Life Without Benedetta :: How It Was Made

On July 7th 2005, the United Kingdom was attacked in its capital, London, by terrorists who killed 52 innocent people and injured hundreds more. One of the victims was Italian born Benedetta Ciaccia who boarded the circle line from Liverpool Street. As her train approached the first stop along her journey, Aldgate, her life was violently and unfairly ended by the bomb blast. Raj Babbra was her former long term boyfriend and best friend. He explores Benedetta's life story and recounts their relationship from his perspective from the moment they met to her untimely sudden passing. This powerful and moving true story shows how love and friendship knows no boundaries in time, space, life or death.

 


Since 7th July 2005, I had been through the most difficult part of my life as I lost my former long term girlfriend and best friend, Benedetta Ciaccia, in the terrorist attack in London, UK. I now really learnt about death, suffering and longing to not wake up with the sensation of drowning. It had become a common feeling for me - it was the grief I felt everyday. From the moment I woke up right up until I fell asleep again at night. Even dreaming wasn't that great, I used to see Benedetta. Sometimes happy and sometimes totally the opposite. Sometimes I was on the train she was killed on and I kept reliving the explosion. I dreamt about the state of her body by the explosion over and over. Did she suffer? No idea. I still don't know up until today. I was only 28 years old when this happened. I felt this was going to be my life from now on.

In late 2007, a friend of mine had been bugging me for ages to go on a course he had done called the Landmark Forum. He kept telling me it was going to help me so much with what I was dealing with. How could it? It's a personal training and development program! However, I now just felt no passion or enjoyment for anything anymore. My relationships with family and friends were going downhill, I was getting more and more isolated all the time. I was irritable and unpleasant to be around sometimes. I did not smile anymore. I was on a downward spiral and I had either the choice of carrying on with life getting worse like it had been for a long time now or try something new. I needed a whole free weekend to do the Landmark Forum and the only available one I had was in December 2007 - the one I had taken off for Benedetta's birthday. I intended to fly to Rome, Italy to leave her flowers and come back to the UK on that same weekend. However, I needed to put myself first this time and booked myself onto the Landmark Forum.

My friend was completely right. The Landmark Forum, changed my life dramatically over that weekend in ways I could not have imagined. By the end of the weekend, my life was already significantly better and I started to smile again for the first time in ages. I had a weight lifted from me that I had been carrying around for 2 years and 6 months. Things were not perfect but I knew I was on the right road for recovery finally.

I was so happy with the change in my life that I applied to go into other courses that Landmark Education run. Although doing the Landmark Forum in itself is considered a complete package, I wanted to get further into their education as things were finally so much better. The second course I did with them again gave a massive amazing impact on my life and created a confidence I had never had before and suddenly I had a bright future ahead of me now. I felt I could really make a difference for helping others from my experience rather than living a life of constant depression and grief. The benefits were also visible physically, I lost 3 stones in 4 months! I had put this weight on following Benedetta's death.

Finally I was on the last course called the Self-Expression and Leadership Program (SELP). It was March 2008 and this course required a 3 month commitment of regular classrooms to create a project which has a positive impact on a community of our choice and to use the teachings of the previous courses to go beyond where we would usually be stopped. The project had to touch, move and inspire people to participate in its creation and the project had to be conducted anytime before the deadline date. Coincidentally 7th July 2008 was the deadline date.

Approximately 70 participants were on this course and began to plan their own creative and fun events to get up to 200 people from various communities involved. Many of these projects were raising money for charities and were thrilling for them to create from absolutely nothing. I knew my project was going to be based around the 7/7 community but I did not know what to make. However, I realised after continually scribbling down ideas that everything I thought of was within my comfort zone and not even inspiring to me. Ideas were limited to things such as a secure website for the 7/7 community to use. So I thought to just write something down that I have absolutely no idea how to make but to give my word to make it by 7th July 2008. I wrote that I was going to make a documentary about the effects of terrorism on innocent people and have it screened on 7th July 2008.

