Netflix's Documentary Talent Fund recipient on important message behind Black Stroke
Black Stroke filmmaker Olivia Smart talks exclusively to RadioTimes.com about her debut documentary.
As of 1st February, Netflix is launching five short documentaries created by recipients of the Documentary Talent Fund.
The filmmakers from across the UK and Ireland received £30,000 to create a documentary on the theme of "connection".
One of those is Black Stroke, from filmmaker Olivia Smart, following the stories of three people from different walks of life who broke racial stereotypes to learn how to swim for the first time.
According to the latest figures from Sport England, 87 per cent of Black adults in the UK do not swim.
However, Smart tells us that this isn't a film solely about learning how to swim, but also one that focuses on the history that has hindered many Black people from learning before now, with multiple takeaways from the 12-minute long doc.
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Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, Smart explained: "I think the film relates to, like, a lot of people, and I really hope that people, you know... there's two kind of take home messages for Black people watching it.
"For Black people, it's be encouraged to give blood, because Maria [one of the contributors] has sickle cell, and understand what it's like to live with sickle cell, and also to feel moved to learn that life-saving skill to learn to swim."
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She continued: "For white people, the take-home message is just to educate and inform. I think I spent a lot of the time when I was making this film explaining to people what sickle cell was, and considering it's one of the fastest growing genetic diseases within the UK, and it's so incredibly underfunded, it's really, really important for me to kind of put sickle cell on the main stage, and really raise awareness for this hugely debilitating disease - and sometimes life-threatening."
The Netflix Documentary Talent Fund was created in 2020 to break down barriers of access for emerging filmmakers. The initiative also provides filmmakers with a foundation of knowledge and hands-on training to allow them to flourish within their careers.
For Smart, it was important to to have Black and mixed race people behind the camera as well as on screen.
She continued: "So, the press release goes out, and you then join, like, a bootcamp with Netflix, where they kind of take you through, I suppose, legals - that kind of thing. And then you do your budget and you get given the money, and then it's up to you to build a team.
"So I think, for me, the next step was, 'Who is it that's going to be part of this team that's really going to believe in that idea and really going to get us to the finish line?'
"And I think that part of the process was a real challenge, to find Black and mixed race people of all of these levels, especially in sound, especially as DOPs (directors of photography) and that kind of thing.
"And I think going through that process and finding those people and finding those pots of talent, for me, was so incredibly rewarding, and I can't explain to you the energy on set - like, we just had such a laugh, and it was so hilarious, because three contributors were learning to swim, but most of the crew couldn't actually swim.
"So, it was really hilarious because you've got these three contributors learning to swim, you've got, like, the DOP who also can't swim, that's so inspiring, and we had a mixed race swimming instructor as well, so it just felt like a really safe space where we just had so much fun."
Black Stroke was showcased at London's Ham Yard Hotel on Wednesday 31st January, alongside the four other films: Iranian Yellow Pages; Two Mothers; Turn up The Bass; and Sperm Donors Wanted, about a transgender performance artist interviewing people on stage to find a sperm donor that will enable him and his partner to start their family.
Asked what advice she'd give to future applicants, Smart added: "I think in terms of the Talent Fund, all I would say is: be really clear in what your idea is, and be really clear about whether your idea is possible. Given the parameters of the £30,000, I think mine was incredibly ambitious!
"So, I'd always say if you're going to apply, really do an idea that's really true to yourself, so that when you are talking to people about it, people can feel that energy - because if you're not convinced, people just won't support you."
All films will be available to watch on Netflix’s Still Watching YouTube Channel.