Rowenna's inspiring film dream

For animal lovers, the loss of a pet can be heart-breaking.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 31st January 2018, 1:48 pm
Updated Wednesday, 31st January 2018, 3:20 pm
Rowenna Baldwin is the director of a new documentary about pet bereavement.
Rowenna Baldwin is the director of a new documentary about pet bereavement.

That's why Burnley film-maker Rowenna Baldwin is using the death of her beloved horse Plume as inspiration for her first documentary, Goodnight, Friend.

The Cliviger resident (34) hopes the film, which tackles pet bereavement and animal euthanasia, will encourage people to speak up about their loss.

"Plume was 22 years-old and we had a strong bond," she said.

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Rowenna Baldwin is the director of a new documentary about pet bereavement.

"My whole family was devastated when she died."

"It was really sudden: I left for work and when I came back she was taken ill.

"Because of the shock and the connection we had, I couldn't talk about it for a long time without getting upset.

"Some people didn't understand it but I knew there must be others out there who were hit hard by their loss.

Rowenna aged 11 with Plume. (s)

"I wondered how many people, for example, knew about the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service," she said.

Turning her pain into something positive, she hopes to start a discussion about animal euthanasia while helping people understand pet bereavement and access support for their grief.

Teaming up with vet Robin Hargreaves, of Burnley and Pendle's Stanley House Vets, Rowenna shot an emotional scene at a support group in her hometown for people who'd recently lost their companion animals.

"The participants opened up to both me and everyone else in the room," she said.

Rowenna Baldwin's new film was inspired by her love of animals.

"I'm really honoured they shared their stories with me because it's hard to open up when your emotions are still raw.

"I showed a woman in the film a snippet of it and it made her cry. But she said she was excited to see it."

Having some seriously noble goals, Rowenna might also be the answer to "the female Louis Theroux".

For just like Theroux - a BBC documentary film-maker who travels the globe exploring the extreme worlds of drugs, autism, Nazism and more - Rowenna, a former pupil of both Mansfield High School and Nelson and Colne College, dreams of helping to change the world with her films.

Burnley's answer to "the female Louis Theroux".

"For years I'd had this little joke with my family that I wanted to be the female Louis Theroux, but never seriously considered it because I didn't have a journalistic background," she said.

"I think a lot of people experience that feeling of, 'oh, that's not for people like me. Other people do things like that etc,' so we can so easily talk ourselves out of pursuing things that seem a bit out of the ordinary."

But now she's putting her dreams into action.

"I'm most interested in what people's lives are like," she said.

"It's easy at face value to make judgements about something but I've always got questions and I'm always asking 'why'.

"Getting knowledge out there into society is one of the ways we'll ultimately bring about changes in thinking, after all."

Rowenna hopes her new film will help people to find support for dealing with pet loss.

And for Rowenna, making the documentary has certainly been a leap of faith.

For, just less than two years ago, she was working in the entirely different world of academia as a researcher in sociology for Manchester Metropolitan University.

It was a world which didn't provide the sort of connection with people she truly craved and she became frustrated that important research which could benefit people's lives was only being seen by academics.

Determined to find a way to bring this vital knowledge under the public spotlight, in a way which spoke to people, she teamed up with Channel 4 News. Suddenly, everything began to click into place.

"Being in the environment of Channel 4 News finally gave me the confidence to really ask myself, 'It's not too late so why shouldn't I try to be the female Louis Theroux'?" she said.

"Documentaries show you situations you've never encountered before and make you identify with the person in them. People see a part of themselves in that 'character'.

"I want to make films that aren't frivolous and which don't poke fun out of people - something that's going to have an impact.

"I'd never be drawn to making fiction films because I want to help people, probably because of my background. That's what sociologists do - look at society."

In fact, she added, it would mean the world, "If someone watched my film and it comforted them, made them feel less alone, changed a sceptical person's thoughts or just started a conversation."

Deciding to make the leap and change careers, Rowenna went back to university as a mature student to study documentary film-making at the Northern Film School in Leeds.

"It isn't too late to pursue something you're passionate about," she said.

Granted, she added: "I have a really supportive family who have helped me to get where I am today".

But still she insists that people should follow their dreams no matter their age.

"More and more people are having career changes," she said. "Nothing is a barrier."

It's easy to see how her every career decision has led to this point. For it seems Rowenna has always been driven by a fascination with people: first taking her to St Andrew's University in Scotland where she became fluent in Russian; then to Warwick University for a PhD in sociology; and then to London for a temporary stint in journalism at Channel 4 News.

It's even taken her all the way to Russia twice, first when she taught English in two universities and at the local British Council office; and second when she stayed in St Petersburg to conduct research for her PhD.

A vivid career she's certainly had, and she's even translating - in collaboration with an historian from Slovakia - a diary of a Russian aristocrat who was living in one of the palaces in India at the outbreak of World War Two.

Her next challenge, however, is to start a small production company. But first, she's on a mission to tour Goodnight, Friend, around UK film festivals.

And while she might have sky-high goals, Rowenna remains wholeheartedly down-to-earth.

"I'm not interested in fame and fortune," she said. "Documentary film-making is definitely not a world full of glamour!

"It's about the people you meet along the way, giving a voice to those who don't have one and making a difference.

"I'm finding my voice.

"At times it's been haunting to make my own film for the first time but at other times it's just been amazing."

Rowenna is the director of Goodnight, Friend.
Rowenna Baldwin is the director of a new documentary about pet bereavement.
Rowenna aged 11 with Plume. (s)
Rowenna Baldwin's new film was inspired by her love of animals.
Burnley's answer to "the female Louis Theroux".
Rowenna hopes her new film will help people to find support for dealing with pet loss.
Rowenna is the director of Goodnight, Friend.