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Owain Astles

Actor | Filmmaker | Activist

How Is It April Already?

2018 has been a terrifyingly fast-moving year, but it’s also been an exciting one.

Sleeping Rough is getting nearer and nearer to completion, and we’ve had a spate of small screenings, with more coming up. Back in February we had our screening at the Watershed followed by a Q&A as part of Homelessness Awareness Week, and while the week was hampered slightly by the ‘Beast from the East’, we pushed ahead with the screening and were humbled by the response we had from the audience. Below are a few photos ts from the event (you can see the full gallery here). We’ve also got screenings coming up this month at the Salvation Army’s Logos House and with Hopeful Traders, and we’ll be posting updates of those over on our Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as the website.

What else has happened? My job in Barcelona finished; it was sad to leave, but I had a really fun 5 months, learning things I didn’t even know I needed to learn, and meeting so many amazing people. While in Barcelona, I also connected with Mind The Cut, a creative online platform and I was lucky enough to be interviewed; you can read the interview here.

It was great to visit my old school a few weeks back as part of Careers Day; returning was very surreal, but it’s always rewarding to work with young people and hopefully inspire future filmmakers.

Talking of future filmmakers, Olamiposi Ayorinde, a film student from Bristol, has started Cxption, a magazine for young and exciting creatives and I was lucky enough to be interviewed for the magazine. You can follow Posi on Instagram for updates.

Cxption interview

Finally, what’s planned for the rest of 2018? I’ve got a few things in the works, some that need to kept under wraps for now, but one thing I’m really excited about is that this June, I’ll be delivering a TEDx talk in Bristol. Details of this will be released soon, but in the meantime, stay tuned, and stay safe. ✌️

Casa Asia

 

Homelessness Awareness Week 2018

It’s an exciting week. As we say goodbye to Winter and march into Spring, partner organisations across Bristol open their doors to encourage people to think about the community we live in, look out for family and friends and scoop people up before they fall. Bristol Homelessness Awareness Week (February 24- 3 March) aims to raise awareness of homelessness, those at risk of becoming homeless and the issues people face when rough sleeping highlighting the long process of recovery. The week is packed full of exhibitions, screenings and workshops all designed to educate about homelessness in Bristol, and how we can make a positive change in our community. Read on to find out more.

What’s going on?

There’ll be a range of activities going on throughout the week; of course for myself, the main event of the week will be our private preview of my first feature film, Sleeping Rough, at the Watershed, however there are many more events going on throughout the week. We kick off with two exhibitions at The Vestibules, City Hall. Art4Change will be in The Park Street Vestibule and is a project aimed at giving disadvantaged sections of the community the opportunity to gain self-confidence, transferable skills and to feel valued.

Homeless People’ is an exhibition held in the Deanery Road Vestibule and uses art to delve beyond the ‘homeless’ label, in order to capture the diversity and individuality of the people behind the percentages. This exhibition has been put together by The Bristol Pathway and features artwork from residents and former residents of the Salvation Army and Second Step.

Later on Monday evening from 6pm at the Watershed, there will be a live performance of forum theatre. This show has been devised by young people who have experience of homelessness and mental ill-health and is based on their own real life stories. The performance will be followed by our very own Sleeping Rough, a community-based film raising awareness of street homelessness in the UK, produced in collaboration with Cardboard Citizens and The Big Issue Foundation.

The evening closes with a Q&A panel, which I’ll be involved in, and where we’ll hope to address some of the issues raised in the film and the performance.

On Bristol Homeless Forum’s website, you’ll find information about all these events; if you can make it to any, great, if not, please encourage others to do so!

How can I help?

Aside from coming to the events, we need to raise awareness as much as possible and, as always, social media is the way to do that. We’ve created a short promo video for the week, featuring members of the homeless community in Bristol and some of the work done by Art4Change. This video is intended to promote the week, so please do share it around, along with the hashtag #HomelessBristol.

