Posted on 22nd May 2024

Education Partnership Spotlight: Lead Me Here Showcases the Sustainable Learnings of albert Grads from Sunderland University

Masters students Kevin Gatens, Sam Barlow and John Magharious first came into contact with production sustainability while studying Media Production at Sunderland University. Having come from eclectic backgrounds in teaching, acting and media production in Egypt, the trio came together with a wider team when creating the short film Lead Me Here. ‘It’s a story about a man, Macca, in his late 50s who is sleeping rough in Glasgow, but he’s a lad from Newcastle,’ explains Kevin, who wrote, directed and produced the short. He learns about the passing of a woman he loved, and because of that he decides to embark on a journey; he ends up walking and cycling home from Glasgow to Newcastle to attend a memorial service. So, it’s like a pilgrimage journey. It was a road movie story.’ 

‘I tend to write issue-based stories,’ he continues. ‘Who in society is marginalised and why are they marginalised? What does that take from the people who are marginalised for whatever reason? And I suppose one of the guttural things that anyone can experience is a desire to pay respect to someone they loved. And, for whatever reason, Macca is in a position where that’s in jeopardy and I wanted to explore that.’

At Sunderland University, sustainability – aided by the BAFTA albert Education Partnership – is embedded throughout the entirely of the film course, with the practice of calculating a production’s carbon footprint with the albert Carbon Calculator mandatory. This was the first time that John, the DoP and editor, has interacted with sustainability in his work. ‘After I came to the UK and Gary [Stubbs, Programme Leader for MA Media Production (Film & TV)] introduced us to the BAFTA albert module, I realised how important it is for us as filmmakers and creatives. Even if it’s just to think about our future and our career, we need to think about the environment we live in to do that.’ 

Through the BAFTA albert module, the team were able to learn and get hands on with their new sustainable skills with the short. ‘One of the main challenges we faced was logistics,’ says 1st AD and assistant producer Sam. ‘As you can imagine, there’s a lot of emissions from vehicles on this planet, and this production was starting off in Glasgow and making its way to Newcastle, so how were we going to keep a clean footprint behind us? Sometimes it’s not always possible, so reducing our carbon footprint became the main focus – that’s what it taught me; we can do our absolute best to reduce it, even if it’s just to a minimum.’

‘I had actually been briefly introduced to albert just before the Masters,’ Kevin adds. ‘I wanted to find things that could be helpful in my transition to filmmaking, so I was looking at different organisations that I respected and wanted to integrate into my learning. I did a two-hour online course as my first introduction’ – albert’s free online industry training available through the BAFTA albert website – ‘but the university module was really, really beneficial on top of that. Gary is really passionate about the environment and sustainability, and that really comes across in his teaching and it really did empower us. It gave us the information that we needed to be able to use in our filmmaking process.’

‘There are things that wouldn’t even have been on my radar before the BAFTA albert module. We were shooting in some beautiful landscapes and albert had published the Biodiversity Pocket Guide, and that found its way into our production and gave us some information we could really use. I would never have thought me being noisy in a place could disrupt the natural landscape and the feeding patterns of wildlife there – and I wouldn’t have modified my behaviour had I not read that sort of information. And for us, we’re early-stage filmmakers who are making a small production, and if we’re thinking about these things then we can – and it’s our responsibility – to take them up to the next level. Hopefully the next one will be a bigger scale production, and we can make use of it. It’s sort of our responsibility to bring that forward in our work.’ 

Armed with their newfound knowledge, albert grads from Sunderland and other BAFTA albert Education Partners then go into the industry with these transferable skills – including loads of international students who go back to their home territories and spread the industryleading learnings across the globe. So why is it so important to be embedding sustainability into media production and storytelling? ‘If we jump back to the reason why I got into the industry,’ Sam says, it was because it left an impression on me when I was younger. Watching TV, watching any form of entertainment leaves an impression. It can plant a seed quite literally to change a mindset.’ John agrees: ‘I feel that the only way you can experience a bit of another life is through art. Even if it’s just glimpses of a life, for me that’s a powerful thing to feel and experience. […] Media itself plays a really important part in our lives. It affects out lifestyle, it affects out behaviour, even if not in a direct way. So, I’m thinking about how we can affect this in a good way.’

‘I think the story’s got to be authentic,’ Kevin continues. ‘The story’s got to be from the heart, from whoever created it – but I do think it’s important to make editorial choices that further a message that’s actually going to make the world a better place. In creating Lead Me Here, this is a story about a guy who’s disintegrating in the city, in the urban sprawl. And it’s only when he goes out into those beautiful landscapes that he actually becomes rejuvenated, he becomes the person he could have been. It’s a reminder that human beings need the natural world. We need it. It gives us something, it gives us power, people, and that’s what certainly happens to Macca when he goes into the hinterlands and becomes the person they he hopefully could have always been. It’s really important that films further a message of change and try to reach people on an emotional level. Everything’s got a part to play and can make a big difference on the world. I really do believe that.’