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12 November 2020

Come with us on the journey

Kirsten Kearney
esc films in Belfast work with participants facing complex challenges including mental health problems to turn their stories into powerful, compelling films. Find out more in this blog from their Chief Executive, Kirsten Kearney.

Photos by Malachy McCrudden and Calvin Ballard

Before Covid-19 kicked in, we were busy at esc films, a Belfast-based film-making charity, celebrating 20 years of creating change throughout Northern Ireland. We are currently operating virtually, finding new and creative ways to continue our work. We are deeply grateful to the safety net of our new Baring Foundation grant, which will help sustain us until face-to-face contact with participants becomes possible again.

esc is a small organisation operates under the radar, working on the margins of society, with people who face many complex challenges, mental health being the main one.

Celebrating 25 years at Stormont’s Great Hall.

Film writes a brave new ending

esc films specialise in storytelling, drama and film. We work with many different groups, all of whom struggle with mental health issues – from ex-prisoners to ex-service people, homeless young people to domestic abuse victims, LGBTQI+ individuals and people living with learning disabilities. We run inclusive and participatory film-making programmes in partnership with Health Trusts, mental health charities and third sector partners. Our main aim is to give people a voice. Especially those who carry the weight of an untold traumatic story.

esc films is deeply inspired by the work of Augusto Boal, Paulo Freire and most recently, Brené Brown. Especially the possibilities of writing a brave new ending:

When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we own our stories, we can write a brave new ending.

Brené Brown

Film gives a voice

Our work is not cuddly; it is often not easy to fund and often falls between two stools in terms of funding provision. It engages people with multi-complex needs, with addiction issues, people who have committed violent crimes and have had crimes committed against them. It gives a voice to people whose voices are often silenced – sometimes people would rather not hear their voices. esc films believe 100% in a second (third, fourth…) chance for change. That no-one should be defined by the worst thing they have ever done.

esc films believe 100% in a second (third, fourth…) chance for change.

Film resolves trauma

Second Chance for Change is esc films’ flagship film-making course. In it, participants go on a unique journey. Over the last ten years we have pioneered this unique type of creative intervention in partnership with several Health Trusts in NI – often working with people who others did not want in a group setting. The group creates a safe space for participants to build trust, work as a team, gain the confidence to tell their own stories, and eventually put that story on film. Everything is based on choice.

Film creates insight

This has a major impact – watching your own life at a distance on film helps you to gain insight. By seeing yourself as if you were someone else, you find you see more clearly and judge less harshly. This work is about exploring turning points in people’s lives – indeed being part of one of our film-making projects is often a major turning point for participants:




I’ve written instead of self-harming / I’ve swapped blood for ink.

I’ve got a lot off my chest by writing down my feelings – this has helped me to see a way forward and a life in the future.

I’ve got the bullet out of the wound

Film changes everything

This is a sweeping statement. But one esc films holds fast to. In this new decade and in these strange times we all need positive change so desperately; individually, collectively and politically. Our hope is that we can be part of bringing real and lasting change to our world, rewriting broken lives, one complex, story-filled person at a time.

Explore more at:

Facebook: escbelfast

Twitter: @escbelfast

Vimeo: escbelfast

Instagram: esc_films_belfast/


esc films is one of 87 organisations which received a grant from the Baring Foundation’s first Arts and Mental Health grants round in September 2020. Find out more.