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Inspired by… Movie magic: Royal Holloway student wins top film award

Posted on 17/10/2013

Matthew Howsam won Unchosen's Young Filmmaker of the Year Award for 'Georgina'

Media Arts student Matthew Howsam was this month named Young Filmmaker of the Year, by the anti-trafficking charity Unchosen, for his short film Georgina.

The film, made by a cast and crew of five Royal Holloway students, is based on the true story of Georgina, a girl from West Africa who was trafficked to the UK and forced into domestic servitude.

Now, having caught the attention of Unchosen, which includes acclaimed director Ken Loach among its patrons, Georgina will tour the country to help raise awareness of child trafficking and forced labour in the UK.  

We caught up with Matthew to find out about his favourite directors, filming on campus and how he gave Georgina a voice:

How does it feel to have won the Unchosen Young Filmmaker of the Year Award?

It is a fantastic feeling, I still can't believe it! It meant a lot to us all as it was our first film shortlisted by a film competition. We were especially proud that the judges chose our film because they admired the story, acting and music opposed to technical achievements, as there were several films in the category that had considerably larger budgets! I am delighted that the film will be touring the UK to promote such an excellent cause - it's the highest honour for a filmmaker's work to be projected in front of audiences.

What motivated you to make a film about trafficking?

Raising awareness of trafficking is so important. Even though we live in an advanced society, slavery still exists. People think it is a distant threat, but trafficking is taking place within the UK and could be happening within our own local communities. As a filmmaker, I was interested in the individual being trafficked - it is an emotionally rich and tragic story that is also challenging to realise on film. You have to ask yourself: “How do I communicate a trafficked person's feelings? Is this realistic or sensationalist? How do I not rely on shock tactics?” These questions are difficult to answer and interesting for a filmmaker as a result.

How did you find out about Georgina’s story?

The Unchosen competition provided eight case studies of trafficked victims to choose from. I was immediately attracted to Georgina's story by the fact that her trafficker forced her to walk other children to school and on her way back, she used to visit the library and read children's books. I visualised this fragile girl attempting to make her life better by reading fictional stories in a quiet, public space. It's a harrowing and deeply upsetting image which became the driving force in adapting Georgina's story. I began the film with this scene, which I shot in the Founder’s Library

Your cast and crew were made up of fellow Royal Holloway students. How did this influence the film?

Every member of the cast and crew influenced the final product. I worked with people who study different things at Royal Holloway, such as Harry Mitchell who does Media Arts but could also discuss finance and geopolitics with my producer Rachel Jones, who studies Economics. Similarly, I could discuss script ideas with Jo Oguntimehin, the lead actress who studies English and Chris Huckle, who acted but also plays an important role in the Christian Union on campus. I think you need this diversity of opinion to make the film feel authentic, as your own ideas may not be as good as you thought or could be impossible to realise. Film is ultimately a collaborative medium so using different peoples' skills is essential.

Who are the filmmakers that inspire you?

For me, the fundamental success of any film comes down to the quality of acting and characterisation. This was vital for Georgina in order to create sympathy for the protagonist. So for inspiration I re-watched the films of directors who I think craft particularly memorable performances, such as Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies, Ken Loach's Kes and Wim Wender's Paris, Texas. I also wanted music to play an important and spiritual role in the film and this was directly inspired by John Carney's Once. More broadly, I love the works of the Coen brothers due to their close attention to detail. I also have a fascination with the black comedy genre and this interest is inspired by Billy Wilder and Quentin Tarantino.

To see the trailer for Georgina, click here.


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