Founded in 2003 by Mona Rai and Paula Larkin, Document is one of Glasgow’s longest running homegrown film festivals, occupying a unique space in the Scottish festival landscape through its historical links with grassroots art and activist organisations, and through its commitment to stimulating programming that bridges cinema, visual cultures, politics and human rights.
The impetus for starting the festival was the often-dehumanising and wilfully misrepresentative media coverage of Glasgow’s migrant and Roma communities. Document wanted to offer a counterpoint, and in the years since we have been dedicated to facilitating spaces for open discussion and creative learning through film. It’s a place to see innovative, sometimes-experimental, forms of documentary and an inclusive social environment for exchanging ideas.
The annual festival usually takes place in the autumn, but following the pandemic we staged our most recent online-only edition in January 2021.
- To engage audiences in critical thought and discussion around human rights issues;
- To be a platform for raising visibility around under-represented human rights issues, and for promoting local organisations doing rights-based work;
- To facilitate environments for creative learning;
- To develop audiences for documentary and human rights cinema in Scotland;
- To encourage critical reflection on the ethics and aesthetics of cinema and media;
- To support artists and filmmakers of often-marginal and/or under-represented cinema;
- To increase access and participation in the arts amongst under-served and under-represented communities.
Developing and nurturing collaborative relationships is central to how we go about animating our programmes. We work with contributors and facilitators across academic, activist, arts, and third sector organisations to co-produce contextualising events and materials, expanding on the issues we explore through film and offering audiences multiple entry points for engagement. Doing so in collaboration with people directly involved with rights-based work is crucial to achieving our aims in an engaging and ethical way. So although it can sometimes be challenging within the constraints of an independent arts project, we always try to work with a diverse range of friends and partners in the hope of facilitating mutually supportive and beneficial events.
Being part of a broad collaborative network helps us to communicate with, and to cross-pollinate, diverse audiences – and to reach out to people in a targeted and purposeful way when our interests or practices align. We hope this works both ways as promoting and platforming organisations doing vital work, and bringing together disparate and/or under-represented communities of people, is a big part of what we’re trying to achieve.
- Permissible Dreams – a strand of contemporary and archive films exploring Palestinian cinema, the question of a Palestinian archive, and its relationship to our wider understanding of politics in the Middle East. For this strand we collaborated with Creative Interruptions, Samar Ziadat (founder of Dardishi festival), and Dr Stefanie Van De Peer, Research Fellow at the University of Exeter.
- Forming a Residents Association – a screening and discussion event at our most recent online edition, looking at the role of video in response to the housing crisis. Collaborating with LUX Scotland, the event was facilitated by filmmaker and researcher Ed Webb-Ingall who was joined by Tamima Lerkins (Women Asylum Seekers Housing/WASH) and Joey Simons (Living Rent Glasgow).
- Locked Out | Refuge & Asylum during Covid-19 – an online screening, masterclass and conversation series exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland. We produced this online programme in collaboration with Scottish Refugee Council, promoting the work of local organisations including Asylum Seekers Housing Project (ASHP), Maryhill Integration Network, and Plantation Productions.
Taking the festival online:
Taking the festival online was challenging, but also valuable; embedding accessible online content into festival programmes feels sensible and long overdue.
There are obvious tensions between various stakeholders in film exhibition when it comes to licensing work online, and a clear funding gap in terms of appreciating the cost and work involved in producing online events. However, being part of the Film Hub network was hugely helpful in terms of sharing resources and experiences, and audience feedback suggests that there is an exciting future in hybrid forms of exhibition.
Our online programme was roughly a third the size of our in-person event in terms of content, but we reached almost the same number of people, with live events proving particularly popular when compared with in-person equivalents. We also reached a significant number of new people, with 45% of respondents to our audience survey stating that they were attending their first Document event, 43% doing so from outside Scotland, and 100% indicating that they would return to an online Document event.
Access and inclusion:
In recent years we have committed to subtitling the entirety of our screening programme and have progressively added an increased number of captioned screenings. Similarly, we have aimed to increase the number of live events that include BSL interpretation or, in the case of our online edition, live captioning embedded into the platform.
We have experimented with a number of different pricing models, always with the aim of making it affordable to attend multiple events at the festival. For the past three in-person editions of the festival we utilised sliding-scale pay-what-you-can pricing, but for the online edition we opted to price individual film tickets at £5/3 and full festival passes at £15/10. We state clearly that there is no proof of eligibility required to purchase at different price points, and free tickets are available without question on request.
Pricing is hugely important in widening access to culture, however we appreciate that the cost of entry is only one barrier amongst many that people may experience to participation. Where possible, we’ve tried to consider access barriers holistically. This has often been really challenging to put into practice, and especially to apply across all events. For us, it has been most successful when we’ve been able to work with partners to identify audience-specific barriers and respond by budgeting for provisions such as travel bursaries, or childcare facilities. This has always resulted in new people attending the festival and is helpful in terms of appreciating who we are trying to reach, and where we can do more to welcome them.
We traditionally hold our in-person festival the the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Glasgow, who have done fantastic work on the accessibility of their building. It has street level entry, level floors and walkways, accessible toilets on every floor, lift access, and induction loops in screening spaces. It’s a venue that also aligns closely with our values and ethos, in that it supports small-scale independent projects and provides a welcoming and safe space for anyone wanting to participate in the arts.