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Six University of Sunderland filmmakers are ready to take the movie industry on after receiving months of intensive guidance from Lord David Puttnam.

This year’s Puttnam Scholars – the University programme named after the Oscar-winning producer – have been creating, developing, and honing their skills since February this year.

This is the third year the film producer and former Government minister has launched his unique scheme with the University.

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But with the outbreak of Covid-19, the group of six were faced with a unique challenge – creating films in lockdown.

As the pandemic took grip, Lord Puttnam asked his apprentices to make a movie using their iPhones and laptops to reflect their isolation experience. While some chose to make documentaries, others opted for comedy or drama.

Short clips of some of the films can be seen here.

The six films were showcased online earlier this month from Lord Puttnam’s studio in Ireland and the intention is to enter the films in festivals as a chronicle of the UK’s time in lockdown.

Luke Smith, 23, from Red House in Sunderland, recently completed his Masters Degree in Media Production (TV and Film).

He said: “The whole experience has been something of a whirlwind. At first it was very intense, and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, wondering if I was good enough.

“But that is the amazing thing about Lord Puttnam – he makes you feel like you deserve it, that you are good enough.

“He would always respond to my questions very quickly and I’ve been able to take on-board all the advice he gave out.”

Luke is now preparing to work on future projects and hopes one day to get involved in making feature films.

Katie Stubbs, 19, from Cleadon in South Tyneside, is currently studying Screen Performance at the University.

She said: “The feedback from Lord Puttnam has been invaluable. I found his lecture on creativity and identity inspiring, teaching me that I need to see a little bit of myself in everything I create.

“Being mentored by someone with his experience is priceless, it made my future seem so real, as though I was being pushed in the right direction.”

 The programme saw the students taking part in a series of interactive seminars overseen by Lord Puttnam.

This year’s group met with the Labour Peer at the House of Lords, to discuss and launch the programme prior to the pandemic outbreak.

Abboud Mahjoub, 27, from Gateshead, a Digital Film Production student, said: “This experience has made me realise how much I would like to work in a production house once I get started.

“I know now how much work I have to do and what is involved in making a successful career.”

Lord Puttnam, a former Chancellor of the University and an Oscar-winning producer of films including Chariots of Fire, The Mission, The Killing Fields and Midnight Express, has been an inspiring figure to all those taking part in the programme.

Amelia Bourke, 20, from Darlington, is a third year Digital Film Production Student.

She said: “This programme enables me to understand a more sophisticated way of looking at film.

“Lord Puttnam made us ask the right questions of ourselves and how we created – not so much the technical side – but the way you actually make a film.”

James MacNeil, 24, a third year Media Production student, said: “As part of the programme we went down to Westminster and that was actually the first time I had been to London.

“My self-confidence has improved so much and the guidance of Lord Puttnam has been invaluable.”

João Chambel, from Portugal, who is studying Film Production, added: “I was able to get behind-the-scenes knowledge from an experienced name in Hollywood.”

Speaking about this year’s students and the challenges of mentoring them during the pandemic, Lord Puttnam said: “As a mentoring programme, I think the 'Puttnam Scholars' at the University of Sunderland has worked incredibly well.

“By gathering a small number of students together from different disciplines, we've been able to share many valuable conversations about film and its place in our rapidly changing world. But, beyond that, a longstanding dream of mine has always been to bridge the distance between technology and learning.

“Ironically, it has taken the worst of times to drive this goal forward. By thinking creatively about how to deliver lectures, and supported by a CISCO operated video-conferencing facility, I was able to work with individual students - all of whom were forced to stay in their respective homes - from my office in south-west Ireland, and I think we managed to do so in a truly meaningful way.

“This was no more apparent to me than during our final Sunderland session when each student presented the 'isolation film' they had produced.

“We are all working in adverse circumstances, but I think the past seven weeks of remote teaching has shown me that these circumstances are also capable of allowing imaginative and committed students to find enlightened ways of achieving their ambitions.”

Mum's Pride

June is Pride Month, and during this special month we recognise the influence LGBT people have had around the world. 

This week Megan Lunn, Client Marketing Officer in External Relations, writes about why Pride means so much to her and her family.

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On all accounts I appear to have a Hetro-normal life, married to a man with two children between us – why should Pride Month be so important?

In reality we’re staunch LGBTQ+ allies in our household and the annual considerations, contemplations and of course celebrations that Pride month brings, are a big deal for us.  

Personally I’ve had relationships with men and women over years and am a strong believer in loving people not parts. My friendship circle is a wonderful spectrum, and we spent much of our twenties, and early thirties packing our summers full of national Pride events as we did the circuit; Brighton, Newcastle, London, Manchester and more.

My husband, born and bred in South Shields has always been the welcoming type, but with a good pinch of northern gruffness alongside – he doesn’t like big fuss or noise. He’d had little to do with the LGB community until he got to University and it was some years later that he began to really be aware of what TQ+ meant.  He loves our friends and would stand up for them in a heartbeat, but Pride? That wasn’t really his thing. 

Fast forward and now Pride has had a far deeper impact on our family. 

