'The Golden Cage' was influenced by a number of films I had watched over the course of the process. All of these films effectively utilised archival footage and creatively wove narratives with limited means. I found myself naturally orientating towards films that were complex and experimental in nature. This led me to write a spoken word piece as a form of narrative expression, which unfortunately did not make the final cut.
Three documentaries that inspired the film:
- The Whalebone Box (by Andrew Kotting)
- Sink or Swim (by Su Friedrich)
- As I Was (by Fred Burns)
... and of course many others.
The Golden Cage arose from a series of events.
The first event was the production of the symbolic camera. Given our theoretical visual anthropology training in the previous term, I was keen for the process to embody a participatory approach, in which I was a significant character in the film. Though my presence is limited to the opening sequences and the archives, I am centralised as the main character from which the story is being told. I was also aware of my personal investments in the memories portrayed on the archival footage and how my emotional state transformed in response to this.
I had to remain consistently aware that my "own persona in the field [was] data" (Ruby, 2009). Whose story was I really telling? And, who was I making the film for?
I was struck with personal investments in the story being told, and a sense of responsibility to my participants, that left me at a point of contention. I could not afford to ignore the potential risks involved in the inclusion of particular characters, mainly my mother and father. Though I would like to have included elements of my mother's interview, I felt it would have been wholly irresponsible, given the current precarity of her personal safety, to do so. To include my father's name or identity, in any way, could have serious repercussions for my mothers security and wellbeing, and this is not something I was going to be quick to jeopardise. This concern gave rise to the exclusion of my fathers face, name, and key identifiers, the exclusion of my mothers interview, and a reorientation of the story, in which I considered the impact of emotional and financial abuse, on us as children.
The challenge of encompassing or explaining my family's full story in an 8-12 minute short film, while still doing justice to the complexity of the characters involved, was too significant a task. As many people from abusive backgrounds do, my family has consistently struggled to tell this story, because many of the experiences and behaviours we encountered were so well hidden, often disregarded and at the time not legally recognised as abuse. The film is therefore also historically situated, and speaks to the transformations we have undergone more broadly in the UK, in accepting and validating forms of behaviour as abusive with long term emotional, social and economic consequences.
Representing the Facade
It is easy to see how emotional and financial abuse is obscured particularly in the context of a presentation of privilege. During the course of the interview, my mother said "I often felt like a little bird in a golden cage... and I guess that wasn't really enough in the end". From the outside we seemed to enjoy extraordinary privilege, with financial and familial security, yet the experience from the inside was in constant opposition to this facade with extraordinary debt and emotional instability. This is what inspired many of the visuals in the film. I was keen to lead the viewer down a path of security in which this privilege was not being challenged.
Representing the Abuse
My fathers position behind the camera echoes his ability to control the elements of our family, those exterior to it, were able to see. His physical exclusion resonates with his general absence for much of my childhood, and brings into question his position in the family. I was uncertain of how to represent the pain of my fathers behaviour and our inability to seek help, as none of this was visually represented in the archives. The inclusion of the National Domestic Abuse Helpline number aided me in telling the story in a very simple and unimposing way.
Representing the Silence
When I finally came to the idea of using the archive I confronted the issue of building a soundscape using the limited commentary the voices in the films offered. I had intended to produce a silent film in a seperate project but considered it to be an interesting way of producing metaphor in the case of 'The Golden Cage'. The inability to communicate the story, that many people who experience abuse suffer, resonated with this idea and so became demonstrative of the imposing silence produced by emotional and financial abuse. Given that emotional and financial control and harrassment have only recently been recognised as forms of abuse, people still struggle to validate their experience and express their story. I felt it neccessary to include music to fortify the sweet 'memory lane' I mischeviously paved, to make the impact of the final visuals more powerful, and to inform an emotional interpretation.
This film has taught me some extraordinary things about myself: how I negotiate my own emotions in the context of others, how stories transform my view of things retrospectively and how I articulate my own memory using photos and film. I hope the film speaks to many people, and opens up an inclusive, non-judgemental conversation about the complexities of our relationships, how forms of abuse manifest and how to support those who endure it.