Young and Alone highlights how lone child refugees in the UK do not have the right to be reunited with family
Animator Catherine Prowse talks us through her two-minute stop motion short for The Families Together campaign.
- 22 January 2020
- Jyni Ong
When Catherine Prowse graduated from the animation and illustration course at Kingston University, she chose to make her graduate film about a refugee who had to leave her garden behind. The subject led her to intensely research the refugee crisis in the Middle East, and even though a few years have gone by, it’s a subject that’s remained with the London-based animator, who tells us: “I couldn’t quite switch off the space it occupied in my mind.”
Since graduating, Catherine’s won numerous awards, screened at film festivals internationally and worked for the likes of Selfridges, E4, L’Oreal, The New York Times and Sotheby’s, just to name a few. But no matter how big the commercial job, it’s her work for charities that continues to provide the most fulfilment. “I had some amazing experiences,” she says of her impressive commercial clientele, “but I found myself really yearning to make work dealing with subjects I felt passionately about again.” She sent her grad film out to several charities, hoping to continue to work with the subject in some capacity and tell their important stories.
“Some of the inherent characteristics of stop motion, the slight judderiness, the craft quality, really lends itself to communicating vulnerability and fragility,” says Catherine. First approaching animation as a model maker, it was the texture-rich tactility of the medium that primarily attracted her to the process. As a child, she loved to make things with her hands, always preferring to mould three dimensional objects rather than draw. “I think lovingly made props are such an emotive narrative device and really help the viewer believe in the imaginary space you’re creating,” she adds on the matter.
Combining her interest in model-making with storytelling, Catherine’s animations possess a sensitive, gentle touch both technically and conceptually. Exemplified in her latest film, Young and Alone: Without My Mum, Catherine revisits the subject of the refugee crises in a poignant telling of the trauma faced by refugee children when they are forced to grow up separated from their families. It highlights how child refugees in Britain do not have the right to be reunited with other family members while adult refugees do. Commissioned by The Families Together campaign; a coalition between Oxfam, The Refugee Council, The British Red Cross and Amnesty International, the moving two-minute short highlights the pain endured by some children who become separated from their families while fleeing dangerous places.
Highlighting the trauma suffered by such refugee children, Young and Alone is a moving depiction of the issues surrounding lone child refugees arriving in the UK and growing up in care instead of with their families. “I had to educate myself,“ says Catherine of the project. “At the time of pre-production, there were lots of images in the news of children becoming separated from their parents at the Mexico/US border, but I had no concept of the UK’s family reunification rules being similarly needlessly cruel.” She wanted to give the protagonist a relatable human face, a more relatable characterisation than an incomprehensible statistic. Then, she chose the activity of a mother cutting her child’s hair as a universally understood symbol of care.
“The physical act of hair cutting is such a tender, tactile moment from mother to son, which I felt would contrast with the stark, sterile environment of the barber shops in the UK where the first haircut cut by a stranger can be a scary moment for lots of children,” explains Catherine. Once she nailed the story, she went onto designing then building the sets, props and puppets before shooting the intricate animation with careful attention to light, expression and communication. Above all, the poignant film hopes to educate viewers on the restrictive laws that face child refugees and in Catherine’s words, “that refugees are people just like us. The laws denying children their parents is something we should all campaign against.”
GalleryCatherine Prowse: Young and Alone: Without My Mum
Catherine Prowse: Young and Alone: Without My Mum
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.