The link to the Facebook video, which can be shared directly, is here: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1468390809938843&id=663322627112336
And finally the YouTube link, for any internal comms, is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCK57h0q8uU
Homelessness is our problem. We can change that. #HomelessBristol

Sleeping Rough – Our First Review!

More exciting Sleeping Rough news!

So we had our first Bristol screening of Sleeping Rough last week! It might have still been a private screening, but every time we put it on the big screen in front of an audience, no matter how big that audience is, it feels like a huge event; and it is! This film has been two years in the making, and while we’re far from done with the whole process, it’s still huge for us whenever we’re exposing ourselves to people in this way. As a result of that screening, we’ve had our first Sleeping Rough review!

Feedback so far has been fantastic, and perhaps most importantly, it’s provoking reactions. People are talking about it. During the private screening, there were points in the film when people had very audible reactions to some of the events happening onscreen. Sleeping Rough might not be a comfortable watch, but it was never meant to be, and while we want people to like the film, what is most important for us is that: A) It’s true to life, and we’re doing justice to all the stories people shared with us and B) that it provokes a reaction; that after leaving the cinema, people talk about it, and hopefully learn something from it as well.

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Cast and crew at our private Bristol screening
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Owain speaking at our private Bristol screening

Our first review!

Gabi Spiro from Epigram wrote a lovely review of the film after the screening last week. It’s our first review, so pretty scary, but it contains some very positive words, so we’re happy! Give it a read here. It’s an exciting time to have our first review, as tickets for our first public screening are going on sale very soon. For Homeless Awareness Week, we’re going to be screening at the Watershed cinema in Bristol, along with a forum theatre performance from Cardboard Citizens. This will be followed by a Q+A, featuring Owain, the film’s director, along with a panel of homeless experts. After working so closely with Cardboard Citizens on Sleeping Rough, and after all the support they’ve given us, we’re really excited to be presenting with them for an evening which we hope will cause ripples in the Bristol community. We’re also working on a promo video for the week with Art4Change, which will be released in February, so keep your eyes open for this!

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Sleeping Rough director Owain with BBC’s Ali Vowles

 

Sleeping Rough director Owain also recently went on BBC Radio Bristol with Ali Vowles.  They chatted about Sleeping Rough, the process behind the film and the change we hope we can make with it. You can listen to the interview right here (just skip through to 2:08 for the beginning of the interview!).

For more news about screenings, and where we’re at with the film, make sure to head over to the Sleeping Rough project page and scroll down to ‘Screenings & Events’. Stay tuned!

Mumpsimus and Halcyon Discord

Last Summer, I was really lucky to star in this fantastic short film for Channel 4’s Random Acts, by first-time filmmaker Rolf Klein. The film is about Rolf’s personal experiences of homelessness and mental health issues, and aims to challenge media perceptions. I haven’t acted in a long time, but when I saw this opportunity come up, with my background in homelessness and mental health issues, I just had to apply, and I’m so glad I did; it was a great experience to be a part of, Rolf is clearly really talented and the whole team did an amazing job. Plus I got to grow out a sick beard. Make sure you give it a watch!

New Year, Same Me

It’s 2018 now so it feels like a good time to write an update on what’s going on with my life, Sleeping Rough, Pastles, and a few recent memories.

It’s been one of my busiest ever Christmases (it seems like they get busier every year), both in personal and professional life. I was on a plane I think seven times throughout December, flying to and from different events and my job in Barcelona, and the whole month merged into a blur of old and new mates, different languages, handshakes and coffees, and constant editing.

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It’s looking to be an exciting 2018 for my company, Pastles Productions; we’ve just partnered with Bristol Works, to provide employment opportunities and careers advice to young and disadvantaged people around Bristol, which is extremely exciting; representing disadvantaged communities and offering young people a step up into the industry have always been right at the core of what we do, and I feel privileged to be able to take on this responsibility. We also screened The Hardest Fight at Exeter Phoenix’s Two Short Nights Film Festival at the beginning of December, and have more festival screenings coming up next year.

