News: Interview with Ifrah Ismail

Tales from the Front Line, Talawa Theatre Company’s challenging and vital online series, uses verbatim interviews with Black key workers to explore the complex impact of the Covid-19 crisis on those on the Front Line of the pandemic. I spoke with Talawa’s New Work Producer Ifrah Ismail to find out more.

Can you tell me about Tales from the Front Line? 
Tales from the Front Line is a film series. Each episode is built on the verbatim testimonies of Black key and essential workers on the front line of the Covid pandemic. The results are presented as a series of short dramatised films, where each has a unique theme, look and feel, and approach to story-telling.

How did the idea for the series come about? 
It was very much Michael Buffong’s idea (Artistic Director and joint CEO of Talawa). When Michael spoke to us about it a year ago, we were all like “Yes – We have to do this!!” 

The motivation was to create a historical record at a time when Black and Brown people seemed to be dying on the front line, yet representations of the front line were all-white. 

What can audiences expect from the final films? 
You can expect films which are thoughtful, punchy, emotive, truth-telling and resonant – that’s probably the best way I can put it. The reactions to the films have blown us away. We’ve had so many uplifting and positive comments. And the viewing figures and where those come from have really pleased us too.

How important has it been for you to collect these stories? 
It’s been so important to us to be able to collect these stories. Firstly, the trust that those Black essential and key front line workers placed in us was humbling. Secondly, we were driven to create something which honoured that trust; something which went beyond the views, unique users or audiences, but which enabled us to reflect the communities we are part of. Thirdly, we all found it a really motivating project and I do think it helped us all gel as a team (where half of us have been with the company for a year or less).

Lastly, as we began the work, we realised how valuable what we were doing was to the freelancer community our sector relies on; their incomes fell off a cliff at the start of the pandemic and have yet to recover. Tales from the Front Line was a kind of lifesaver for some of the freelancers – creatively as much as financially.

How have you found creating the series during lockdown? 
Creating Tales from the Front Line in lockdown has been … interesting. On one hand we’re all physically dislocated from each other; and on the other hand we’re all working really closely together. That leap into digital was a test, but we passed it with flying colours I think. But more than that was all the jiggery-pokery and having to shift deadlines as lockdowns eased, shifted, and then rushed back. Our producer Alison Holder was amazing, as was David Gilbert who recently joined our New Work department. They both really responded to the challenge and fixed everything so it was incredibly smooth.

What would you like Tales from the Front Line to achieve?
We would all like to think that it made a difference; and in some ways perhaps they did. The narrative did begin to shift and people in the media did start to make deep dives into the issues. What matters to us most is that we have been able to present the real-life thoughts, memories, reflections and reactions of Black people to life on the front line of the Covid pandemic.

To view the films visit http://www.talawa.com/productions/tales-from-the-front-line

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