when it pertains to black people, people of colour. When you are telling the story about police brutality, you need to consider that sometimes the only image of a black person in the paper and the online space might be a dead or brutalised black body. And one of the things I was really pleased to do when I was there was have Lubaina Himid come to the building to be an artist of residents of sorts. She is interrogating image making in the Guardian space specifically but also in the journalistic space around black people.
When you are telling the story about police brutality, you need to consider that sometimes the only image of a black person in the paper and the online space might be a dead or brutalised black body.Shanida Scotland
The Guardian was an enriching place to be: a place to test thoughts and beliefs around story and narrative, character driven elements that I had been building and working through at Storyville but in a much more agile shorter more reactive space. And I especially loved working on Windrush. I made a short documentary about Paulette Wilson the Windrush activist and of course a victim of the Windrush scandal for the Guardian. I wanted to explore the story from the Caribbean and looking back at the motherland if you like. My grandad was ill and dying at the time and he was in a hospital room that was opposite the Houses of Parliament and the scandal was happening at the time. And I thought of how across the river decisions were being made to deport Caribbean people and what it must be like.
Since about 2017 I’ve been experimenting with audio documentary. I was interested in what does my voice as a black person sound like in the space? I made a James Baldwin piece for the BBC which then developed into a strand called Afterwords, which continues. It’s really nice that the idea developed that something that can live and breathe on its own.
Over the summer I also worked on Mothers of Invention which is Doc Society’s only podcast, about feminist responses to the climate crisis. That was my first experience working with Doc Society. I always love the way that Doc Society were slightly ferocious defenders of documentarians and documentary filmmakers and image making. The importance of image making seemed to always be at the forefront of their consideration of documentary projects and film producers. And it was incredibly enriching working with that women- led team. But also on the specific season season three of the podcast it was working entirely with women of colour on our team. Which was great and wonderful.
Now as Head of Film I am looking after and distributing the BFI money. I started in October. In the UK the Doc Society distributes all of the BFI’s documentary funding. We do that through two key funds. The first is Made of Truth, which is the short filmmaking fund for emerging documentary filmmakers. There is an elasticity to that in that it can be character driven, essay style, observational. It’s really a space to solidify the work of emerging documentary filmmakers. Each film can get up to £15,000. They have just closed the funding round. And also through the Features Fund, for tried and tested filmmakers in the community who are trying to get their next feature documentary work off the ground. That round also just closed: it was a really strong selection of top topics and filmmakers who are really thinking about the world that we are living in right now through the most intriguing and thoughtful and illuminating actually unexpected ways. That’s really exciting – it’s like my Storyville sweet spot.
The way the role morphed ahead of me joining the team was actually Doc Society’s commitment for equity and human economic justice and climate justice. And so Doc Society had updated its mission statement at the end of summer to further commit themselves to that equity lens. And what that means pursuant to my role is that I will be looking at all of that strategy through an equity lens. Which is great – I love that.
When you think about the 80s and 90s and the Black Audio Film Collective and all that, there is so much brilliant work, but it’s also quite male led. The Black British female voice is really missing. It’s something that I’ve specifically had discussions around as we thought about recent funding rounds. There are voices that will be coming up, that are emerging but doing really interesting things.
Being one of the only documentary women of colour in the UK it’s taken a long time to gain voice. And that is a problem that I think documentary in this country needs to reckon with. Not with me, necessarily, but it shouldn’t take this long.