Insta Bristol Works

A video we did with Off The Record Bristol has just launched (and you can watch it below!). We had such a great time working with on this video, and it’s exactly the kind of work Pastles is all about; OTR are a mental health social movement by and for young people in Bristol, and they have one of the most welcoming and friendly teams we’ve ever worked with; we had an absolute blast making this one, and would love for you guys to give it a watch.

Finally, I can’t disclose too much on this just yet, but we have a very exciting short in the works, shining a light on an issue that most people wouldn’t believe still exists; modern slavery. We’re going to be working with the Salvation Army and some other organisations (like I said, I can’t disclose too much) on this, so keep your eyes peeled.

In December, I visited London to see some old friends, and I was lucky enough to be invited to Festival Formula‘s Christmas Party, where I got the chance to meet so many talented people working in the film industry (this is always a bittersweet experience; it’s inspiring to hear about the amazing work people are doing and to connect with them, but it does remind you just how saturated the industry is, and how difficult it is to stand out; it was also bittersweet because my beloved Man United lost to Man City the night before).

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Now, what about Sleeping Rough? My god, two years on and this film is still taking over my life. In December I had to go through hours and hours of interviews, cutting out snippets and working them into the film, and tweaking the edit ready for our cast and crew screenings this month. It’s been such a slog, but it really is what I love doing, and I’m so lucky to actually work doing what I love. Like I said, we’ve got cast and crew screenings this month in London and Bristol, and we’re going to have updates coming from those events, so stay tuned. I was also really lucky to be invited to talk on BCFm, Bristol’s regional radio show, about Sleeping Rough and homelessness in Bristol and around the UK. You can hear the episode here (it’s the 09:00 episode, 04/01/2018).

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We also can’t wait until Bristol Homeless Awareness Week; we’ve been working closely with Bristol Homeless Forum on organising events for the week, and how to raise awareness of all the events that will be going on. It’ll also be our first ever public screening of Sleeping Rough, and we really do hope that we’ll be able to connect with the local community and inspire people to get involved and do what they can to help. You can keep up to date with the week right here: www.bristolhf.org.uk/home-page/upcoming-events.

If you’ve got this far in the post, I’d also be honoured if you’d take a look at the new website launched by Bristol Homeless Connect: www.bristolhomelessconnect.com. We’ve been lucky enough to see this in various stages of development, and if you want to help alleviate homelessness in Bristol, or if you might be at risk of homelessness yourself, this website is the place to start.

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Finally, 2017 ended on a high note, when me and my mates went down to Cornwall for New Year’s Eve. There was no better place to end the year than by the beach, drowsy from too many beers, and surrounded by my best mates.

Happy 2018 everyone; I’m excited for a fresh year, and whatever 2017 threw at you, you made it this far, so I hope you’re excited too.

 

 

Big Sleep Out 2017

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Last week, we had our first preview for Sleeping Rough at The Big Issue Foundation’s Big Sleep Out at the Oval, London. The film got an amazing reception, and I was stunned by the positive feedback from both members of the public and Big Issue vendors, who had first-hand experience of some of the events we were depicting. I have to say a massive thank you to the team at the Big Issue Foundation for putting on such a momentous event, and of course our post-production team for pulling it out of the bag and making sure the film was ready in time for the screening.

Throughout the night, we did a series of live streams featuring interviews, speeches and performances from the event. You can take a look at a compilation of all our live videos here:

Stay tuned for more news about the film!

Sleeping Rough – One Year On

Incredibly, it’s exactly a year since we first published our Kickstarter for Sleeping Rough…

 

We’ve come a really long way since then, and it’s entirely thanks to all the support we’ve had throughout the process; from charities, organisations and above all, from you guys, our backers and all the individuals who’ve pushed us to get to where we are now.

