Anna Stickland is the director and producer of Born to Be Different. In an exclusive interview with Channel 4, she talks to us about how the show began, and how she has been personally affected by the extraordinary children documented in the series.
How did you discover the extraordinary families featured in the show?
When casting began, the production team was hoping to find families from across the UK who would be open and honest enough to share the ups and downs of the first year of their child's life with us. We approached various disability support groups and contacted numerous associations over the research period. Zoe's family saw the advert whilst sitting in a hospital waiting room and got in touch with us. In 2000, all six families signed up to be part of a one-hour documentary. A decade on and Born to Be Different is still being filmed.
Being filmed for such an extensive period of time must present challenges for both production team and families. Have there been any moments when you thought that filming might not be able to continue?
When you are involved in a long-term project like this, nothing can ever be taken for granted. As the medical and emotional issues affecting the children change from year to year, so too do family circumstances, and we always respect that. It has taken an extraordinary amount of commitment from all six families to continue to share some of the most intimate moments of their lives over the past decade. The trust between everyone involved has meant that the relationships that have developed have continued to grow stronger year after year, and this unique longitudinal project is now in its 5th series.
Do you think that public perception of disability has changed since Born to Be Different began filming?
There is definitely much more awareness of disability now than there was 10 years ago, but there is still a long way to go. Over the years, Born to Be Different has brought the often-overlooked subject of disability to a mainstream TV audience. The response from viewers and medical professionals after each series airs is something that the whole production team, and all of the families involved in the series, are extremely proud to be part of.
The individual stories of each of the families will hopefully continue to inform society about the important issues surrounding disability, and to inspire many people who maybe experiencing similar situations.
You've followed the children featured in the series from birth through to 11 years old. How have you seen the children change and develop in this time?
The most remarkable part of the project for me has been watching how the children have developed and grown into their own personalities as the years have passed. I have been lucky enough to have witnessed this first hand. With their permission, we can spend many hours with the camera rolling while we chat about everyday life, laughing, singing, and just enjoying each others company; and then - when you least expect it - the most profound words come out. Zoe, Nathan, Shelbie, William, Emily and Hamish are six absolutely amazing children who, despite their disabilities, continue to inspire so many around them.
What have you personally taken from the experience of making these films?
When I first met these families I had no idea what becoming part of this series would entail. Over the past decade, all of our lives have moved on and the resilience and the humour of the children has taught me more than I would ever have imagined. At times when some of the children have had to endure operations, painful procedures, or even the battle for life over death, it has been extremely upsetting. But the way that they have so bravely dealt with such difficult circumstances has had a strong impact on my own life, and I hope that viewers watching the series will feel the same way.