This week sees the launch of our Gypsy, Roma and Traveller season on Community Channel. "Not more Gypsy Weddings" I hear you say....but stay with me, this isn't my Big, Fat anything....This is one of the most inspirational portrayals of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller lives ever broadcast. The season celebrates unique customs and traditions, explores unresolved issues and presents an alternative view to common media myths and stereotypes.
Britain's 300,000 Gypsies, Roma and Travellers are cited by Travellers' Times (Britain's only national magazine for the community) as the 'most misunderstood and misrepresented community in the UK'. So we decided to dedicate a season of films to try to redress the imbalance, and give our Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities a platform from which they can tell their own stories. Community Channel is the only television channel that can do this - it exists to give a voice to under-represented communities.
Through a dedicated television and online season, working with our broadcast partners, film-makers and GRT organisations, and with support from The Open Society Foundations, we are able to show a unique range of films, most of which have never been broadcast before, that celebrate Gypsy, Roma and Traveller lives, as well as exploring the questions and issues that matter to them.
You must watch these films, as they shine a light on communities and stories never properly heard or understood. Take for example, Roma Boys - gripping from the very start, you see a young gay Roma man arguing with a documentary maker who wants to shoot artificially constructed scenes of him throwing garbage out of the kitchen window, or handling his traditional Roma knife - "No, no way, why?" he insists, and goes on to film his own story himself.
Or immerse yourself in the gentle, lyrical and fascinating story, told in her own voice, of Juliette the traveller healer and herbalist, poet, writer and Afghan dog-breeder who recently died aged 96.
Then there's Children in Block 71. Raw and honest, the film shows the intricacies of the lives of Roma children living today in a temporary camp in Serbia, with unique insights into their culture, and their hopes for the future.
Maya Family, the last film of the world-famous flamenco dancer Mario Maya, gives a unique insight into the world of the Spanish Roma, the Gitanos of Granada telling the true story of the flamenco dance.
And another highlight from the season for me is Damien le Bas's film Access All Areas, telling the story of his own journey to becoming an undergraduate at Oxford University alongside many others he talks to who have passed through the British education system while retaining their own Gypsy identities.
Sharing untold stories and giving a platform to unheard voices is what Community Channel is all about. Watch these films and please tell others about it.
Now I'm not denying the value of some of the more populist GRT programmes recently broadcast by Channel 4 and others. We love the fact that they have created debate and raised awareness of these communities in the UK, but they have not gone far enough in presenting the complete picture.
The GRT community is complex and contains within it multiple histories, cultures and identities, often over-looked and under-explored. Community Channel's season will address this. With the support of a dedicated editorial board from the GRT community we're providing counterbalance and context to mainstream GRT stories and issues, both on screen and off.
Our season aims to challenge opinions and popular misconceptions as well as giving GRT communities a chance to tell their own story, and showcase some of the best Gypsy, Roma and Traveller filmmakers around today. While we are all familiar with stories in the media of Gypsy celebrations and Roma migration from Europe, we rarely get the chance to hear the inside story of these communities through their own eyes, exploring the rich GRT histories and arts, seeing their perspective on issues and challenges such as women's rights, education and migration, and hearing from young Gypsies, Travellers and Romanies about their hopes and aspirations for the future.
Viewers will be left with a picture that is complex, multifaceted and inspiring. The season reminds us of the challenges GRT communities face today. As importantly, the films engage us in an authentic real-life celebration of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller culture and lifestyle. This special season offers a glimpse into a history steeped in passion and creativity, integrity and resilience, identity and pride, and a hope for a future where Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are understood and celebrated. Please help us spread the word.
Community Channel's GRT Season will be broadcast from 6 May to 14 June on Sky 539, Virgin 233, Freeview 87, BT Vision, BBC iPlayer and online:www.communitychannel.org