We Interview the Woman Behind the Camera: A World Without Down's?

 This very evening the 5th October at 9pm on BBC Two a ground-breaking new documentary co-written and presented by actor Sally Phillips airs. It's called A World Without Down's? and talented film-maker Clare Richards was the woman behind much of the filming and editing. Downs Side Up asked her a few questions.

Clare Richards was the woman behind the camera filming A World Without Downs?

The powerful piece looks at Down's syndrome screening programmes and asks some important ethical questions about our views on disability as a society. I was enormously proud to have been filmed whilst training medical professionals for the programme along with our daughter Natty. 

Key scientists and ethicists, as well as champions with Down's syndrome and their families, also feature in a work that will start important conversations everywhere. Never before has a programme asked the opinions of those with Down's syndrome on such an important topic either.

The country is in a media frenzy with Sally Phillips at the helm. Media interviews are like beacons of light flashing across the country as our community rallies. Here's my pennyworth on BBC Breakfast yesterday

But with all the focus on the protagonists in the film, rarely does anyone ask the film creator about their role in bringing such an important topic to our screens.

So I threw a few questions at Clare, and asked her what she's working on next and here's what she told us.


How were you selected to work on A World Without Down’s? What drew you to the subject?

I’m always interested in subjects where minority or alternative voices get a platform to express themselves more fully, so when I heard about this project I was naturally drawn to it.

You work alone at times. Tell us about the different roles you perform in creating a film such as this.

There’s always a big team in the background keeping a production moving forward in all directions, but with this project there was an awful lot to read and lots and lots of people to meet before we did anything – it’s complex, in fact I was continuingly researching the whole way through the process. 

I was also self-shooting the documentary, keeping in touch with the many contributors, as well as working to a schedule that had to co-ordinate with Sally’s very busy timetable and making sure that a mutli-layered subject was fairly discussed in a way that was going to be accessible to a broad audience.
Clare tells us about the making of BBC Two's A World Without Down's?

Tell us about an average day for a documentary maker.

There really is no average day – I could be anywhere, talking to anyone about anything. But it will usually involve lots of research to ensure you fully understand your subject matter, I needed to ensure that I could communicate the subject to the general public. So lots of reading, phone calls, meetings with experts and people involved in the subject matter and also to those who hold the subject close to their hearts.

The film features some very personal moments and a range of raw emotions from various people. How do you feel witnessing these? How do you ensure authentic emotions are expressed. Do you ever put the camera down and give your subjects a hug?

It’s always a real privilege to be a witness to sensitive situations where emotion is raw. I hope that I develop good relationships with people before we film anything emotional so that people can feel comfortable, or comfortable enough to be genuine when we do film. It’s often easy to spot when emotion isn’t real and if it is disingenuous it won’t tend to be used in the final programme. From years of experience I will sense when I’ve filmed enough so that I can give people space that they need or give them a hug.

Was it a straightforward process? How many hours of film, countries visited, nights away from home, extra takes etc 

It wasn’t straightforward at all! We filmed about 18 days with Sally in America, Iceland and the UK, which isn’t a lot of time, but the work that went into each day’s filming was quite considerable. Carl, the producer was constantly juggling information, schedules and relationships with a huge variety of people with lots of different opinions.

How did you begin to decide what made it into the final edit.

You look at everything and then start whittling it down, being mindful of the fact that you have to weave a narrative that takes people on a journey that is surprising, informative and entertaining, if possible!

What was your personal experience of Down’s syndrome when you were growing up? 

I didn’t have a huge amount, I didn’t go to school with anyone with Down’s and I didn’t know anyone outside school with Down’s either. However, my Dad worked for a charity that raises money for people with learning disabilities for 10 years. He organised the funding of a mini-bus for the local Down’s group in Somerset called Ups and Downs Southwest, which is run by Wendy O Carroll and he was always really struck by her son Oliver, who is a very successful photographer. The first film I made was called Disabled and Looking for Love, about dating and love for disabled people so I guess I’ve always been empathetic.

(Read the Downs Side up interview Focus on Oliver Hellowell here.) 

What did you learn from making the film, both professionally and about DS?

I learnt a great deal more about Down’s syndrome than I knew before, it really does feel like an outdated view of what Down’s syndrome prevails. I learnt a great deal more about bioethics and the science of genetics and that was fascinating too.

Are there any moments in the film that really stand out for you and what are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the sequence with Sally and Ollie on the Southbank because it feels very intimate. It was also important for the film that the viewers are able to witness Sally being a mother and I feel through this scene you truly see this and it’s really beautiful.

I’m proud of the fact that a lady that has terminated pregnancy felt able to contribute to the programme. It was an incredibly brave thing to do and I hope it helps other women like her feel able to talk about to their experiences so they’re less stigmatised.

I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to tackle a difficult, complex and emotional subject in a way that hopefully draws people in and makes them think and discuss.

Tell us about your other/future projects. 

I’ve just started on a project for BBC 2’s This World international current affairs documentary strand which will be following a British doctor with albinism as he investigates the persecution that Albinos experience in East Africa.

See more of Clare's work on her website. 

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