Dodging landmines and getting arrested are all in a day’s work for Oxford’s Zoe Broughton. Gill Oliver interviews the renowned video-journalist

Meet her at the school gates and she looks like any other mum.

But when Zoe Broughton goes to work, it’s with a camera and those on the end of her lens often wish they weren’t.

The video journalist has spent more than 20 years putting herself on the frontline – going undercover at an animal-testing lab, being chased by police while filming on a high-speed motor boat and dodging landmines in Burma.

She’s also been arrested, including just before she was about to stay with her in-laws for the first time.

The mum-of-two, who is in her early 40s, was filming activists campaigning against pollution caused by a waste incinerator in Sheffield.

Protesters, occupying the incinerator, were arrested and hauled off to a police cell and she was taken with them.

She explained: “I went inside, filmed the footage and managed to get it out and it was used on TV news that evening.

“But I went back in to film more and ended up being locked in a cell.

“The police took my clothes away as evidence and I ended up in police-issue tracksuit bottoms that were too small for me and a pair of plimsoles that were too big.

“Not the ideal start with your future inlaws.”

After leaving her media, IT and computer programming course at a London college in the early 1990s, she used video tapes which had to be edited on large, expensive computers.

Nowadays, you’re more likely to spot her editing on her laptop from the scene of a protest, or around her kitchen table at home in Oxford where she lives with her husband and two children, aged 11 and eight.

She said: “I also make mini-films on my iPhone, which means I can upload footage to the internet instantly.”

That is something she is passionate about and runs a series of film-making workshops and courses, through Film Oxford, showing people how to get great footage with just a smart phone.

Her first documentary saw her filming a protest in London’s East End, with locals unhappy at plans to build the M11 motorway through the middle of their homes.

Bailiffs and police were sent to evict protesters from a street in the path of the bulldozers.

She was barricaded into a tiny room with two other women, one who had lived there for 14 years.

As the bailiffs used pneumatic drills to break in, she kept filming, stopping only to stuff video tapes down her socks and knickers. While forcibly carried out by riot police, she kept the camera running.

Once outside, she sold the footage and her film made that evening’s national TV news.

She said: “That was a turning point for me, because I loved getting the issue seen by thousands of people and helping them to understand the protesters’ point of view.”

Not long afterwards, she went undercover for two-and-a-half months in one of Europe’s largest animal testing laboratories.

Posing as a lab technician, she secretly filmed the goings-on at the lab in Cambridgeshire, including beagle puppies being shouted at, shaken and hit at times.

Aired in a Channel 4 documentary It’s a Dog’s Life, it provoked an outcry.

Oxford Mail:
Zoe at a climate camp protest in Central London

Two lab technicians were arrested, the firm’s share price dropped like a stone and questions were asked in Parliament.

The next few years saw her undercover again, investigating cruelty in horse markets and long-distance animal transport.

She also spent weeks working at a huge egg-packing plant, where she secretly filmed battery hens.

Video footage sent to European MPs helped sway a vote to gradually phase out battery farming.

Her films have won many awards, including the Brigitte Bardot Genesis Award and she has filmed with the BBC and Channel 4.

And she is one of just 17 women profiled in a newly published book, Here We Stand: Women Changing the World.

Some exploits have taken place in dangerous parts of the world, including when she travelled to Thailand’s border with Burma with a refugee hoping to meet fellow activists.

“We ended up being smuggled across the border into Burma in the middle of the night and taken to a rebel army camp.

“We were told to stick closely to the left-hand side of the path we were walking along, as the right-hand side was land-mined.

“In the background, we could hear the Burmese militia patrolling the area.”

Oxford Mail:
Zoe films riot police

Another trip was emotional, as it saw her on the first plane-load of refugees returning to Kosovo after the end of the war.

“It was just a few days after the ceasefire and I couldn’t get a proper wide-angle shot because of having to be careful not to step on landmines.

“It was incredibly emotional and I was crying while filming.”

More recently, she watched in horror as Greenpeace activists tried to scale an oil rig in the Arctic found themselves being marched off to a Russian prison.

“I could easily have been the one filming that action,” she pointed out.

Now she has children, she avoids some of the more dangerous international assignments.

But her 11-year-old daughter Mati got behind the camera to film at the People’s Climate March in London earlier this month.

Zoe is also one of very few people who have been allowed into the Ecuadorian embassy to film Wikipedia’s Julian Assange for an interview.

Another recent job meant filming for 26 hours from a speedboat with river police in pursuit. Capturing footage of campaigners trying to stop coal being unloaded from a ship delivering to a London power station, meant hanging over the side, while the boat zoomed along the Thames.

After arriving home in Oxford at 4am, she set off on the school run a few hours later.

“The police were chasing us down the river, so it was high-energy and to go from that to the school run was a bit strange,” she explained. ”It’s times like that when I feel a bit of a clash of cultures and my two worlds collide.”


Zoe Broughton is featured in Here We Stand: Women Changing The World, published by Honno Press. 
For more information about Film Oxford and Zoe’s film workshops, visit

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