Sacha Mirzoeff

Head Of Channel 4 Bristol


he human instinct to tell stories can be traced back millennia. From paintings on cave walls, to families huddled around campfires, to bingeable boxsets, storytelling is a thread woven deep into the fabric of human experience and often helps set our moral boundaries. The possibility of changing the way that people view and interact with the world is what initially drew me to filmmaking. I felt inspired by the possibility of touching the lives of others in a meaningful way. Let’s face it, facts and figures don’t change hearts and minds. It’s storytelling that causes radical shifts. But when I entered the industry 25 years ago, the vast majority of the British documentary films came from a handful of people in one city: London. The inevitable consequence of this was that despite the best intentions of filmmakers, through unconscious bias, they often looked and sounded similar.

I came to realise that what matters just as much as the story being told, is the untold story.

Channel 4’s decision to expand out of London and open centres around the country provided a great opportunity to broaden the voices of storytelling. Bristol seemed the obvious choice. Ours is a city that continues to defy being put in a box, full of contradictions and full of stories that have been simmering under the surface for a long while. Our challenging history dominates and yet the future seems brighter and coming towards us at a greater pace than ever before. For centuries Bristol has been international yet remains highly local and independent. Innovation and originality have always been our traits, just as they have with Channel 4. We both have a long history of being accepting, questioning, subversive and at times cage-rattling. Bristol provides the perfect ecosystem for a channel with a core value of championing the underrepresented and daring to go where others fear to tread.

One year in, we are nurturing a new generation of local voices to tell stories with national and international resonance. Although we have spent most of that in lockdown, we can already feel the change. A growing number of underrepresented voices are gaining a platform to tell their stories, with schemes such as the Emerging Indie Fund, the Indie Accelerator Scheme and our newly launched 4Skills training and support arm. Our Creative Diversity team is reaching out into communities to engage with new voices and people who might not be aware of careers within the media.

We’re involved with lots of different platforms to resonate with different audiences, be that through Snapchat, TikTok, short form films online, viewer on demand through All4, or traditional broadcast on Channel 4. Each platform has a distinct voice and so requires different storytellers.

Plato’s adage ‘those who tell stories rule society’ is still undoubtedly true. However today there’s less control in the hands of a few privileged people. We’re now moving towards a more nuanced world where Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s observation is more appropriate “Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity.” Channel 4 want to promote that dignity of storytelling and train and support people doing that.

Sacha Mirzoeff is a factual commissioner and head of Channel 4 Bristol.

Previously he was Creative Director of Marble Films, a BBC Executive Producer and a freelance director.

He’s on the committee of the One City Culture Board in Bristol, RTS West of England, BAFTA Cymru and the charity DART Europe.

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