TS20: First Light

“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”  

– Alan Turing 


From our very first project, Threshold had a commitment to reinvesting our skills back into the community.  We were commissioned to make a short drama for Central Television and that enabled us to offer five paid work experience places for A-level film students from the local FE College.  A few projects in, we’d begun to see a pattern emerge from our work with young people.  The filmmaking environment was less formal than the classroom and the skills it demanded suited people with dynamic problem-solving minds or those with team organisational skills, creative thinkers and individuals with visual acuity.  In fact, without the formal expectations of the classroom, often it was the academic achievers who found themselves a little lost in this world.  Our work dismantled the pre-existing group dynamic and allowed participants to reveal hitherto hidden skill-sets. 

We’d read how the media sector was changing, with small, independent production companies replacing the large studios.  One consequence of this was they lacked the support infrastructure of the larger institutions to offer apprenticeships to the next generation of filmmakers.  With that in mind, taking the prevalent Guerrilla film making model as our guide, we designed a youth media project to support young people to take the lead in screenwriting, directing, camerawork, sound recording, acting and producing a short film over a five-day period, with another five days for editing and sound design. 

A year later, First Light was launched; a national UK Film Council initiative to encourage young people to consider media as a potential career path.  We took our Training Linked to Production model to them and over the next five years we delivered three large-scale First Light projects and a further project funded by Mediabox, shooting a total of 24 youth-led films.  Most were screened on BBC’s Blast! programme; many were screened at festivals worldwide.  We won some awards; we got some great reviews and many of our participants went on to do other things in media.  Some, we later employed as freelance professionals.   

Fulfilling our commitment to knowledge sharing across the sector, Uzma then took on the role of Mediabox Regional Co-ordinator for the East Midlands, encouraging other arts organisations to make further applications to the fund. 

A few smaller projects followed; four films by young people made through the Cultural Olympiad.  One of which was screened within the Olympics arena, nine films by Northants communities for whom English was a second language – one participant of which was a 14 year old Palestinian girl who later went on to run some film workshops for young girls back in Palestine. 

Why did we stop?  The world had changed.  Mobile phone technology coupled with the Internet meant that now everyone had a film studio in their pocket and the means to distribute their work; so we felt our production model was promoting a soon-to-be obsolete model of an industry on the cusp of radical change.  Instead, we shifted to managing a programme of formal paid internships through our RADAR Graduate initiative and shifted the focus of our youth media projects to long-term arts interventions in communities high on the deprivation index; signposting pathways to education, employment and self-expression and making some killer art.  

Our original youth media production initiative lives on in Camara Chica.  Since 2013, in partnership with IntoFilm, British Council and our sister organisation, Suited and Booted in Bath, we have so far established 14 community-based media production hubs across Cuba and Venezuela, training up the community leaders in our Training Linked to Production approach. 


Barry Hale 

Tending the Garden of Dreams