Uncle is the winner of the Human Rights award at this year’s Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival.
In the film, director Michelle Jones recreates the experience of losing her uncle Kenneth Severin when she was 14 years old. Retro video game-inspired visuals are used to explore his life and experiences with mental illness, as well as the injustice and racism that led to his untimely death.
Michelle spoke to us ahead of the International Film Awards and the screening of Uncle in our Who Cares? programme.
Your film Uncle is a personal story, what were the challenges for you to bring this project to life?
The journey that I have taken to tell this story has been a long and hard one – filled with years of numerous rejections for film funding to crowdfunding and filming in a global pandemic.
Uncle breaks with traditional documentary and fiction forms, why did you decide to tell your story in this hybrid way?
It felt natural to me to tell the story in this way. I built my story (uncle) around my fond memories of playing video games in my Uncle’s room at my grandmothers house.
Once I arrived at that idea everything made sense to me. I knew I wanted to include animation, live action and feature the documentary around the case which aired on channel 4 in the 90’s. My focus was on the story I wanted to tell not the genre. I’m also not trained in film so maybe that also impacted the way I chose to tell my story.
You have chosen to use video games as a storytelling device, why was this important to you?
The video game is integral to the story because Kenneth my uncle introduced me to video games. Pac Man was the first game Kenneth taught me, a game we bonded over and I have many fond memories playing video games in his room.
Filmmaking and documentaries can be powerful tools to create change and it is clear that you are using your talent to bring light to the mental health crisis and institutional racism. Do you believe film can be a form of activism?
Yes. Ultimately the purpose of my film “UNCLE” is to give Kenneth (my uncle) the justice he never received and show the man behind the headlines. A man who was a son, brother, father, friend and uncle. A man who was suffering with his mental health due to a car accident that was not his fault.
Unfortunately, his mental wellbeing was never the same after that. And instead of seeing someone who needed help. They choose to see a criminal.
Like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said “Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanise. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.”
I pray “UNCLE” the short film will empower and humanise.
Ultimately we want the legacy of “UNCLE” to deliver change in how our society views people suffering with mental illness.
You’re inspired by Ava DuVernay, do you believe there is a change in the way black female filmmakers have been given opportunities in the industry these recent years?
I believe it’s better than it was but we have a long way to go.
What is your next project?
I’m co-writing a series and developing a feature idea.
Uncle is screening in Who Cares?, a programme exploring the issues that affect our mental health in Scotland, at 4pm on Saturday 14 May. Tickets are pay what you can. The screening includes SDH captions and the introduction and discussion will have BSL interpretation.
Book tickets for Who Cares? here.