Posted on 10th October 2023

Education Partnership Spotlight: Forgotten Fibre Tackles a Macro Issue with a Small, Personal Story

Director/Producer and DoP duo Tristan Sherfield and Alex Stevenson have been working together on projects for their Filmmaking undergraduate degrees at UWE since they joined, having bonded over cinematic storytelling’s ability to tell important messages. As part of their course, they were introduced to albert through the Education Partnership, learning about climate science, onscreen climate content and calculating a production’s carbon footprint.

It was great to be able to do that alongside some of these productions and films we’ve been making at university so we can apply the knowledge with our real experiences, with our real productions to the tool of albert. Looking at what was the impact of our production, and what are some of the things that we can do better in the future.

— Tristan Sherfield

Growing up in modern environments that were constantly visually stimulating is a big part of the students’ draw to use the moving image as a storytelling medium.  ‘The generation that I’ve grown up in had video, MTV, you know what I mean – I grew up watching skateboarding videos – it was such an integral part of communicating. I love how emotive it can be and how accessible it is. Everyone watches films.’ Alex adds on, ‘I’ve been inspired by other films – even been taught stuff and learnt stuff from films, been moved by films. I’ve even changed the way I live because of films I’ve watched, because I’ve been inspired and learnt something.’

With the exploration of social change as a backbone for both the filmmakers, they set out to create an odyssey into the production of wool, its sustainable roots, and underuse in modern clothing – even if they didn’t know it! Having begun with the macro subject of fast fashion and its destructive consequences, the filmmakers’ plans to expand on captured vox pop interviews on the streets of Bristol fell through at the last minute, but a serendipitous tip led them to what would eventually become the beating heart of Forgotten Fibre…

‘Wool was not something we were primarily looking at,’ they explain, but when they met Gen and Andy at Fern Hill Farm, ‘the moment we put a camera in front of them, we didn’t want to turn it off.’ Using the same themes that had begun their journey around fast fashion, the filmmakers found a whole new world opened up to them. ‘They were just highlighting how important wool is, and how much of an underused resource it is because it’s on most continents on the world – there’s sheep everywhere – and wool is something that only makes up 1% of the textile industry. It is a forgotten fibre and a resource that you’re not pulling out of the earth.’

‘My observation of that process was where we started really macro on a massive environmental issue, a massive social issue of how our clothes are made now, and who makes those clothes, what they’re made out of, and our relationship to our clothes,’ outlines Alex. ‘But through that process of finding our first contributor – who was incredible – and following that thread was we ended up with quite a small story but a story that enabled us to talk about the bigger problem. And again, how our clothes are made, what they’re made out of, our relationship to them and the amount that we can consume. Which is even more macro, this bigger consumerism machine that’s not just fashion.’

‘That’s something I’ve really taken from the experience, actually,’ Tristan continues. While discussing the idea with UWE’s tutors during production the students were introduced to an important storytelling element; ‘although the ideas are macro, telling it through the personable ideas, that’s how people are really going to connect to stuff. I really understand that through making the film. Connecting to another person’s experience and then touching on these little bits on the bigger picture.’

Following its completion, Tristan and Alex have been touring the short, including achieving selection at The British Documentary Film Festival where they took home not just the Best Student Documentary, but also the Environmental Award. ‘The past winners at the festival, and the Environmental Award as well… it’s quite unreal good company to be in,’ Alex says.

But it’s not just the glitz and glamour that makes a film like Forgotten Fibre worth making. ‘A highlight for me actually was being at Wonderwool,’ Tristan illustrates, referring to the Welsh festival celebrating wool and natural fibres annually, where the filmmakers exhibited their short. ‘This lady came up to me at the end and she was really tearful. It’s lovely to be accredited and have some sort of notoriety from a film festival, but when you just meet somebody, knowing that you connected to someone on a personal level, that was everything. It really touched me personally.’