On the first anniversary of the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, Anton Arenko watched the news coverage and documentaries and found himself feeling disconcerted by what he saw and heard on screen.
“I just thought the overall tone was quite negative and cold and even London-centric in some respects,” says the 21-year-old from Stockport.
“They only really stayed with the horror of the bomb and would ask people what it was like on the night but ignored them as a person. I just thought another story could be told.
“People aren’t asking how they [the survivors] are doing now, how their recovery is, or how they’re trying to get on with their lives. They just ask, ‘You were there on the night, how was it?’
“I wanted to share the survivors’ stories and to shine a light on the people who have used the event to do something positive and impact people’s lives.”
A student at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, Anton already had some documentary-making experience and started to contemplate directing his own film.
He admits it started out as “a pipedream” but, with the encouragement of friends and family, he put feelers out to see who might be willing to share their experience and the film. A Manchester Story began to take shape.
The first person Anton contacted was Adam Lawler, the teenager who was seriously injured during the attack that killed his best friend Olivia Campbell.
“I told him about it and he really loved the idea and wanted to be part of it,” says Anton.
He then sent an email to Figen Murray, whose son Martyn Hett was one of the 22 victims in the terrorist attack. She’s campaigning to introduce Martyn’s Law to improve safety at public venues.
“It was daunting but I met her, and she was really on board with it too, and as I began to dig, I found all these amazing people to speak to.”
Then there’s The Survivors Choir, a cross-generational group who ‘meet together in solidarity, song and to eat cake’, as it says on Twitter.
Given some people have had negative experiences with the press in the aftermath of the attack, Anton says some people have been wary about talking on camera, but he’s been keen to allay any concerns and reiterate that this is a chance for them to tell their stories.
“What’s great about these people is they could’ve just grieved in private, but they’ve gone above and beyond and impacted people’s lives from such an event and it’s amazing,” says Anton.
He and his small crew – Ste Bergin (producer), Rees Lasseter (DOP) and Mattheus Vianna (sound recordist) – also attended the Memorial Ride founded by Michael Cox, and recently interviewed Petra Jordan who has set up her own support group for survivors.
“All these people deserve more recognition, and a chance to be heard and we owe it them to listen and to be able to reflect,” says Anton, who believes there is a sense the families of victims, along with the survivors, have been forgotten.
“It can feel like an attack that killed 22 people and mentally and physically injured thousands more is being pushed under the carpet. That’s not the way we do things around here. We must acknowledge our grief, and the fact that this monster targeted children.
“There are people still recovering and those who survived. They’ll never be the same again. There are kids not wanting to come into Manchester or go to train stations. They’re living with anxiety at nine years-old, growing up traumatised and we can’t brush it aside. We need to remember those who died and the ones still suffering,” says Anton.
“I’m not going to do any sort of attack or personal commentary in my documentary and turn it into a campaign video but we need it to be honest, and to tell the story of people who might not have been recognised for the great work they’ve done, and how they’ve helped people and built communities.
“I think that’s the Manchester spirit – we as a people do look out for others and we do think a bit differently up here.”
Now he wants the people of Manchester to show their support by donating money on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo to help complete the film and its subsequent release.
“We’re trying to raise £8,500 to get the film finished and eligible for distribution by getting a BBFC rating, and we’re asking people to donate what they can. In return we’ve got some amazing perks up for grabs, which people can see on the page,” says Anton.
“We’ve been speaking to a few cinema chains and they love the concept, and we’d like to enter it into film festivals too. The fact we’re halfway there speaks volumes. We’re hopefully going to conclude shooting by October and get a rough cut by March and have more interviews already lined up.
“We want to tell the story of the great things people have done in the face of one the worst terrorist attacks this country has seen and the way this city, as a people, came together. We united as a city and didn’t look back in anger.
“I won’t please everyone, but I want to do the best I can in telling a story that shows who these people are and the great things they’ve done.”