In a Jerusalem suburb, fifteen young American drug addicts, abandoned by their ultra Orthodox Jewish families, share both pain and great hope that Eric, another recovering addict, will save them from certain death. AZ House allows a rare glimpse into the lives of these young addicts during the most trying time of their lives, as they deal not only with recovery but with exile from the insular ultra Orthodox Jewish community in which they were raised.
Director: Anna Oliker is a filmmaker from Jerusalem, Israel. AZ House is her first film.
Judge Mandy Chang said: “What makes this film fascinating is the way that it takes an urgent global issue – the opioid epidemic – and views it through the lens of an often closed culture, the Orthodox Jewish community. The film, set in a volatile environment in Jerusalem and following a group of complex and troubled young men characters, has all the ingredients for an emotional and compelling film, full of twists and turns.”
Director: Anna Oliker
Production Company: Heymann Brothers Films
Life is a Musical follows the transformation into adolescence of a queer child in a small fishing village in the Canary Islands, overcoming bullying and grief by expressing himself through his own musicals and performances.
Directors: Patty Pajak and Karolina Pajak. Patty’s passion for humanity drove her to become a doctor and actress. She works with film, writing and mental health. Karolina’s passion for visual storytelling drives her in her work as a director and cinematographer for documentaries and fiction. The two sisters are based in Sweden.
Judge Oli Harbottle said: “Life is a Musical is a joyous look at a child in a small fishing village embracing his inner dancing queen and overcoming local prejudice with the support of a close-knit group of colourful characters. The project’s intimate access and original approach made it stand out as a film which could both engage and entertain a global audience.”
Directors: Patty Pajak and Karolina Pajak
Production company: Ginestra Films
In September 2016, Susanna Cappellaro, an actress living in London, was told by her husband, Scott Cohen, that he was going to become a cyborg. Soon after this, she started filming his journey and the impact it was having on their relationship, all the while questioning technology, love and what it is to be human.
Directors: Claire Oakley and Susanna Cappellaro.
Claire Oakley is a self-taught writer and director with an MA in English Literature. Her award-winning
Susanna Cappellaro is an Italian writer and actor based in London with a background in styling and music journalism. She appeared in films such as Berberian Sound Studio and In Fabric by Peter Strickland, Dark Shadows by Tim Burton and starring in Papagajka by Emma Rozanski, which premiered at SXSW in 2016.
Judge Jane Mote said: “This is an extraordinary story where the director has bravely put herself at the heart of the action using an iPhone to keep the intimacy of contact with the main subject – her husband. I genuinely don’t know which way this is going to go but it is on the edge of the sorts of choices that will face relationships of the future as technology starts to become quite literally hardwired into bodies.”
Directors: Claire Oakley & Susanna Cappellaro
Production Company: Rubber Stamp Films
People’s Hospital tells the story of a female doctor from a small-town Chinese hospital, who is secretly contemplating quitting after devoting 27 years to saving lives. That doctor is the director’s mother. And the hospital is – in the director’s words – her childhood ‘daycare centre’. Armed with a camera, the director returns from the US to her home country of China to make sense of her mother’s career crisis, not expecting to encounter a fractured healthcare system and her own family’s battle with cancer.
Director: Siyi Chen is an emerging Chinese documentary filmmaker and journalist. She received a B.A. in World History and Foreign Languages from Peking University (Beijing) and a M.A. in News and Documentary from New York University.
Judge Lucila Moctezuma said: “People’s Hospital captivated us for the director’s ability to go from the very personal, as she explores her own relationship with her mother and to hospitals in China, to the broader issue of the evolution of the healthcare system in her country – with the added touch of a sense of humour.“
Director: Siyi Chen
Amanda, a photojournalist, returns home to turn her investigative lens on the serial sexual abuse committed by her grandfather. Through the accounts of both perpetrator and his victims, she pursues a high-stakes journey to examine the systemic injustices and culture of silence in pursuit of truth and healing for her family.
Director: Amanda Mustard is an award-winning American photographer and journalist based in Bangkok, Thailand.
Judge Patrick Hurley said: “Amanda’s film deals with one of the most harrowing and perplexing of subjects from such a proximate position to a perpetrator, her grandfather. We found her director’s statement to be highly genuine and sincere.”
Director: Amanda Mustard
Two women in their seventies once shared the same husband. Now they must forget the past and work together to guard an empty, snowed-in Himalayan village for the whole winter.
Rajan Kathet, graduate of DocNomads (2014-16), also a Berlinale Talents Alumnus 2017, is a Nepali filmmaker working in both fiction and documentary, whose recent fiction short Bare Trees In The Mist was screened at Toronto International Film Festival and Tampere Film Festival and has also been lined up for the screenings at other numerous film festivals.
Sunir Pandey is a student of Nepalese media, culture, and history.
Judge Patrick Hurley said: “I was utterly absorbed by the subjects of ‘No Winter Holidays’: two septuagenarian ‘sister-wives’ confronting the challenges of a harsh winter in a rural Nepalese valley. Rajan’s articulation of the vision and intention for the film is among the best I’ve encountered. Watch this space for what is set to be a sensitive, nuanced documentary about ageing and human relationships.”