So where are we now? Well, the film’s actually finished! It was definitely not an easy process, we’ve had a lot of setbacks along the way, but by pushing through, we did get there. Since successfully reaching our target last year, we held auditions right at the beginning of the year (a special thank you goes to Michael Chandler and Cardboard Citizens), and managed to find our extremely talented cast, including Elle Payne, Nolan Willis, Megan Prescott, David Olapoju, Hayley Wareham and so many others. The cast really are the very core of the film; we put them in some very tough situations, emotionally and physically, and they had to deal with some harrowing storylines and scenes, but I was constantly amazed by the commitment, bravery, and above all, humanity each of our actors brought to the film. Many of the actors involved had lived out experiences just like the ones they were portraying, so for them to relive them in front of the camera, and with such conviction, is something I can never thank them enough for.

 

We filmed throughout Easter, in a gruelling process involving long commutes within London and Bristol (a special shout out goes to Fergus, who had the unfortunate duty of driving the van, but never once complained), scary moments dealing with members of the public, reshoots, postponements and SO MUCH COFFEE. Once we’d finally shot the final scene, on a busy Whiteladies Road in Bristol, it was pretty weird to actually have the film in the can, after several weeks of filming all day long, and I have to admit a pretty sad experience, after working so closely with all the cast and crew. A mention really does have to go to our crew on the shoot as well, for sticking with the film throughout the whole process; not only did they ensure that the film got done, and to such a high quality, but most of all they brought a warm, comfortable atmosphere to the set, something so important, especially when making a film like this.

Then, we got into editing; always a slog to get through, our incredible post-production team, including Kelsey, Rupert, Rich and Darren have been amazing, putting in countless hours and sifting through terabytes of footage to piece together something that’s moving, and powerful, but above all truthful. Sitting in front of a computer in a dark room for hours on end can be a frustrating and lonely process, but I can’t fault our team for what they’ve done.

 

And now, in just two days, we have our first preview! We’re going to be screening a short section of the film of the film to a massive audience at the Big Issue’s Big Sleep Out this Friday, at The Oval in London. It’s pretty terrifying to be putting the film (or at least part of it) in front of a wide audience for the first time, but it’ll the beginning of the most important part of the entire process; getting the message out to people, telling the stories we’ve heard and raising awareness of the state of homelessness in the UK, and what people can do to help. Keep an eye out, as we’ll be bringing you live updates of the night over on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/sleepingroughfilm. We also have to thank Justine Tatt over at the Big Issue Foundation for allowing us to screen the film, and for organising such a momentous event.

After the Sleep Out, we’ll begin with our submissions to film festivals, and also organising our tour to schools and colleges, aiming not only to raise awareness of homelessness as it is now, but also how easy it can be to become homeless yourself, and how to be aware of the warning signs. The 16-25 demographic of those becoming homeless is one of the fastest rising at the moment, and hopefully by raising awareness of the warning signs of homelessness, and how to avoid, fewer young people will end up sofa surfing, staying in hostels or temporary accommodation, or even sleeping on the streets.

We also have some exciting news for next year! We’re working with Bristol City Council and Bristol Homeless Forum in organising Homelessness Awareness Week 2018, taking place from the 24th February to 3rd March; during the week, we’ll be holding a special screening of Sleeping Rough at the Watershed Cinema, accompanied by other short films tackling the issue of homelessness. There’ll be activities throughout the week, aiming to raise awareness of homelessness in Bristol, what services there are available, and how people can get involved. For more info and updates on the week, go to: www.bristolhf.org.uk, and we’ll also be posting updates on our website: www.pastlesproductions.com/sleeping-rough-the-story.

 

Finally, I’d just like to thank once again everyone that’s carried us through this process; like I said, it hasn’t been easy, we’ve lost a lot of sleep, weight and sanity over the year, but we’re so glad we decided to take on this film. The response has been monumental, we’ve had feedback from people, not just in the UK, but from all over the world, and we really do hope that we can make a difference, by representing the stories of people that have experienced life on the streets, and working towards a world in which no one is forced into homelessness. Thank you to all the people we’ve interviewed, for sharing your stories with us, and for being so truthful and honest. Thank you to all the charity leaders and shelter workers out there who supported us, allowed us into their worlds and who are already doing such an incredible job of trying to make the world a bit safer. Finally, thank you to all you guys, for listening to us and making the project what it is today. Stay tuned.