The course leader was touched by what I wanted to make and requested me to stand up and announce it to everyone. I stood up and shared my declaration for my project with the whole SELP group and was met with a massive round of applause. It was through sheer luck that someone on this course was friends with a lady called Rabia Bouchiba who was a documentary Director. He told Rabia about my documentary and she was thrilled about it and wanted to know more. Rabia and I met and very soon after she committed herself to making the documentary, however, the concept needed exploring and refining as it wasn't clear. Rabia decided that the best method of getting this message across was through a personal story of Benedetta's life. We worked long hours bouncing script changes on email to each other and the title one day came to me and I initially called it "7/7 - Life Without Benedetta"

We both dedicated ourselves completely into making this documentary. We gave up all our free time and days off work to focus our energy into it because I definately wanted this story to be screened by 7th July 2008. We still needed help with filming, sound, studio editing equipment and of course a camera. Rabia networked and found two talented individuals, George Leeder and James Phillips. They ran an independent company called Gentlemen's Agreement Media and were based in Norwich. Both were inspired so much by the story that they got on board knowing that it was unpaid. They were completely unaware that Benedetta so happened to be living local to them in Norwich at the time she passed away. Rabia also managed to find a film editor, Ingun Olsen, and she was touched by the story. She similarly dedicated herself to editing the film after we had captured all the footage. I managed to borrow some professional camera equipment and we were now ready to film.

One of the things that really bothered me was that stories of death are so common now in the news that we have become desensitised to the reality of what is actually happening. It is easy to forget the trauma that the loved ones of victims are left with when these innocent people are suddenly just taken away as well as those who have survived now live with the horrors of it. This documentary was going to offer a taste of reality back of who these victims really are, how their loved ones cope with their loss and the impact on those who survive. To make this documentary, I needed to put my personal feelings aside.

As the documentary developed, the possibilities of what it could do also grew. I am aware about the lack of financial support for victim's families, survivors living with physical disability and those who have been affected psychologically. Speaking with the 7/7 community it became more and more obvious that there was a need for more support for them. Many were struggling with basic needs in life now to survive and I heard some sad stories of some survivors turning to prostitution to pay bills. Many felt they had very little support financially or psychologically. What started of as making a documentary for me became clearer that this was the start of something to help support those who were struggling now since 7/7.

The documentary completely inspired people whilst filming in the UK and Italy. Any 'problem' was easily worked around whereas before it may have become something that would have prevented me from completing what I set out to do. The film seemed to command its own authority in being unstoppable and drawing what we needed naturally. Too many variables just seemed to slot in place. It was almost magical in bringing out the best in people along the way and the deepest emotions from interviewees when sharing their stories.

Whilst Ingun was editing the film, I booked a room at the University College of London for selected screenings to the public and media for 06/07/2008 and 07/07/2008. When informing the media about the project, it began to attract massive attention from a single newspaper article that the Evening Standard printed and a radio show I did with Mr.P from TCTK Radio. I received many requests to explain how and why I started this project. How could I really explain the answer to that one? This journey was just something extraordinary and putting that into a short article was just not possible.

I further arranged to screen the documentary on 07/07/2008 at the official gathering of the 7/7 community at the yearly remembrance. Approximately 30 people who had lost loved ones, survived the bombings or were affected in some other way sat down and watched it with the film crew. It ended with a massive applause and tears of triumph over making such a beautiful story from such a tragedy. I was encouraged by people who watched it to take it further afield to share around the world. There was not a single person who was not moved and I felt we gave them such a beautiful gift for that sad day. Something to let them know they were not suffering alone. James and George later told me that what made all the hard work they put in the last 3 months really make them realise what they had done was when an elderly lady from the 7/7 community approached them and said "Go home and tell your mothers that they should be really proud of you".

That evening I had the last screening at Landmark for my SELP group. All the participants here had witnessed me stand up 3 months earlier and make the declaration to create this film. Here we were now screening it to them all. By the time it was over, I saw tears in so many people's eyes, so many people crying, one young lady was inconsolable and taken out of the room by friends. The energy in the room was something I cannot describe. This was such a special moment and the applause felt like it went on forever.

It was now over. I sat down and we had our last SELP class. I suddenly for the first time felt a lump in my throat as I let my emotions come back that I had held back so I could make this project. But they didn't feel the same anymore. I felt at peace now - I felt I had completed something so important and had a purpose in my life from this amazing journey. Furthermore I slowly realised that I had given this film the wrong title. The film taught me something - it was about the loss of life and effects on those left behind. It wasn't just about terrorism. It wouldn't matter how Benedetta died, I would miss her equally. I renamed the film "Life Without Benedetta" because the story is the universal story about love and loss.

I want to take this moment to acknowledge everyone who helped make this documentary become reality. This is especially so for the film crew who have worked extremely long hours completely unpaid and out of the goodness of their hearts. I would like to thank them all for their continuing hard work and for helping to allow this important story to be told.