In August 2016 I took my stepson to his first Manchester Pride, he was 16 at the time and was 10 month along from telling us he was trans.  We had the BEST time, it was truly an unforgettable Pride.

It’s fair to say he’d been struggling to feel comfortable in his skin; school, home and life in general was challenging. That weekend he shrugged it all off, and got to spend 48 hours as himself. The small things really mattered; he was welcomed, he was celebrated, he disappeared into the crowd as others were choosing to be the spectacle, and he learnt more about representations of gender and sex then he had in any classroom - he still talks about how we walked right into a trio of leather clad human pups on our arrival on Canal Street!  

That weekend we shopped for clothes for sixth form; he bought his first suit, he used the changing room in menswear shops; and he used the male toilet for the first time (albeit with the encouragement of the pride community).  On the drive to Manchester we’d made small talk, I tried to give him a low-down on what to expect (his jaw still dropped) and we set some ground rules, he was 16 after all.  On the way back we talked about his transition, what we could do to help and what was really going through his mind. I’m still not sure he’d have opened up so soon if it hadn’t been for that trip. 

The next year we returned, with my husband in tow. My gruff northerner had a special t-shirt printed and had tear-filled eyes as he walked proudly alongside Logan on the march. He’d shown his support before but in that moment, able to shout it loud and proud we all realised just how important it is.  We all partied hard that weekend, but were left with no doubt that Pride has a purpose.

Last year, the day before our daughters first birthday we attended Newcastle Pride as a family. We stood in the torrential rain to celebrate and applaud all those who support the LGBTQ+ community. Whilst this year will be different, Pride is still marked in our calendar and will be permanently until we’re confident that this world will accept Logan as he is, or allow our daughter to confidently grow up loving anyone, or be whoever she becomes. 

Happy Pride Month from the Lunns! 

Professor Lynne Hall, Faculty of Technology, is working with Creative Fuse North East on a research project about the near-future for families and technology.

Please fill in this short survey about families and technology during Lockdown. 

Lockdown, Technology and the Family Survey

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On Monday, May 25 2020 in Minneapolis, USA, George Floyd, a black man in his 40s, died as a police officer held him down in the street, with his knee to his neck.

The incident, which was captured on video, has sparked protests and an international outcry.

Here, Professor Donna Chambers from the University of Sunderland, an expert in representations of race/gender, looks back on the frightening history of race killings in the US and asks when will we truly understand that #BlackLivesMatter. 

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The death of George Floyd has led to the usual cries of outrage and mass demonstrations by the black community in America who are demanding justice. 

The incident is sadly just the latest in a long string of unarmed black men who have died at the hands of white law enforcement officers or vigilantes. 

The outpourings of grief from the family and friends of the deceased, the mass demonstrations and the public cries of outrage and calls for justice after every such killing is reminiscent of the scenes that accompany mass shootings in America where the ubiquitous arguments about gun control once more take centre stage. 

Then time passes, public anger dissipates, the stories disappear from the media and things go back to normal. Until the next mass shooting or the next police murder of another unarmed black man when the cycle begins again….

However, the killing of black people in America dates from the early slavery years in the 17th Century, to the days of the Jim Crow Laws which lasted from the late 19th – mid 20th centuries and which legitimized racial segregation in the USA, to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1940s to the end of the 1960s.

In more recent times while incidents of black people - particularly black men - being lynched by members of the Ku Klux Klan in acts of ritualistic violence, have all but disappeared in the USA, black oppression continues but manifests itself in new guises, whether that be the disproportionate number of black men who are incarcerated, the high levels of unemployment, poverty and homelessness amongst black people, the higher numbers of black women who die in childbirth and today, the disproportionate number of black people who have died from the Coronavirus.

It is true to say that the relationship between the black male community in the USA and the police is fraught and uneasy and is underpinned by historical myths, stereotypes, and racist ideologies about the nature of the black body. 

When this is combined with notions of class and gender, it becomes a very potent and dangerous cocktail which is often more detrimental to black male bodies. In America it seems that being a black man is synonymous with being a criminal.

Recent murders of black men by white police officers/vigilantes which have led to public explosions of outrage from the black community include:

2012 – Trayvon Martin
2014 – Eric Garner; Michael Brown; Akai Gurley; Tamir Rice; Laquan McDonald
2015 – Walter Scott; Tony Robinson; Freddie Gray
2018 – Botham Shem Dean; Stephen Clarke
2019 – Anton Sterling

It was in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the subsequent acquittal of his white assailant George Zimmerman that #BlackLivesMatter was formed and according to their website their mission is to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes”. 

The founders of this movement wanted to create a space for “black imagination and innovation by combating and counteracting acts of violence’. #BlackLivesMatter has now expanded from America and includes branches in the UK and in Canada.

Evidently the killing of black men by the police has a long history in America and it also has contemporary relevance. However, it is important to highlight the role that social media has played in bringing what has long existed in the shadows into the light. 

Indeed, according to Darryl Pincknay “social media have removed the filters that used to protect white America from what it didn’t want to see”.

Returning to the killing of George Floyd, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey stated that “being black in America should not be a death sentence”. 

But sadly, all too often it is.