Karl Jackson, 30, turned to the college where he studied more than a decade ago, when looking for two female actors for his new film Independence.
The film has been funded by the British Film Institute and tells the story of the challenges faced by Amba, an 18-year-old who has just left the care system.
It follows her as she adapts to being moved out of her area and living alone in a rundown flat with minimal support apart from her best friend Ciara.
Karl, from Walthamstow, has seen first-hand the impact that coming out of care has on young people, through his work for care provider Lignum Vitae Care & Support.
“Preparing young people for living independently is easier said than done as their needs are all very different,” said Karl.
“Depending on where they are housed the standard of care and support can vary, which can have a drastic effect on their future prospects. I wanted to make a film that shed light on some of the shortcomings.”
Karl held an open audition at CANDI in March when he asked students for their suggestions to the script, improvise different scenarios and make an audition tape.
Joanna Rutagambwa, 19, and Mia Campbell-Fiawoo, 20, who are both studying for an HNC Performing Arts, were cast as Amba and Ciara.
Joanna, from Tower Hamlets, said: “When Karl told me I’d been cast I was very excited and accepted it straightaway. We got the script and had a one to-one and he asked me for my opinion and explained what he wanted from it.”
Joanna hopes to bring to the role her personal experience of having to change and grow up quickly when looking after her younger brother when her mum was at work.
“Amba is very quiet and passive. She is trying to hold everything together and does not want to ask for help because she wants to try and do things herself and not burden other people.
“It’s a lot about the silent moments and the way she behaves than what she says. It’s very powerful in the way it cuts through each scene, which gives it sense of realism.”
Karl studied a Performing Arts Level 3 Diploma from 2008-10 and has gone on to appear in roles on stage and screen including Game of Thrones, Casualty and Doctors. In 2019 he directed and starred in a short film called Relapse about a young father who is struggling to rebuild his life after being released from prison.
Karl was impressed with Joanna’s ability to instinctively encapsulate Amba’s emotions through her eyes and stillness, and Mia’s audition really fitted the character of Ciara.
“From my own experience I’ve always been aware of the high standards at CANDI, but to come back over a decade later and see the same enthusiasm, devotion and care was inspiring,” said Karl.
“From the start of the audition process with CANDI the calibre of talent and the attitude of the students was incredible.
Joanna admitted to being quite shy when she first came to CANDI but she is now starting to realise her talent and getting the part of Amba had further boosted her confidence.
“The opportunities created at CANDI are amazing,” she said.
“When you look at people like Karl and see them thrive, not only as a former student but as a person of colour, it gives you hope that there are opportunities out there. It makes me feel there are endless things I can do.”
Tim Chaundy, Curriculum Leader for Performing Arts, said: “It was amazing having Karl back at CANDI and giving opportunities to our students to act at a professional level. The industry experience and skills Karl possesses have been a huge inspiration for our students.
“It’s even more thrilling that Karl decided to audition our students and cast Joanna and Mia in his new film. Both are creative students with innovative ideas and approaches to performance, and have developed excellent acting and theatre skills. This is such a fantastic experience for them.”
Independence is expected to be released later this year.