For God’s sake, women, go out and play.
Instead of staring round to see what wants polishing or rubbing, go out into the open and draw the breath of the moors or the hills into your lungs. Get some of the starshine and sunlight into your souls, and do not forget that you are something more than a dish washer – that you are more necessary to the human race than politicians – or anything.
‘Our Right to Play’ (The Woman Worker, April 14, 1909)
These words were written by Ethel Carnie Holdsworth. Heard of her? You might have… but there’s a big chance you haven’t. She was a mill worker, a feminist, social activist, a poet, journalist, and writer of 10 books (one of which was turned into a film) but isn’t very well known… is that due to her being a woman? Being from the North? Being working class?
We were part of a successful National Lottery Heritage Fund bid to shine a light on Lancashire born Ethel, believed to be the very first published working class female writer. Our part of the project was the creation of an animated film telling her story – for viewers of all ages but particularly to engage with and inspire young people, both from the town she was from (Oswaldtwistle) and further afield.
Whenever we’re making a film telling the story of a real person, there’s a lot of issues that come up, and challenges. We felt a big responsibility to get it right, do Ethel proud and create a piece of work that felt authentic and inspiring – all in a 3 minute long film!
Some of the questions we talked about in our planning were around how best to represent Ethel and her life. How would we make sure that we being true to her beliefs and intentions? How would we select which parts of her life to throw into the spotlight and which to omit? Which elements would we focus on, which poems or books would we reference?
The scripting took a while, and evolved from a lot of research and reading both at our end and within the wider project team. Scraps of info from newspaper articles contained quotes from Ethel and interviews with her. We found reviews of her work, notifications of her wedding, facts and figures and snippets of a life before everything was digitised and online, a Facebook free world in black & white and sepia.
We included photographs of Ethel in the film to ground it in reality, and so that people could see both our interpretation of her, and also her actual image. Contemporary photos from the period of mills and streets were sourced via helpful library staff from their archives to show real faces and places. That felt important and I’m glad we included them.
We used the photographs of Ethel as the basis for the artwork to create her character too. So far, so good. And to make sure that her voice came through into the film, we used her words. Words she’d written in essays and poems and stories… we made a space for Ethel’s voice to come through.
We worked with artist Cath Ford who ran creative sessions in a local primary school to develop assets for the film, giving the young people a link to their cultural heritage by finding out more about Ethel, and the chance to learn new art skills. A local choir led by Janet Swan provided an end soundtrack for the film, with Ethels poetry as the inspiration for their singing.
At end of the project a celebration event was held, with music, poetry reading, performance and the first screening of the film. Some of Ethel’s relatives were in the audience, and it was a really special night.
We hope that the film gives people a bit of a glimpse into Ethel and the way she lived her life… a woman who used the power of her words to speak out about issues that were important to her. They aren’t just issues that were important back in her time though… and we hope that our film can inspire the young people who watch to be more like her – speaking up when they see injustice or unfair conditions, and finding their own voice to make a difference.
Link to ‘Finding Ethel’ film - https://youtu.be/uhCtTsOw6yA
The project ‘Finding Ethel’ was a partnership between Proffitts, The Civic Arts Centre & Theatre, Janet Swan and Huckleberry Films. More information about ‘Finding Ethel’ can be found at: http://www.proffittscic.com/community-projects/finding-ethel-archivists-of-a-lost-historical-figure/
Huckleberry Films is a member of APPL and is based in Rossendale. More information can be found at: www.huckleberryfilms.co.uk
FURTHER INFORMATION ON APPL:
APPL is a partnership of arts organisations from Pennine Lancashire. This is the first of a series of blogs designed to share ideas and highlight some of the world class practice coming out of the area. Pennine Lancashire includes Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Ribble Valley and Rosendale.