Cayley James is the Festival Coordinator at Document, Scotland’s longest standing human rights film festival. Established in 2003 to counter the negative mainstream narrative surrounding immigration, refugees and the Roma people. Here she talks about her first five jobs.

Cayley James
Jobs discussed in this article:

1. Canoe Instructor/Camp Counsellor
2. Flower Shop Attendant
3. Ice Cream Scooper
4. Baker
5. WORN Fashion Journal

Inheriting a long standing organisation and expecting to good by it is a daunting position to be in. But I somewhat unexpectedly found myself in that exact spot when I started working at Document. To say my position at the festival has snowballed over the past two and a half years would be something of an understatement. Coordinating means putting out a lot of fires, multi-tasking and collaborating to your hearts content. When people ask me what it’s like I’m often inclined to tell them: “I herd cats for a living.”

Looking back on my twelve odd years in the workforce is a strange activity. My past jobs feel like past lives – and the path to Document is much more like a process of elimination than a coherent career path. Growing up, friends lay the groundwork of fruitful careers while I pinged from childcare to the service industry to a smattering of arts jobs.

Before university I was a film obsessed, theatre nerd who pined for a job in journalism. Rather than volunteering or trying to gain work experience I nurtured a short attention span for part time jobs. Spending a number of summers working at camps as a glorified babysitter and canoe instructor. At 17 I worked in a flower-shop where I wasn’t allowed to touch the flowers – instead I was sequestered in the basement where I washed pots and vases and was kept company by Seabiscuit … the store cat. Then there was the ice-cream scooping where I and a staff of teenagers made thousands of waffle cones and slung ice-cream in a badly ventilated but very popular shop in Toronto’s east end.

While friends made smooth transitions from unpaid internships to salaried jobs in advertising, journalism, and politics – I was left floundering. There was this abstract career in my mind. It involved the arts and outreach but I had no idea how to make it happen. Instead I spent hours at the cinema, trolling bookstores and trying to undo the circumscribed ways of thinking that four years of liberal arts can do to a person. Throughout that process I went to a lot of events that challenged my notion of creativity and success. Most memorably Trampoline Hall which was a “bar room lecture series” in Toronto’s west end. Founded by Misha Globerman and Sheila Heti, I became enamoured by their grassroots and idiosyncratic approach to programming. It was a salon of sorts and every time I left there was a little voice in my head saying … “that is what I want to do, but how?!”

I came out of of undergrad with an Honours in English, exasperated by abstract thought, and craving practical work. Seeing a final product come out of hours of toil that wasn’t just an essay but rather something tactile was incredibly attractive. So in my post-graduation ennui I wound up baking. I’ve got the scars to prove it. The hours spent in hot kitchens and early mornings served their therapeutic purpose but it was hardly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Although it was tempting seeing as I was good at it – and it was delicious.

In 2011 I got the opportunity to intern at WORN Fashion Journal. Whilst there I worked on the publishing team and I got to see first hand how you develop a marketable brand within a strict budget. It was a brilliant publication and one I greatly admired. It was feminist, intersectional and intellectual but always accessible – WORN, however, did not make money but they had conviction. My time at the publication was spent entirely in a learning capacity – it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say I was expendable. One time my editor turned to me and said: “Cayley you know so much about everything we just need to figure out how to apply it?” I took it as a compliment at the time.

By 2012 it was pretty obvious Toronto wasn’t working for me. I was so aware of what other people were doing and how they were doing it better I couldn’t focus. So I put an ocean between myself and my home town. Which may have been one of the best things I have ever done. It gave me the perspective and ability to apply all of the curiosity and passion I had for film and outreach without second guessing and comparing myself to my peers. It’s also a testament to cities like Glasgow. Where your ambition isn’t drowned out by the cacophony of competition you get in bigger towns.

Despite what I consider very separate stages in my eclectic CV, have somehow coalesced to be the perfect background to running an independent film festival. The years of running around hot kitchens, getting through a never-ending todo list, and hours of customer service drudgery have made me surprisingly adept for coordination.

There is a hell of lot more I need to learn but my time with Document has been the best education I could have gotten in confirming what it is I want to do. Which is work with communities, remain fiercely independent, and inspire conversation and change through the arts.

Document 2015 is running from October 16, 17, and 18 at Glasgow’s CCA.

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We’ve asked professionals in creative industries what jobs they have had in the past to get their foot through the door (or at least pay the rent). For more in the “My First 5 Jobs” series look here.