Kent research brought to life in BBC Arts film series

Olivia Miller
Still from I Feel Different

Professor Nicola Shaughnessy of the School of Arts and Professor David Stirrup of the School of English have had their research selected by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to make short, animated films for BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine website.

The Animated Thinking film series explores diverse topics such as how we are experiencing lockdown as a nation. The nine compelling films were made by animators and producers alongside academic experts across a range of disciplines, based on the latest research funded by AHRC.

Professor Nicola Shaughnessy’s film, titled I Feel Different, explores the untold stories of autistic girls and women in their own words to provide an insight into the diversity, intensity and sensory realities of this population. The film emerges from the interdisciplinary AHRC funded project, Playing A/Part, exploring the identities and experiences of autistic girls. Through animated scenes of everyday autistic life, autistic girls and women give voice to their unique sense of being in the world, playing roles, being outsiders, seeking safety, finding community and wanting to be accepted for who they are: sometimes fragile, sometimes inspiring, always profoundly human. The film is based on the participatory research of the Playing A/Part team, led by Professor Shaughnessy: Dr Melissa Trimingham (Arts, Kent) and Psychologists at the University of Surrey: Dr Emma Williams and Dr Hannah Newman. The research is in collaboration with the autistic community as researchers, arts practitioners and participants.

Professor David Stirrup’s film Across the Big Water explores stories of indigenous visitors to Britain from what is now called North America. Indigenous “Americans” have been visiting Europe since the early sixteenth century, sometimes willingly, sometimes under coercion. Many were captured and sold into slavery, others were brought to Europe to be displayed before royalty. Later, still more visited for diplomacy, as actors and performers, soldiers and educators, sportspeople and as artists. The impacts of these visits are still relevant today, but the relationships between contemporary Indigenous peoples and communities in Britain, connected by the British Imperial legacy, are not always visible.

Across the Big Water is based on the stories being mapped and explored by the research team on Beyond the Spectacle: Native North American Presence in Britain project: Professor David Stirrup and Dr Kate Rennard at Kent; Jacqueline Fear-Segal and Jack Davy at UEA; and Coll Thrush at the University of British Columbia. Beyond the Spectacle, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), examines the history of Native North American travel to Britain, and illuminates the ongoing legacies of Indigenous-British relations. The film is based on illustrations by Chad Yellowjohn and narrated by Jules Koostachin, who are both Indigenous visitors to Britain.

The films, produced by Calling the Shots, build on a long-standing relationship between the BBC and AHRC.

Professor Shaughnessy said: ‘I am delighted to see our research come to life visually through I Feel Different.  The arts and humanities continue to play a significant role in helping individuals’ mental health and wellbeing throughout lockdown. To share real experiences and knowledge through online platforms is so important and to present it through animation makes it even more accessible.’ The response to the film launch shows its relevance with messages about people recognising themselves or their daughters in the animation and a school counsellor saying it is ‘essential viewing for anyone in education.’

Professor Stirrup said: ‘The ‘Animated Thinking’ series has presented a new avenue to share thought provoking research, in a digestible format, with a wider audience. It is exciting to creatively engage the public with my research in this way and I have enjoyed working with the AHRC, BBC Arts and very talented producers and creatives to do so. Working with Indigenous collaborators Chad Yellowjohn and Jules Koostachin in the illustration and narration process was also really important to our project.’