Sheffield filmmaker shares what inspired short film ‘Safe’ showing reality of harassment and women’s safety

“We have to appease them, so that things don’t escalate”

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on items purchased through this article, but that does not affect our editorial judgement.

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

An independent Sheffield filmmaker has shared the inspiration behind her new and award-winning short film, ‘Safe’.

The film, which is currently doing the rounds at festivals, shows women’s vigilance to their personal safety in day-to-day life, even while doing something as simple as waiting for a bus.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Debbie Howard, who runs Big Buddha Films in Sheffield, wrote and directed Safe based on patterns of behaviour she noticed in herself and in the women around her.

Safe, a short film by Debbie HowardSafe, a short film by Debbie Howard
Safe, a short film by Debbie Howard

She said: “Women behave in a way, even if it isn't what we want to do, in order to keep ourselves safe. You appease and placate people, and do what it takes to come out of it harmed.

“Something which has interested me is that instinct we have as women. How, from a very young age, we have this inbuilt protection in order to keep ourselves safe.

“I wanted to do something that shows the fear and the threat, without an assault taking place. As soon as he sits down in Safe, you know it's not going to go well, even if it doesn't escalate massively.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I kept saying to Laura, ‘appease him, appease him’, because that's what you have to do. That’s what we have learned.”

Safe, produced by Wellington Films, was shot at a bus stop on Scotland Street with a mainly female crew.

Debbie said: “I love being able to tell stories and tackle difficult subject matters, and I give as much work as I can to women.

“All those women who worked on the film know what it's like to be in that situation, so they were each able to bring something specific to it.”

Debbie Howard (right), behind the scenes.Debbie Howard (right), behind the scenes.
Debbie Howard (right), behind the scenes.
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Safe has already picked up Best Director and Best Screenplay at the BAFTA qualifying Aesthetica Short Film Festival in York, and a Best Actor award at Seville Indie Film Festival.

It is also part of the opening night 'Inspiring Women' programme at Northampton Film Festival, for International Women’s Day (March 8).

Debbie added; “So far, there has been a really interesting response at the screenings. Women really get it, they want to shout at the screen - it's quite a visceral response.

James Nelson-Joyce, in a still from short film Safe from Big Buddha Films and Wellington Productions.James Nelson-Joyce, in a still from short film Safe from Big Buddha Films and Wellington Productions.
James Nelson-Joyce, in a still from short film Safe from Big Buddha Films and Wellington Productions.

“Some men get it, some don't. One guy said to me at a screening how he hadn't got it from the script, but that watching his girlfriend and her body language throughout the film really upset him.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The behaviour of the characters in Safe is somewhat based on Debbie’s own experience.

She said: “Years ago, I had to get a tube in London early in the morning. It was absolutely deserted, and right as the doors were about to close, two men got on,” she said.

“I just knew they had come for me, because they had been leaving the station. One stood right in front of me, and one right up against the other side of the glass panel next to me. 

Laura Bayston (left) on set.Laura Bayston (left) on set.
Laura Bayston (left) on set.

“There was no CCTV, no phones, and nobody around. So I just sat there, I didn’t say anything, and I kept looking at my book. As soon as the doors opened at the next stop, I just got up and ran. 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I just remember the absolute terror I was feeling. And I still find myself thinking, what if I had done anything else? 

“I don’t know any woman who doesn’t have a story, or more like 20 stories, which are like that or worse.”

Debbie is hoping to hold screenings in partnership with groups such as Rape Crisis and Know the Line, and even to show it in schools to help raise awareness among young people.

For updates on screenings and when Safe will be available online, as well as other Big Buddha Films productions, see the website, Facebook or X (Twitter). The teaser trailer is available on Vimeo.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.