Lights, camera, friendship
6th January 2020
Best mates Zak and Kyle run a National Lottery funded film club that has changed both their lives
Zak Cameron loved movies from an early age, but he had no idea that they would one day transform his life and offer him an escape from the misery of being bullied.
The transition to secondary school is difficult for many children, but for Zak, who is on the autistic spectrum and has ADHD, it became a daily torment. “Because I’m autistic I don’t really look at people when I’m speaking to them and I get quite nervous,” he explains. “People used to call me ‘sly’ and that would provoke others to physically harm me. It was really an uphill battle from the first day of Year 7.”
He responded to the bullying by getting in with the wrong crowd and “doing things I shouldn’t have been doing”. When he realised his mistake and cut ties with his former friends, they turned on him and the bullying got worse.
Miserable and frightened, he found it increasingly difficult to face school. “I was too scared to leave the house in case something happened to me,” he says.
His parents agreed to educate him at home, but his sense of isolation was overwhelming. “At the time I thought there was no future for me. I thought I wasn’t going to do any GCSEs, I’d be at home all the time and I wouldn’t go anywhere in life.”
Zak’s fortunes changed in 2014 when he joined Buddy Up, a befriending initiative for young people at risk of social isolation that is run by Warrington Youth Club. The project’s co-ordinator Nuvvy Sibia was also running a monthly film club at the time and when he learned about Zak’s passion for cinema he asked the teenager to help run it.
The Buddy Up Family Film Night, which started life as a projector balanced precariously on a box in a school hall in Warrington, is one of over 10,000 Into Film clubs in schools for young people aged 5-19 that operate in towns and cities across the UK. Into Film, a charity funded by the BFI using money from the National Lottery, supports each film club with educational resources and tools to stimulate engagement and discussion, access to a catalogue of more than 3000 movies as well as a range of education and training opportunities.
Since The National Lottery’s first draw took place on 19 November 1994, more than £40 billion has been raised for good causes in the areas of arts, sport, heritage and community.
Says Nuvvy, “If we didn’t have Into Film’s involvement it [the club] wouldn’t be anything like as successful as it is.”
Zak has been instrumental in turning the club into a thriving bi-monthly event that regularly attracts up to 40 young people with additional needs as well as their parents and carers. After recruiting his outgoing friend Kyle Webster to the cause, the pair have added themed Halloween and Christmas nights and a black tie Academy Awards event to the programme. Last year’s Oscars® event was fully catered and pulled in a crowd of more than 70 people.
Zak and Kyle, who present a movie quiz before every film club screening, have become a formidable double act. They’ve even been described as the ‘New Ant and Dec’.
“The fact we’ve got such a special thing together has really strengthened our friendship,” says 17-year-old Kyle.
Says Zak: “The thing I so admire about him is he has so much energy and he’s able to say you’ve done something wrong or I’ve done something wrong. We feel we can talk to each other about anything.”
Since becoming involved in the club the duo have become minor celebrities in film circles. Zak even got a recorded message from the Oscar-nominated film star Margot Robbie after he tweeted his admiration for the Australian actress. They have visited the sets of several films – including Robbie’s Goodbye Christopher Robin – and in 2016 their film night was recognised as the Into Film Club of the Year.
Zak’s confidence has blossomed beyond recognition. He is back in fulltime education – his studies include A-level film, naturally – and he is looking forward to a future in the film industry.
“The film club was a turning point for me – without it I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” he says. “The day I have to pass it on to someone else will be one of the hardest days of my life.”