Professor of Film, Gender and Public Engagement at The School of Art, Media & American Studies
Professor Eylem Atakav is passionate about taking learning and teaching outside and using documentary filmmaking as a form of activism to contribute to social, cultural and political change. Prof Atakav is an advocate of the idea that academics are responsible to act as agents of change, and she uses storytelling through film to do so.
At national and international levels Prof Atakav is recognised as the world-leading academic on issues around Middle Eastern media and gender politics; as an award-winning lecturer who is committed to public pedagogy and internationalisation; and a scholar-filmmaker who has been leading public engagement work that has real impact on policies around violence against women and girls. At international level she is recognised for her strategic leadership in promoting policies related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
In July 2023, Prof Atakav completed her latest short documentary Left Behind (co-directed and co-produced with Karoline Pelikan) about migrant women and domestic violence in England and the No Recourse To Public Funds (NRPF) condition. For this documentary, she has worked with migrant victims and survivors of domestic violence and giving them the agency by offering filmmaking workshops for them, so that they could tell their own stories rather than telling their stories for them. She has also worked with a number of domestic abuse charities, victims/survivors, and politicians and policy makers. The film launched at the House of Lords, and aims to contribute to the Victims and Prisoners Bill by campaigning for the government to remove the NRPF status for migrant victims of domestic violence. Inspired by the film, Norfolk County Council created a working group to formulate new strategies to support and advocate for the rights of migrant victims of domestic violence who have NRPF status.
Women of Influence
The Women of Influence project (lead by Prof Atakav, Prof Sarah Barrow, and Prof Maria Eugenia Ulfe-Young – a partnership between UEA, PUCP, ONAMIAP and OMIAASEC - highlights the importance for Indigenous women to participate actively and be supported with the tools to exercise influence in their communities. This is a women-led participatory project, involving young indigenous women community leaders from Peruvian Amazon. Working alongside a group of Asháninka women, activist members of the NGO National Council of Indigenous Women of Peru, the project has sought to deepen the understanding of indigenous community leadership in the context of socio-environmental risk. The co-designed activities that have drawn on expertise in film production, have been informed by the broader lived experience of the participants, have revealed new forms of empowerment and resulted in a range of artefacts to be shared with stakeholders, including government, civil and corporate representatives. In the Summer of 2022, on a field trip to the Amazon, the project team engaged with seven different communities across the area by screening our participants’ films on pop-up cinemas. This project is evidence of Prof Atakav’s passion in leading initiatives to offer learning opportunities to people outside academia and actively promoting within academia the value of public pedagogy and digital storytelling.
Prof Atakav is co-director and producer of Lifeline, a short documentary that reveals the reality of working on the frontline of domestic abuse services in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic. The idea behind Lifeline, for instance, was to rapidly collect stories from the frontline workers of domestic abuse services in England at an historically crucial moment in time, and to capture the ‘present’ moment. It intentionally coincided with the discussions around the Domestic Abuse Bill (an Act since April 2021), and was submitted as evidence to the Women’s Health Strategy Consultation by the UK Government (2021). The film has travelled around the world (UK, US, Canada, India, Turkey and Japan) through international film festivals receiving global acclaim through media and public engagement activities, screenings at universities, and a TV broadcast.
British Muslim Values
This RCUK-funded project (lead by Prof Atakav, Prof Lee Jarvis and Prof Lee Marsden) explored how discussions on the concept of ‘British values’ impact Muslim individuals and communities living within the UK. It focused on Eastern England which is home to significant and distinct – yet, frequently neglected – Muslim populations. Three research questions motivated the research:
- How are discussions of British values, and their relationship to Islam, understood, experienced, negotiated and contested by Muslim individuals and communities?
- How important are geographical or demographic factors such as gender, age, ethnic origin, or sect in these understandings, negotiations and contestations?
- How would Muslims in the UK recast political and public discussion around the place and role of Islam and Muslims within the UK?
To answer these questions, the project involved working closely with BBC Voices and the production of films by local participant researchers within eastern England.
Growing Up Married
In 2016, together with her students she made her first short, zero-budget documentary entitled Growing Up Married. The film offers a direct presentation of the ongoing effects of domestic violence against women and girls. It follows four women from Turkey as they recollect their memories of forced marriage as child brides, and uses women’s testimonials to raise awareness of the urgency and intensity of the trauma of forced child marriage, and it changed UK Law by contributing to debates at Westminster. Her work has brought new perspectives to the development of the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Minimum Age) Bill, which is now a legal Act. It influenced the development of more effective training programmes for the police and other frontline agencies in handling young women and families affected by or vulnerable to forced marriage. It has given victims and survivors the confidence to come forward and use their experiences to help others.