Jo Elliot Profile

Jo Elliott is a filmmaker who makes both ethnographic (anthropological) films and films commissioned for TV.  She took A- levels in English, Geography and Biology and then did a gap year working in an orphanage in Mexico before studying for a BSc in Anthropology at UCL.


I was attracted to study anthropology at university because it combined theory and field-based research. Having visited several universities, I was impressed by the anthropology course at UCL because of its broad approach covering biological, social, and cultural aspects of human beings, while allowing students to specialize in their second and third years.

I thoroughly enjoyed my degree and particularly appreciated the opportunity it gave me to carry out first-hand research. After the first year students can tailor the degree to suit their particular interests. Whenever possible, I tried to choose essay topics where I could carry out fieldwork. For example, for a unit on Religion, I decided to focus on Pentecostalism and spent a lot of time chatting to people in churches in Brixton.

For my third year dissertation I was successful in seeking funding from the Royal Geographical Society, the UCL expedition fund and the UCL Anthropology Department, for myself and three of my fellow students, to carry out three months field work in Costa Rica. Before heading off, I took a two week intensive course in research skills training at Leiden University in the Netherlands. The course was part of the ERASMUS exchange programme. My research in Costa Rica focused on national versus local identities, and the perceived relationship between modern education and traditional belief systems amongst indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities.

For my dissertation I bought a very basic camcorder to record all my interviews as well as any other relevant footage. I used the Television Society’s facilities to teach myself how to edit films and I produced a short film to accompany my dissertation. This experience, alongside studying a module in ethnographic film was the beginning of my passion for documentary filmmaking.

After university, I worked at a small community TV station in Oxford where I was formally trained in the use of camera and editing equipment. Since then, I’ve worked for a number of television production companies and charities such as Oxfam and Save the Children as well as making more of my own films. I’ve explored a variety of issues through film such as refugee experiences, nationhood, and family relationships.  In a previous project, I was funded by Carlton TV and Screen South to make a short film called ‘Letters Home’ following a Rwandan refugee’s experiences of life in the UK as he anxiously awaits the arrival of his young family. In my next project I am planning to work with the Innu in Labrador, Canada.

I love the way in which filmmaking has the potential to introduce you to many worlds with which you wouldn’t otherwise come into contact. I often find that people open up in a surprising way when being filmed, and I find myself feeling liberated to probe and ask sensitive questions that perhaps I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to ask under different circumstances.