The political discourse at the time was (still is) toxic. David Cameron had declared ‘multiculturalism had failed’… I am a product of multiculturalism – it hasn’t failed me!
Dhivya is a Glasgow-born documentary filmmaker and her film Glasgow, Love and Apartheid is on BBC iPlayer until Sunday 25 October. We strongly recommend you watch it.
We were fortunate to have some of Dhivya’s time to talk to us about the film’s origins, about her own journey into documentary and her advice to aspiring documentary filmmakers. It makes for great reading.
How did the film come about?
Back in 2008, I made a 5 minute short doc AQUARIUM with Glasgow friend and filmmaker, Martin Clark. It told the personal story of a 1984 family trip to Durban Aquarium, in segregated South Africa at the height of apartheid, and my family’s experience as a mixed, visibly diverse group walking along the Whites-only Beach promenade to get there. It was screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2009.
That might have been the seed.
But in 2016, after getting my dad’s cinefilm digitised, I approached John Archer, for whom I had worked at Hopscotch Films for many years previously, to show him the beautiful, vibrant Super 8 footage of my parents’ 1977 wedding – a Hindu wedding ceremony in a Glasgow tenement flat, followed by a raucous, multicultural ceilidh in Partick Burgh Hall. I had wanted to develop an archive-rich, experimental film about migration and multiculturalism, not anything about my own family. John told me to go away and explore the personal.
I did some research, development and writing, and a year later we had a treatment and a taster. Mark Thomas at (then) Creative Scotland and Ewan Angus at BBC Scotland were supportive and by late 2017 we were ready to do some shooting.
Why did you feel the story needed to be told?
The political discourse at the time was (still is) toxic, basking in its hostile environment. David Cameron had famously declared ‘multiculturalism had failed’; Theresa May was giving it “If you think you are a citizen of the world, you are a Citizen of Nowhere”; the Brexit referendum had just happened and with it, a spike in race, religious hate crimes and xenophobia. It was a depressing time and I felt compelled to counter the narrative, after all I am a product of multiculturalism – it hasn’t failed me! In addition I had always wanted to explore Glasgow’s almost anarchic, or to use a Glasgow word, ‘gallus’ anti-apartheid movement. My parents’ and the wider family’s stories were a way to explore and weave together the themes of anti-racism, apartheid, migration, belonging and of course the Scottish Anti Apartheid Movement’s gallus campaigns.
How long did it take to make?
The film took about ten months from the start of UK and South African filming to its online. I became a parent during post production so things were a little slower than they might have been ordinarily.
How was the funding journey?
That would be a question for the producer, really. Hopscotch Films’ MD, John Archer, is a very experienced and skilled producer and he was behind the raising of finance. With editor, James Alcock, we had produced a moving taster, which helped in showcasing a kind of vision of the documentary. From the start Mark Thomas at (now) Screen Scotland and Ewan Angus at BBC Scotland showed interest and were supportive.
There’s a lot of archive footage in the film – both family archives and news archives – were there challenges around using it?
Regarding the family archive – with my father’s, and in particular my late grandfather’s 8mm and super 8 – I had to get the permission to use these from the wider family, and that involved a lot of phone calls and chats and explaining what I had in mind. Naturally I was sounding family members out about my vision and ideas for the film, but also of course I was asking people about whether they would be ok with seeing their younger selves broadcast as well as beloved family members no longer with us.
My late grandfather filmed the departures of his children in the 1960s and 70s as they left apartheid South Africa to seek opportunities abroad. I find these 8mm moments at airports, ports and stations absolutely heartbreaking in what they evoke about migration – the loss, the leaving, the sadness, the heartache. It’s as though my grandfather was hiding his sadness by putting himself physically behind the camera. It felt a little intrusive, or exposing, to put these on screen and yet, I felt it necessary in depicting the sadness of migration to audiences who perhaps have no insight into that loss.
In the end family members trusted me with the family archive, but thinking back, I was on tenterhooks for months and months – it was quite a big responsibility being tasked with telling a family story or stories, or particularly privileging my parents’ story over the myriad stories of resistance and activism in a family as big and close as ours.
The film takes your family back into some really painful times and experiences. How do you look after them as they go through that on camera?
It was tricky, I was acutely aware of making my parents relive painful or psychologically demanding experiences and yet at the same time, it had to be done. I knew that one of the most powerful things I had to elicit from my dad was how the experience of racism affects one psychologically and the grinding down of the self-esteem of people of colour under the apartheid system, the damage done to one’s sense of identity. Luckily when we made the taster in 2016, I did a massive interview with my parents at home in Glasgow, so when we came to filming the doc a year later, I knew I already had a lot of essential and moving interview material that could be used in the final film. Nevertheless it was gruelling and exhausting for my parents but they gave so much and were utterly generous and uncomplaining during the production because they knew it was an important film we were creating, important in the sense that we were trying to create alternative narratives to the poisonous discourses about migration.
