From 12 Years A Slave to Dallas Buyers Club, the films winning most praise at this year’s award ceremonies have tackled some tough issues. Now, a Cambridge-made animation about the challenges of leaving care has scooped best documentary in the British Film Institute Future Film Festival for young film-makers.

Animation offers a novel and imaginative way of talking indirectly about sensitive, personal experiences.

Valerie Dunn

The film – Finding My Way – was made by a group of young people in Cambridgeshire who were themselves facing the challenge of leaving care. As well as helping them explore their own thoughts and feelings, the film will give social workers and foster carers a better insight into the issues involved.

According to Valerie Dunn of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychiatry and NIHR CLAHRC East of England, who led the project: “We talk very casually about coming into care and leaving care, but only those who have been through it can tell us what it’s really like.  Our research focuses on the emotional health of young people leaving care, so we thought that inviting them to make a film would give us – and perhaps them too – a deeper understanding than traditional tick-box questionnaires.”

Working with a team of professionals, seven young care leavers produced the film at a four-day summer school organised in partnership with the Cambridgeshire Film Consortium.

A cinephile herself, Dunn felt that film would be the ideal way for the young people to tell their own stories. “You start from what you love, and I love film,” she said. “Animation offers a novel and imaginative way of talking indirectly about sensitive, personal experiences, and because the young people don‘t appear on screen their identities could be protected.”

As well as providing time and space for the group to share their stories and experiences, the process also gave them an opportunity to learn new skills – from acting and directing to filming and team work – and to have fun.

“The young people really enjoyed the film-making process, particularly the day in the TV studio. Although it was extremely hard work and the schedule tight they did a great job and invested a great deal in the project.”

The young people wanted to portray an accurate picture of their experiences and were keen to avoid conforming to stereotypes or being misrepresented. “One afternoon, a small group worked tirelessly just to get three or four sentences exactly right. And they succeeded; they’ve expressed themselves incredibly well.”

The judges at the Future Film Festival – where Finding My Way beat strong competition from 400 other shorts – clearly agreed. “The panel of actors, directors and producers at the awards ceremony were incredibly complimentary about the film,” Dunn said. “They liked the combination of playfulness and seriousness, they liked the narrative structure, they thought the young people knew who their audience was and what they wanted to say. When they announced the winner there was a loud whoop! from the Cambridge corner.”

The win follows success for the project’s first film, My Name Is Joe, which describes what it’s like being taken away from your family and placed into foster care. Since its release in 2012, it has over 3,500 YouTube views, and is being used across the UK to train foster carers.

Dunn hopes the same will be true for Finding My Way, and she is already fundraising for a third film, about residential care. And as well as benefiting youngsters in care, and their foster carers, the film has also had a positive impact on her own research at Cambridge.

“As a researcher – whatever area you work in – it’s easy to become blasé about your field,” she said. “This project has given me a real insight into the huge challenges facing some young people, and it’s been a pleasure and a privilege working with them. They are learning a lot too, and this mutual learning is great.”

Finding My Way was funded by the National Institute of Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, now CLAHRC for East of England.

A collaboration between the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire County Council and a wide range of Cambridgeshire and East Anglian health and social care providers, the CLAHRC aims to undertake applied health research to build an evidence base to inform and improve service provision.

As well as CLARHRC, the project involved Ryd cook and Trish Shiel of the Cambridgeshire Film Consortium, animator Lizzy Hobbs, sound designer James Rogers, Tom Mellor from Cambridgeshire Youth Offending Service and Michelle Dean and Mary Ogden from the Children’s Participation Service.


Finding My Way: Behind the Scenes

My Name is Joe: Behind the Scenes

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