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The Hardest Fight – tickets available now

Not every battle is fought in the ring.

Tickets for The Hardest Fight, my Exeter Phoenix-commissioned short film on mental health in boxing, are available now at the following link: http://www.twoshortnights.com/fri-1-dec-1/

It’s been a tricky shoot, but the campaign is ongoing, and we’d like to thank all the people who’ve supported us, especially at Exeter Phoenix and Empire Fighting Chance.

Democracy in Crisis?

I still don’t like writing blog-type things, but seeing as I’m in Barcelona during the city’s – and the region’s – most turbulent, political time in the last 40 years, I do feel obliged to give my opinion. But please bear in mind, that’s all this is; my personal opinion.

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Right now, Barcelona is in the throes of a political war between the Catalan and Spanish governments, following the recent independence referendum on the 1st October, which was deemed illegal by the central Spanish government. Protests have been going on constantly in the Catalan capital, against the extreme reaction of the Spanish government; on the day of the referendum, videos emerged of Spanish police – who had been sent into the region to prevent citizens from attending the vote – attacking Catalan voters and using excessive force. Almost 1,000 voters were reportedly injured.

The problem’s not a simple one, that’s obvious. The Spain we know is barely 40 years old, born after the death of the dictator Franco in 1975, when the entire landscape of the country changed dramatically. A new constitution was drawn up, a constitution that had the aim of defending civil liberties, protecting a united, democratic Spain whilst giving a degree of recognition and autonomy to regions such as Catalonia and the Basque Country, which had been suppressed under the Francoist regime. Ultimately, the constitution was created to ensure the country would never fall prey to fascism and dictatorship again. Unfortunately, 40 years later, the constitution might be the thing endangering all those values.

Before I start to rant, here is a short video I made while at the protests in Barcelona on Saturday 22nd October. There have been many protests in the city over the last few weeks, against the violence of the Spanish police, protesting for independence, protesting against independence, protesting just about everything. This particular protest was against the political imprisonment of two Catalan separatist leaders, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sanchez, for ‘sedition’; meaning inciting rebellion against the state or authority, a crime which has now been abolished in the majority of Western countries.

Personally, I’m not in favour of Catalan independence. Above all, I believe the wish for independence goes deeper than any political or economic reasons; I believe it’s due to a deep-rooted sentiment of nationalism, of pride in your own culture and country, that children born in Catalonia grow up with. Having lived, albeit briefly, in Catalonia as a kid, I saw first-hand just how passionate young people are about independence; the most common graffiti you’ll find is that of the independentist flag, and ‘independència catalunya’ or ‘Catalonia is not a-Spain, eh?’ were phrases I heard constantly, as if they were drilled into the national psyche from a young age. But personally, I’ve never been a nationalist, of any sort. I don’t care where I was born, I don’t think it makes any difference what particular mass of land you happened to grow up on, humans are inherently the same, wherever they come from. I can understand patriotism, sure, but for me personally, it never stretches beyond crying every time England fall on their asses at the World Cup.

One of the main reasons cited in favour of Catalan independence that has fuelled the push for independence in recent years, especially since the 2008 economic crisis when Spain was hit worse than most countries, is the fact that Catalonia, Spain’s most affluent and economically successful region, pays more into the central government in taxes than it receives, a factor that leads many Catalans to believe they are being effectively screwed over by Spain. But what it’s worth remembering is that, much like the UK within the EU, the fact that Catalonia is so economically successful is precisely the reason why it receives less funding; the taxes it pays go towards subsidising those less affluent, poorer regions of Spain, where unemployment is through the roof and homelessness, lower incomes, hunger and other factors are more common. Personally, and this is not a view shared by everyone, I believe that richer areas have a moral duty to subsidise those area which aren’t as fortunate. Unfortunately in the case of Catalonia and Spain, nationalist sentiments (as well as, admittedly, a history of corruption in Spanish government), blind this to an extent.

