Danielle Swindells is a film maker based in Manchester whose social and vocational life has taken a massive influence on her art practise, whether it's a late night in The White Hotel or producing for BBC Radio 6.
Her work has been widely recognised and awarded by Deutsche Bank Award for Creative Enterprise in Film and Royal Television Society North West Student Award alongside being shown at Manchester International Festival, London Short Film Festival, Sheffield Documentary Festival, Lichtspielklub Short Film Festival, HOME, PS Mirabel, Paradise Works and The Grosvenor Gallery.
Her work engages the human condition of loneliness and the ideas and emotions of being on the fringes whether that is considering dreams with the project 'Dream FM', "The Troubles" of Belfast with 'Stop Nineteen' or the communities of Salford during lockdown with 'Capturing a Summer'.
Continuing our collaboration with Paradise Works we met up with Danielle who was an Artist in Residence for the studios back in 2018. We met up in the infamous Eagle Inn to discuss her work, her practise and her back story.
Listen to the interview right here -
How would you describe your practise?
I work with documentary video and sound in socially engaged projects, thematically I am drawn to subjects like memory, societal pressure and nostalgia. I started out as a film maker but I guess post pandemic I have become more interested in large scale crowd sourced artwork and facilitating a cathartic experience for others to express themselves. I've become more interested in that because of the subjects that I've explored through my film making.
I always work by myself, as a self shooting documentary film maker it becomes quite an isolating practise and I have found it great working in a collaborative way, especially in an era of enforced social distance, and in a digital era I do find it hard to make meaningful relationships and so I have moved into that a little more.
From early films like '10 Metres Tall' to 'Capturing a Summer' how has that practise developed?
The 'Ten Metres Tall' project actually became a film called 'Stop Nineteen', that was the first project of mine that got funded from when I won the Deutsche Bank Award for Film in 2017.
So a little bit of back story for that film, I grew up in Belfast and conflict tourism was super popular. Conflict tourism is associated with death or tragedy and 'The Troubles' is the colloquial term given to the period of the 30 years of civil war that happened in Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast between Unionists who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK and nationalists who wanted Northern Ireland to be part of The Republic of Ireland. Basically, conflict tourism is booming in Belfast and you have double decker buses full of tourists from America, Europe and even from the UK going around working class, deprived areas of Belfast where a lot of this conflict took place.
I was really interested in showcasing a really bizarre happening that's taking place somewhere that I'm from. When I moved to Manchester for uni and explained where I was from I quickly became aware that people didn't know about it nor the nuances of it. I thought it was really important to platform this narrative and showcase the lives of the people from there. Something crazy like 3000 civilians died from North and West Belfast and I wondered how it felt when people are viewing you as an attraction? I guess that kind of work is social commentary and straight up documentary making.
The next big project after that was 'Capturing a Summer' which is very different in tone, a lot more freer, a lot more joyful and a lot more textured and it's not just me making it. Through Paradise Works I was introduced to Manchester International Festival and they wanted to have a project that showcased or involved the East Salford community and bring it together. By that point I had really fallen out of love with my film making practise and found it really isolating and I wasn't inspired anymore but I was inspired by my ability to create a narrative and my storytelling. So I brought together lots of different peoples documentation of the first lockdown and edited it together and interviewed some people to create a portrait of that part of Manchester. I guess that was my first step into this collaborative, large scale crowd sourced way of working.
While 'Capturing a Summer' was bubbling away I did have a little kernel of an idea that would become "Dream FM" years before.
How did radio influence your practise?
This is such a good question because I hadn't really thought about it but with the recent 'Dream FM' project it's pretty obvious isn't it? Radio has influenced my practise because it has made me realise that I am not just restricted by visual storytelling and I don't have to pigeonhole myself. It's really made me realise I have a sensitivity to sound and to spoken word and I can totally express myself that way if I want to. I've never painted or drawn and only made films and so I felt a little institutionalised by myself maybe?
I think working within a national broadcasting standard, especially on Dream FM, has put on this very prominent editors hat on me like, I always have the audience in mind. I've always wanted my work to be accessible and not pretentious and those ideas have become even stronger within my job because I have to think "who the fuck cares about this" and that has come through stronger and stronger. The whole way through Dream FM they are the things I was thinking. Having respect for your audience is something that is really important, you're not necessarily making all of this for yourself.
Tell us about Dream FM?
I feel like Dream FM is almost like an odyssey of a project. It started so long ago and hard blood, seat and tears went into that project. So, the kernel of the idea came from being in the BBC studios and wondering whether I could merge my radio background and my art practise, "that would be cool, but I don't know how?". I had read an article about when the London Underground first ran for 24 hours and The Guardian had commissioned a load of writing about what the night means, which I love, I'm obsessed with loneliness and things that operate on the fringes, like night. There was one article which was about how late night talk radio shows are a perfect symbol of urban loneliness and I said "I'm in, that's my fucking jam!".
Off that I started listening to lots of late night talk shows, which don't exist nearly as much as they did due to budget cuts etc. I knew I wanted to do something about that but didn't know how because I'm a film maker and I hadn't used my audio mind yet or grabbed radio by the balls. At that point it got shelved.
Me and Brit had actually known each other for years, we had a lot of mutual friends and went to a lot of the same nights and clubs. After uni Brit lived in Germany for a couple of years and I was between London and Northern Ireland and when we both came back we went for a drink and a catch up. Over lockdown we became obsessed with doing something together, like a zine or we should just do something! That got shelved as well but our friendship grew.