Glasgow’s almost a character in itself here – seen to be a very politically vocal city, which was vehemently against injustice – a theme that’s been coming through in other films too (such as Nae Pasaran). Did you feel that growing up – did you see a lot of evidence of that? Is it still the same?
Nae Pasaran is a wonderful film and I’m glad to share some of the same themes of solidarity and justice with it.
From treatment stage Glasgow was written as a character in GLASGOW, LOVE & APARTHEID. I wrote variously that the doc was to be ‘a love letter to Glasgow and its people’, ‘a hymn to Glasgow’, a ‘Glasgow love story in super 8’.
Growing up I was frequently on demos with my parents – anti apartheid, anti racist demos, the miners strike, Poll Tax, May Day marches. As a child this was just what we did, I don’t think I thought there was anything special about that, the fight for social justice and racial equality at home and abroad was pretty normalised in my family and my parents’ circles. It’s only as an adult that I came to know much more about Glasgow’s history in the Labour Movement. When it comes to struggles for justice and equality, Glasgow’s got form! Glasgow’s Left credentials kind of get mythologised and celebrated, and we get to pat ourselves on the back for being on the right side of history sometimes, but I think that’s allowed.
Have all the family seen it – and what did they think?
I was in knots before a special friends and family screening (and for most of that year) asking myself “Do I have the right to use the family archive?” “Do I have the right to tell (some of) our stories?” “Have I been exploitative?” “Apartheid was much worse, much crueller and harsher for the African community in South Africa, is our story of racism and apartheid (as part of the South African Indian community) worthy of being told?” “Will some family members be upset that they are / are not in it?” etc etc The list goes on.
Everyone in the family has seen it and been very positive. It’s hard to speak for everybody, but family members have expressed how the film spoke to their own experiences of migration, leaving home, belonging and that they have been proud to have our small contributions to the fight against apartheid and racism, documented on screen. It has been very emotional for family members seeing clips from my grandfather’s films from 50 plus years ago.
As for my parents, they are very happy with the finished film, and happy the process of making it is over, no doubt. They participated not out of some desire to be on screen, but because frank conversations about race and anti-racism are continually needed.
When and how did you become a filmmaker?
I studied French and Film and Television Studies at Glasgow University. After a spell of 3 or 4 years in the South of France teaching English, doing bits of translation work and working in a bar / restaurant in the early noughties, I returned to the UK to complete a Masters at Manchester University in Translation Studies. There I studied film in translation and wrote my masters on the distribution of French Film in the UK. From there I got a job in international film sales and distribution in London as an assistant. We were responsible for the international sales of such films as This is England (2006, Shane Meadows); The Consequences of Love (Paolo Sorrentino, 2004) and Ae Fond Kiss (2004, Ken Loach). After 3 years in London, I was eager to do something more creative, on the production side. I returned to Scotland where I embarked upon the Scottish Screen NETS (New Entrants Training Scheme). As part of that, I met John Archer at Hopscotch Films and ended up working there in documentary and factual development and production for a further 5 years. In 2014 my husband’s job took us to Liverpool. I kept in touch with Hopscotch and as mentioned, by 2016 John and I had started developing Glasgow, Love and Apartheid.
Are you exclusively a filmmaker or do you do other things too?
In 2018 I became a parent so I took a few years out. I occasionally do bits of teaching and that gives me great satisfaction, the engagement, bright ideas and enthusiasm of the students.
I was recently awarded the John Brabourne Bursary from the Film and TV Charity, to further develop some new work and so slowly I am getting back into the screen world.
I have a short form fiction script in development with BFI Film Hub North and producer, Alysia Maciejowska’s Glasgow company, Moquette Films. We hope to shoot that next year. I am also researching and working on a treatment for a hybrid documentary drama, but that is at kernel stage.
Any advice for emerging documentary talent (especially women of colour)?
My advice would be to go for it – to apply for any and every documentary funding opportunity that’s out there. To not be shy or have too much pride about schemes directed specifically at minority groups – these are seeking to redress the balance, majority voices have been the status quo for…. ever. As we know, diverse stories enrich our world and the filmmaking landscape – the more the merrier. Seek out possible mentors. Try and do the networking schtick: as excruciating as this can be, it helps to know the funders, potential collaborators and other filmmakers – I say this and yet I have spent a decade shying away from exactly this. Don’t be afraid to revisit old ideas that haven’t panned out, sometimes the time just isn’t right. Hang in there.