Of course, these arguments barely skim the surface of an impossibly complex issue that has been a central theme in Spain in the last decade, but truthfully began centuries ago, and I can’t claim to be anything like an expert on the matter. All I can offer is the perspective of an outsider, someone who grew up outside the natural biases and media of those living in Spain or Catalonia.

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Unfortunately, all of these logical arguments, for or against independence or greater autonomy, none of that matters anymore. The matter has gone past debate; in the face of a peaceful Catalan nation pushing for independence through democratic means, not committing a single act of terrorism or violence, the Spanish government has acted in a way I can only describe as fascistic. History, it seems, is starting to repeat itself.

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Let’s go through what the Spanish government has done:

  • First, back in 2014, it denied Catalonia a democratic, legal referendum. Catalonia initially didn’t ask for independence, just the chance to vote democratically on the matter. Spain said no, so the Catalan government complied and rebranded the vote as a “participation process”. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of independence, yet come 2017, the Spanish government, instead of offering the chance for reasoned debate, shut down the Catalan government yet again. This time they didn’t comply.
  • On the day of the vote, Spain sent in riot police to stop voters attending, and the whole world saw the results; peaceful citizens, attempting to participate in democracy, were beaten, fired at with rubber bullets and almost 1000 people were injured. Not what you expect in a progressive EU country.
  • The Spanish government proceeded to imprison two Catalan leaders for ‘sedition’ – a crime which no longer exists in most Western countries, and which is defined as “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch”. Note the definition is to ‘rebel against authority’; not violently or illegally, merely to stand up to authority. To have an opposing opinion.
  • Finally, the Spanish government has started to literally take over Catalonia; by rolling back the region’s autonomy, there is the potential for Spain to take over the Catalan government, imposing direct rule on its citizens, sacking public sector workers, and moving Spanish military into the region. Even more shocking, the government has even declared they will be seizing control of TV3, Catalonia’s national news network. In a declaration reminiscent of 1984, they announced they would do so to “guarantee the transmission of truthful, objective and balanced information”. This is truly terrifying.

To clarify, I don’t believe the Catalan government is faultless. I strongly believe both governments have acted rashly and ignorantly at times, more concerned with maintaining a firm stance and than offering up options for dialogue and peace, representing truly their citizens. Carles Puigdemont, the Catalan leader, has at times acted bullishly, has not been 100% truthful and has acted in a way that was sure to attract a heavy response. Despite this, as time has gone on, the Spanish government seem to be the ones reacting the worst.

I also believe that the citizens of Catalonia and Spain have put their respective governments to shame; the Catalan people have responded to every threat and event with nothing but peaceful protest, and last week Spanish unionists protested against Catalan independence with a message of cooperation, respect and willingness for Catalonia to be an integral and respected part of Spain. At one point I saw a family walking past, with two young children; one carrying a Catalan flag, another a Spanish flag. Signs held up read “Catalonia, we don’t want to lose you” and “We are better than our government”. If only politicians could act like their citizens do.

If the public media is being taken over, then freedom of speech is being infringed. What needs to happen now, is for people to speak out. The EU, which has been shockingly agnostic and quiet on the matter, may soon have to intervene. International leaders MUST speak out against the government’s actions, and push for dialogue and a peaceful, democratic solution. And us, normal citizens, must do everything we can to raise awareness of exactly what is going on, and to push for intervention and dialogue. To resist. If the government is taking over public media, then we can take over social media. Social media, for all its many flaws, has one thing guaranteed; freedom of speech. The government cannot control or regulate what we say, what we publish online, so we must use that to genuinely transmit “truthful, objective and balanced information”.

Finally, don’t despair, because one thing that cannot be underestimated is the power of the Catalan people. The argument for or against independence has passed, and the fight is now to push against the fascistic rule of the Spanish government, to ensure that the people’s voices are heard, and a peaceful, democratic solution is reached.

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