Last night our Set Her Free animation, Margaret’s Story, premiered at the London Feminist Film Festival. Here, the animation’s illustrator and director Priya Sundram blogs for us about the process involved in making the animation.
I feel so honoured that Margaret and Women for Refugee Women entrusted me to tell this story. I have learnt so much from the process, and I have never felt such a personal responsibility to convey someone’s story.
There were so many pivotal events in Margaret’s story, and I wanted to clearly define which points were important to Margaret and Women For Refugee Women to draw out. The film had to be short, but all of Margaret’s story is so important, so there was a lot of editing down to distil the essence, without losing key elements.
We wanted to show that Margaret was an everyday, working mother and, elements like her going to work and coming back home to her kids were intended to feel universal. It was also important to convey that she had a happy stable life, which she didn’t want to leave – it was torn apart through no fault of her own.
As an artist, it was a challenge to adapt my style to fit the brevity of the cause and subject matter. We didn’t want to make the film overly dark or gloomy and put people off watching it, but it needed to be hard hitting in the right points to get the story across.
We felt it was essential to have a balance, so the start needed to feel light, upbeat and everyday to counterbalance the atrocities that happened later. Creating the rape scenes was particularly challenging, to imply what happened without visually showing it, so more indirect shots were used here.
One thing that was key to the retelling of Margaret’s story was that she had been through unimaginably traumatic events, only to escape to a place where her treatment forced her to relive the horrors of her past.
When discussing her story there were points that came up as being particularly traumatic, like being taken to an unknown location and not knowing what would happen to her there. I tried to convey this by repeating the use of her eyes in the rear view mirror on both occasions – in her homeland and then again in the UK – when she is being driven to unknown places.
After the trauma of her original ordeal at home, in the UK Margaret was again detained without privacy or dignity, constantly watched by men in authority, and without any knowledge of when it would end.
Resilience and bravery
Before this project I was aware of Yarl’s Wood, but had no idea of the extent of the women’s experiences there. I was so shocked by the stories I read in WRW’s research reports – one in five women they spoke to had tried to commit suicide.
It was an emotional experience working on such an important story, and reminded me of the sheer resilience and bravery of women who face persecution around the world on a daily basis.