Maybe early spring last year I told her about the late night talk show idea and Brit herself is a massive fan of music and we just talked for hours about making our own radio station, a conceptual show where the listeners could call in to us. Fuck it, we could ask Manchester a question. Obviously it took a while to get to that question but then a gift from the universe, an email came in via Paradise Works about a funding proposition. It was from the inaugural Manchester Independents Arts Fund that wanted to fund a Manchester-based arts idea for up to £10'000 to give something to the people of the city and we thought "this is it!".
I had been a fan of Space Afrika for ages and so had Brit and she had some really strong ideas straight away which included them soundtracking. In one week I got a full time job and we got the funding!
We refined this idea of a conceptual project that exists in the nighttime, desperately wanting to connecting with someone but wanting to talk to someone but nobody is listening and asking a question. That's where 'What Do You Dream Of?' came from and that's the name of the finished piece. Staying true to that pre-digital, analogue form of radio we opened up a hotline with an 0161 voicemail system, you left your message and that was open for 6 weeks.
We had some amazing posters designed by graphic designer Jake Johnson and we literally plastered them everywhere. They were scattered on trams, the toilets of The Pev, bus stops, lifts in tower blocks, like thousands. I'm a catastrophist and for example with 'Capturing a Summer' we got over 150 bits of media, more than we could use and most of that was at the end, only in the last week did I get everything but with Dream FM literally after 3 hours of the hotline opening we were getting stuff. We were essentially creating an outlet for people to contribute something very intimate that they wanted to sacrifice about themselves.
It was such a privilege listening to some of the messages but of course some of them were not nice to listen to and we were so open to that, it's not airy fairy and all positive because life isn't like that. We actively asked people to translate the question in any way they wanted, some answers were really heartfelt and emotional. Using my editor hat we were splitting answers into themes, the fucking bizarre, romantic and genuine. Being truthful regardless of the tone was the most important.
We then handed everything over to Space Afrika who created the original score for it and we premiered the piece at Manchester Library. It felt really special getting everyone in a room, playing it through a big sound system.
After the event we played the show on air for 6 weeks and we got some fucking incredible feedback. I was really proud of the fact that people commented on the originality of the idea because it took me and Brit months to get it all together. I think people were very surprised by how young me and Brit were because of the analogue basis of the project but those ideas of memory and nostalgia are so important to me. Before the showcase Mary-Anne played an excerpt of the show on 6 Music and the feedback on socials was insane and she has really championed the project. Coming from a woman who has worked in arts curation and now in music it really does mean a lot.
At different points in your work Paradise Works has played a part, tell us about them.
They've played a fucking massive part! Paradise Works came into my life at an interesting point where I felt indifferent and it's played a huge part in. my career. My first interaction with Paradise Works was maybe 6 months after they had started and HIlary had seen me talk at this panel talk at HOME about a film that I made. At that point I had moved to London and just got my Deutsche Bank funding. One day I had a message from Hilary and she invited me to be an Artist In Residence at Paradise Works and of course I said yes!
I spent a couple of months shooting again and started to shoot 'Stop Nineteen' and from there they introduced me to MIF and these huge opportunities came with massive risks and opportunities - 'Capturing a Summer' really changed my perceptions of working in the industry. So all in all they've completely fucking sorted me out!
I don't see a lot of the tenants there because of work schedules but I do really connect with the core team in there, there is a lot of strong, ambitious women. I still feel like an imposter to the arts community in Manchester, I didn't have many friends in the Art School and so an Artist In Residence made me feel confident! I wouldn't have made 'Dream FM' if it wasn't for 'Capturing a Summer'.
What is your view of the art scene in Manchester right now?
It's a really hard question isn't it. I am so fucking proud to operate in this city because we can and because we can do it easily. I am really inspired by the DIY nature of the city whether people work in music, community based venues, The Talleyrand, The White Hotel and I'm so proud to be a part of this history and these places as a punter.
I have such love for the DIY communities in this city and I wouldn't have stayed here for so long without them be it from music and my friends.
What does the future hold for you?
I've just had like a 3 month break after Dream FM and had serious burnout. I'm getting back into the studio right now and seeing how we can develop Dream FM and see how it could work on a grander scale of curation, installation and tour. I'm personally excited about how we can develop a world within a room with this project, the potential of giant words and performance, I don't know yet.
The future holds developing Dream FM.
Can you recommend us some things in Manchester?
I am trying to think of some things that aren't obvious like The Pevril of the Peak! I would say check out The Talleyrand, they have a great cinema and music programme. It's such an intimate space in there, I went to a show and cried because it was so intense.
I think spring is spranging so I want to mention an outdoor space and I think you should check out Turn Moss fields, it is the best place to witness a sunset in Manchester, it's the most glorious place in the city.
A label I really love is the Youth label which are based in Stockport. They have artists like Sockethead and Fumu on their roster, it's all like industrial electronic and experimental pop. And then of course Boomkat will tell me all the new releases I need to find!
So now you've had a look through the window of Danielle Swindells as an artist and as a person. From Northern Ireland's 'Troubles' to Salford's human stories of the first lockdown to the asking the people of Manchester What Do You Dream Of?'. Keep an eye out for what she does next.