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Between November 2003 and January 2004, Bea Santiago worked with Five Bridges, in Lambeth, a non-maintained school and charity who work with 14-16 year olds with emotional behaviour difficulties. The project took place over a course of three months, where she familiarised herself with the school and the students. She took several different approaches aimed at developing discussion about how they relate to their surroundings.

"... I figured out one day that we were, together, excellent players of a certain game of fiction-making in which I ask a leading question and she gives me the fantastical answer back in spades. The resulting video is what became of this language game, which begins with these questions 'What kinds of sounds can you pick up? What is your range? How far away can you hear conversations?' Mixed in with these questions are some lies and some very truthful answers; which is which is not always self-evident. The result of this is the video A. Listens."


Making A. Listens
The project was formed of several sessions aimed at familiarising Bea with the school and the students, where she asked them to talk about how they relate to their surroundings. Bea engaged them in a discussion of their thoughts, dreams, conversations, annoyances, etc, during spare moments as they proceed through the day, as grounds for creative exploration and production.

During several sessions of observation and conversation, Bea produced a series of scripts and drawings for the students based on what she overheard and saw of the students' means of interaction. She explored the idea of asking the students to insert narrative captions to the drawings she had made. The students were also asked to take the scripts and improvise around them, which Bea videotaped. The scripts provided a necessary 'fictional' basis around which the 'truth' of the students' personal narratives could be woven.

From Bea's narrative report on the project:

The project began with the idea of using the students' down time, their odds and ends; to take in those bits of time and that strange undirected energy and create a video out of all those moments, to entice them into creating small fictions that exist in the space between my imagination and theirs. Though it was quite a difficult process, and needed several readjustments in transit, in the end it worked through an unlikely series of coincidences, mostly having to do with the bizarrely fantastic acting abilities of one largely absent student, and some patience (theirs and mine). It was beautiful that it should turn out this way, as well.

"The students are skeptical and resistant to efforts to turn their idleness into productivity. They should be. They usually just wanted to be left alone to their own thoughts or tantrums. This was maddening, clearly, but even in my madness I realize that it is only because they are smart that they can be mischievous and I much prefer smart mischief to quiet acquiescence. The genius of the school is in being able to allow this in a way…And as always, it is hard to win people over to an idea that is not yet concrete: 'Are you making a documentary? 'Not quite: together we will make a film in which you will be yourself and not yourself' 'What will it be?' 'That depends' 'On what?' 'On you and me.' These are difficult things to get around in a space that is by its nature a bit chaotic to begin with.

"I spent the month of November inserting myself into the daily activity at Five Bridges, positioning myself somewhere in between the music lesson and the smoking break as an option, as a different way of thinking/doing. It was extremely difficult to create a trusting relationship with the students, for obvious reasons: I am a transitory person in their life, they are skeptical about other's wishes for them, and the group of students is quite unstable. Nevertheless, I was able to work on a few different projects at the same time, catching the students here and there in the moments in which they were unable to sit still within their daily routine.

"During December and some of January we began shooting, I sat in on many classes with my camera, getting the students used to my presence, and the presence of the camera, an unusual and provoking instrument which could sometimes be disturbing in and of itself to both students and teachers. In fact, many students were against the idea of appearing on video altogether. For a while, I turned to drawing the students and teachers instead. It's an easier way perhaps to gain legitimacy within the community (you can draw! you are indeed an artist!) but also to create a sense of play with the students. Sometimes cameras are only fear-producing agents, and pen and paper can be playful and inviting.

"I became aware over time of the difficulty involved in making a project that requires
many days, or much thought among a group of students that find it hard to concentrate on one activity for an extended period of time, in general. Over time, I became a bit, though not entirely, part of the woodwork. I worked a lot with some students creating little fictions, beautiful little moments 'We survived a bombing in Barcelona' was one of the storylines… another was a fantasy about having travelled, rollercoaster-like through an Amazonian jungle. We worked on many of these small idle fictions, but the most promising one - as a completed project - was Anne's 'fantastical listening ability' fiction. I figured out one day that we were, together, excellent players of a certain game of fiction-making in which I ask a leading question and she gives me the fantastical answer back in spades. The resulting video is what became of this language game, which begins with these questions 'What kinds of sounds can you pick up? What is your range? How far away can you hear conversations?' Mixed in with these questions are some lies and some very truthful answers; which is which is not always self-evident. The result of this is the video A. Listens.

"I think in the end the process was hard but necessary, there's no way to invent a collective imagination without some pain, and there was some pain in this process. I am quite in awe of the work that is done by the teachers at Five Bridges… I also feel, as I have always felt, that the most interesting people in the world are those that resist the institutions that socialize us and hand us over to the adult world. The trick is, of course, how to resist this and still be able to maneuver yourself within society without losing your ability to not just survive but truly live. I think fiction, the place between ourselves and not-ourselves, may be one of the things that allows us for that maneuvring."

Bea Santiago, 2004