DURING the trials that the pandemic brought to many of us, Alex Gulland found a new passion in documentary film making.

Her film about how four people coped in lockdown has receiving accolades at Cannes and at the world’s most prestigious film festivals.

The mature student from Rayleigh was already a skilled film-maker, running a promotional film company called Contented Brands. She also runs an equine therapy business, Contended People, helping people to cope with mental health issues.

As well as running these businesses she also studies on a counselling skills course at South Essex College, which she undertook to widen her knowledge about mental health, an area which has become increasingly important to her.

When the pandemic hit and the UK was sent into lockdown, Alex found her work started to naturally go quiet.

“Like many people, I wondered ‘what can I do? I can’t get out, I can’t see my clients… how is everyone coping?’ I knew if I didn’t use my skills to document what was happening, I would probably regret it,” explained Alex.

“Once I started talking to people, I realised they were experiencing the effects of the pandemic in very different ways.”

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Her 25 minute documentary film, titled Lock 4 Times, shows the stories of a businessman, a preacher, a mental health worker and Claire, the former partner of a veteran suffering from PTSD, who sadly took his own life at the beginning of lockdown.

Alex said: “What I’d initially seen as being a ten minute film turned into 25 minutes, because the stories, although separate, also somehow became intertwined… where there was fear, there was also optimism. I wanted the film to let people know they were not alone.

“Once the film was finished, I showed it to a couple of friends. They said, ‘this is good, you need to get this out there’.”

So Alex put the film out on the global festival circuit. Not only was it nominated for Best Health Film and shortlisted in the semi-finals for Best Short Film at Cannes World Film Festival, but has been recognised and applauded around the world, including at the Pheonix International Short Film Festival, The Cyrus International Festival both in Toronto, Luleå International Film Festival in Sweden, Beyond The Curve Festival in Paris, The Hollywood International Golden Age Festival in New York, The Niagara Falls Festival and the London Indie Festival.

“It’s about to go back out to LA, but also feels like it’s now coming home because it’s going to be shown at the Brighton Film Festival and, on September 18, the Southend Film Festival.”

Alex added: “I expected the film to be selected for some festivals, but it has far exceeded my expectations and seems to have snowballed. It’s great that it is far-reaching and has proved to be extremely powerful in the fact that people can identify with the interviewees’ experiences.”

Alex hopes the film will raise awareness of mental health and in particular, the charity Phoenix Heroes based in Colchester, which provides PTSD Veteran Support.

She has since gone on to make another film – a feature length documentary – about ex veterans suffering from PTSD called ‘Reel War’ – The Battle for Peace of Mind.

Alex explained: “The pandemic really put me on another course. Whereas before I had been involved on the advertising, corporate side of film making, it really ignited a passion in my for documentary film making.