ITV’s doc strand, Fresh Cuts, for rising Black filmmakers, kicks off with Archie Onobu’s film, OUR NHS with Dr Zoe Williams.

Dr Zoe celebrates 75 years of the NHS by meeting four pioneering Black doctors shaking up the world of medicine. She meets doctors who use social media, create ground-breaking online resources and use innovative methods to inspire the next generation of Black doctors. The film also hears from an illustrious cast of veteran NHS doctors with stories of the contribution of Black doctors since the inception of the NHS until today.

Archie Onobu explains how the film came together.

It’s crazy to think that five months ago this film didn’t exist. Fresh Cuts is a scheme where four up and coming young black directors are given the opportunity to create a one hour documentary for ITV 1. We had the chance to either pitch our own idea or pitch ourselves. I went with the latter – and was given the topic – the NHS. It’s a pretty big topic and on top of that this year marks the 75th anniversary of its inception – so no pressure there!

There have been quite a few docs about the NHS over the years, but I was keen to avoid the standard historical retelling of the institutions key moments. Instead I wanted to humanise the people who work in it and give viewers the chance to be able to connect with some of the people on the front line, who try to make a difference every day.

As I dug further into the research, I realised that when I thought about black doctors in the NHS, there weren’t many that came to mind immediately. I wanted to help change that.

Now it would be naïve of me not to acknowledge the issues that the NHS is currently facing, as well as the conflicts that black clinicians have had to deal with, both historically and in the present. That said, there are countless stories of exceptional black doctors whose achievements haven’t been widely talked about and by taking the time to highlight even a few of their stories, it helps to pave the way towards them getting the recognition they deserve for all the work they’ve done.

The schedule was tight – we had five weeks to develop, plan, script and cast our idea. It took a little while to settle on a concrete idea with my commissioner, but we landed on a narrative of seeing how a new generation of black doctors were coming to the forefront of their profession, whilst interspersed with master interviews with senior doctors, focusing on their careers in the NHS, their successes, the challenges they faced, and their reasons for going into medicine in the first place.

It became clear pretty quickly that to tie this structure together we would need a presenter to lead us on this journey and Zoe Williams was at the top of our list for many reasons.

She’s a prominent doctor that regularly appears on This Morning and is trusted by the nation. She’s also a mixed race black woman and she was very keen to see how much of her personal experiences as a black woman in medicine were mirrored by this new generation of black doctors. She was also extremely excited to see how they were using their positions to find new ways of treating patients and improving things for their fellow doctors and aspiring medical students.

We had just three weeks to film; which was logistically challenging given the tight schedules of Dr Zoe and the four doctors she went to meet. Throw in complications navigating sensitive access of filming in a doctor’s surgery with patients, plus filming at a secondary school during a teachers strike and those three weeks flew by! When filming with our doctors, my aim was to not only establish the importance of the work they were doing, but to also really get a sense of who they were as people. And I think that taking the time to bring that to the surface really went a long day towards showing who they are, not just as doctors, but black doctors.

One of the most interesting days was filming our master interviews with our senior NHS doctors.  Certainly the last thing I ever expected was to have a 91 year old doctor who had been practicing medicine from 1960 right up to the present day, say that he was inspired by the work I’d done!

The final hurdle was the editing process and to be honest, I felt that was the smoothest process – all the behind the scenes work had paid off. I developed a very strong working partnership with my editor Chris Witts who was incredibly receptive to what I aiming to achieve editorially. Considering this was my first edit producing an hour long documentary, he was very easy to work with and was excited to tell this story.

And this continued right up to our viewings with our commissioning editor, Lara Akeju, who always came back with feedback that was to the point but not overly intrusive – so we knew we were on the right path.

Overall, I’m just absolutely proud of the work we’ve done to show Zoe’s journey as she meets these exceptional doctors and explore the NHS from a previously untold standpoint. If we can help raise awareness of theirs and other stories then that would a real accomplishment.

OUR NHS with Dr Zoe Williams goes out on ITV1 this Sunday (Oct 1st) at 22:40

Jon Creamer

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