Joe Dunnigan is sat in a van full of tech on an Estonian film set. As you do. Who is Joe and how did he get here

Let’s go back a few steps. Joe, who grew up in Dundee, when he was just 19 and a first-year filmmaking student at the University of the West of Scotland. Through the charity’s iGNiTE project, Joe (now 34) “learnt through doing”, communicating through film.  He ended up travelling to China with the charity twice and living there for two years studying Chinese and teaching English before moving to Taiwan for a year.

So, now running his own business on the technical side of the film industry in Estonia, how did Joe’s early experiences with what is now Front Lounge shape his interest in film-making?

“It might have been a generation ago, and everything is now fully digital, but the core principles of how to communicate through film stay with me to this day. But more importantly, I learned things to help me enter the workforce, things I wasn’t learning at university.

“On reflection, I went to school, then uni, basically following the prescribed trajectory which society says you should follow but perhaps I didn’t realise that, even on graduating, I wouldn’t actually be ready for work. I needed something else. Working with Front Lounge woke me up to how things might work in the real world. I got an insight into how the organisation worked, how projects were funded and who you need to connect with. In many ways, it gave me a dose of reality that university doesn’t give you. Interestingly, I’m the only person from my year at uni actually now working full-time in the film industry which is not a coincidence. I gained from that dual pathway, the academic side alongside the practical world getting my hands dirty, working to deadlines, solving problems.”

Besides his film work, Joe, like many living in Estonia, has two business interests, the other being non-profit Banned Books, a social enterprise dedicated to preserving and protecting books that are endangered, banned or under threat in some way. In some ways, similar to Front Lounge, Banned Books gives a voice to those who have perhaps been silenced or discouraged. Joe is now exploring the possibility of replicating the museum in another location.

So, what does Joe make of Front Lounge now, as he observes it from afar?

“I’ve always tried to keep an eye on what Front Lounge is doing and recently caught up with Chika and some of the Kindred Clothing learners on my return to Dundee. I’m amazed at what they’re doing and, even though the activities are different, the charity’s ‘why?’ and impact is the same, if not greater. I think some of the learners saw me as a role model in the same way as I saw some of the people I encountered at the charity as a teenager. That’s how it needs to work – identifying role models who the young people can connect with.”

And for anyone who, like himself 15 years ago, what’s Joe’s advice for those struggling to create a life plan, or set a goal?

“Don’t get hung up on not having a dream or a vision. There’s far too much pressure to know what you want to do in life. It’s actually pretty damaging to put that on young people. Who you are today is who you are today, things change. The key is to do stuff. It doesn’t have to be useful or lead to anything. It’s about exploring what you like and, more importantly, what you don’t like! To learn what you don’t want in life is incredibly valuable. I know that from my own experience. Nothing is wasted. It always teaches or tells you something.”