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Christopher Hird, Picture People’s Chair of Trustees, provides top tips for future filmmakers

For those who are familiar with the UK film industry, many will know Christopher (Christo) Hird, a leading figure in the UK independent documentary community, having established Dartmouth Films in 2008 after more than twenty years as a TV reporter and producer. Dartmouth Films has pioneered the way independent documentaries are funded, made, and distributed in the UK and abroad as well as supporting the work of new and emerging filmmakers. Its films aim to effect social or political change and alter people’s perceptions and attitudes, such as the award-winning films ‘I am Belmaya’ (2021), and ‘Children of Snowland’ (2018) and the festival success Bank Job (2021).

Besides being the founder and managing director of Dartmouth Films, Christo continues to guide the UK film industry through his roles as Chair of the Ethical Journalism Network and Chair of Trustees for the UK charity, Picture People, where for the latter he has been instrumental in guiding the charity towards achieving clear strategic and social impact milestones.

Trustee Role

According to Christo, he took on the trustee role with Picture People because he was familiar with the work of Claudia Modonesi and Nick Danziger, having taught with them at the Summer School in Cinema Human Rights and Advocacy (CHRA) since 2006. The school aims to take young professionals wishing to broaden their understanding on the connections between human rights, films, digital media and video advocacy, and help them learn how to use film as a tool for social change.

“I started to work with Claudia and Nick at the Summer School because I believe film has the capacity, by working in partnership with social movements and civil society organisations, to have an impact in politics and create social change. And secondly, the arrival of digital technology in the context of filmmaking, provided a special opportunity for filmmaking skills to be developed and to be used in the global south (not just in the west). My view is that digital media/technology can also help democratise state-controlled media in some of these countries in the south. So, when the opportunity came to work with Picture People, which has been under Claudia and Nick’s leadership since 2018, I was very happy to become a trustee”.

Since 2018, Picture People has grown significantly and, despite Covid, the charity last year launched a number of new initiatives and online academic training programmes with 15 local and international partners to reach over 700+ participants in 25 different countries.

“This year, we are at the start of an ambitious period of growth to further extend our training offerings, build our team and leverage our collaboration with our in-country and international partners to strengthen our visibility and impact,” said Christo.

Going forward, the charity also hopes to expand its work into other territories where free expression may be limited or some communities have no media voice, including the UK, as well as run a hybrid of online and in-person workshops and training sessions so more people will be better equipped to document social injustices and environmental degradation.

“What is wonderful to see, is the positive impact we are having on our beneficiaries as they strengthen their knowledge and skills in visual media, technology and storytelling,” added Christo.

Cinema, Human Rights and Advocacy

Once again, Christo will teach at the CHRA Summer School, a training initiative jointly developed with Global Campus of Human Rights, held from August 29 – September 7 in Venice, Italy. Christo will run a practical workshop on how to produce social impact documentaries during which he will showcase a number of award-winning documentaries to highlight how film can effectively be used to change the public narrative and create social change. Films that might be shown include ‘Black Gold’ which examines the lack of a fair deal for Ethiopian coffee farmers and ‘The End of the Line’ which revealed the devastating effect that overfishing has had on the world’s fish populations.

Students will also get the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Christo to receive guidance on how best to approach their own film projects. “Mentoring has been extremely popular in the last couple of years, and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoy meeting with the students individually. I am always surprised at just how creative and innovative they are and many have gone on to become nationally recognised filmmakers.”

Top tips for Future Filmmakers

As someone who has years of experience in the independent documentary film industry, Christo feels passionate about supporting new and emerging filmmakers and has some top tips for those thinking about entering the industry.

‘First, I always say, you need to have another job when you start out in the documentary film industry. I don’t mean don’t do it but if you are going to enter the independent sector you really need something on the side because you won’t be making a living from day one. And even better if you come to the industry with a technical skill. You need to think about what skills you can learn that will be useful to the industry today and in the future. Perhaps you are good at editing, shooting, sound or production management but whatever it is, it will no doubt come in handy not only for your own film but for other films, if you have to work on other productions/films to tide you over until your own film gets underway.”

Second, he says that emerging filmmakers also need to have what he terms “a personal micro business plan” which gives them a clear understanding how much money they need each year to live on, where they are going to make it and how they will find the time to make their own film.

Christo also recommends that filmmakers think right at the start (before anything else) who their audience is and understand exactly how they are going to appeal to them as everyone is vying for their attention. This might also provoke some ideas about who will fund their film. And finally, filmmakers need a plan for the film – who will fund it, how it will be made and how to distribute it.

To learn more about the workshops on offer at the upcoming CHRA Summer School, keep a lookout on our social platforms for updates.

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