When Rajan and Sunir heard they were finalists they responded: “What a news amidst all this craziness! Pheww! We thank you from our heart for trusting our project and encouraging us even more. We can’t wait to pitch our project in June.”
As South Sudan hangs in the balance of a tenuous peace agreement, Akuol’s mother, Nyandeng prepares to become one of the country’s five vice-presidents. Her mission is to safeguard her late husband, John Garang’s vision for South Sudan’s people, their country, and their family.
Director: Akuol de Mabior is a South Sudanese filmmaker who aims to create stories for the screen that facilitate African imaginations and encourage us to think differently about ourselves and our futures.
Judge Gary Kam said: “A daughter portrays her mother’s fight, as one of the vice presidents of South Sudan, to build the foundation of peace and prosperity in the post-civil war nation. With unprecedented access to the protagonist, Nyandeng provides an intimate insight into a politician’s love, hope and fear as a mother and politician who tries to complete the political legacy of her late husband.”
When Akuol heard she was a finalist she responded: “I’m laughing, crying, grateful, humbled, energised and can’t stop smiling.”
Farming opium poppies gave a lower-caste mother social status and the financial means to educate her son. Their loving relationship is tested when the son leads an activism campaign, which puts the mother’s opium farming license in trouble.
Director: Vivek Chaudhary is a filmmaker from Ahmedabad, India and has been working on documentary films for the last 7 years. His debut documentary, a mid-length documentary titled Goonga Pehelwan (The Mute Wrestler) won the National Film Award (India) for Best Debut Film in the year 2015.
The Whickers’ Editorial Consultant, Jane Mote said: “This is both an intimately told story of the strained relationship between an elderly mother and her son and one of global significance around the little known world of the legal opium trade. Set in the stunning backdrop of rural Rajasthan, India, I,Poppy has the potential to challenge us all to think differently about farming, global economics and the effect of education on traditional lifestyles.”
Peruvian farmer Saúl Lliuya sues German giant RWE in a David and Goliath case. It’s an international story of climate justice that could change of the course of legal and financial history and with it, the world.
Director: Dan Faber is a Spanish-speaking documentary filmmaker based in London, with an MA in Ethnographic and Documentary Film from UCL. His short film following child footballers in Panama was broadcast on Channel 4 and distributed worldwide.
Judge Mandy Chang said: “There’s a lot at stake in this environmental David and Goliath story – where an indigenous Peruvian inhabitant takes on a big multinational energy corporation. Set in a stunning Peruvian landscape, the outcome of the impending court case could set a monumental precedent on environmental cases around the world. The director, Dan Faber has really thought about the drama of this unfolding story and that’s always a very good sign.”
When Dan heard he was a finalist he responded: “This is really exciting! We’re one step closer to being able to tell this story to the world.”
What causes a person to consider stepping away from society, to lead a life of isolation, far from the modern world? This is a tender and intimate film about an elderly hermit in the Highlands of Scotland who opens his life to director Lizzie MacKenzie, whilst he comes to terms with his increasingly frail body and questions whether he will be able to live out his last years in the wilderness he calls home.
Director: Lizzie MacKenzie is a self-shooting director who focuses on characters at the edge of society, who remind us of our place within the natural world.
Judge Oli Harbottle said: “At a time when we are all experiencing living in self-isolation, this is an irresistible look at someone who has chosen that very lifestyle for the past thirty years out of choice rather than necessity. Set against the stunning backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, the fact the director has spent seven years to win the trust of the film’s subject allows for what promises to be a truly tender and intimate portrait of someone living far away from the hectic nature of modern life.”
When Lizzie heard she was a finalist she responded: “Can’t wait to tell Ken… I’ll have to send a pigeon!”
“After his retirement, my father joined a water aerobics team with a group of elderly men. They meet three days a week in a 50 metres long pool. The film explores my relationship with my father by interacting with his world. This comes in an attempt to redefine my relationship with him whom I do not know much about his past life. Once I started the film’s journey I realised that we share the same dream of becoming filmmakers, but he chose to conform, leaving remnants of this dream captured on VHS. The same material that I will use here to highlight our visible similarities and differences. The film explores the space that I am trying to find as a young woman among a group of men, reflecting on their past lives with pride and regret as I wonder about my own future. Their slow movements, the hilarious tales of the past, and the heated childish conversations of current events come at the heart of the film. A film that they are attached to in an attempt to avoid the ghost of a looming end. Fifty Meters is my way of confronting this generation’s concepts of authority, patriarchy and masculinity.” – Yomna Khattab
Yomna Khattab is an Egyptian filmmaker with a background in banking and a 2015 published story book, Videotape From the Nineties. As a scriptwriter, her feature Rokaya won Sawiris Cultural Prize for Best Script for Young Scriptwriters 2018. In addition, she won the Film Prize Robert Bosch 2021 Development Fund for her script writing on her short film The First Sin. She is currently developing her first feature documentary. Coming from an economical background, her main interest is to explore the politics affecting women’s lives and modern family dynamics in contemporary times.
Jane Mote, Consultant Editor for The Whickers said of the selection: “There was so much talent among the first time Directors at Durban FilmMart that it was hard to choose one winner, but I was completely captivated by the fresh style of emerging Director Yomna Khattab who turns the camera on the patriarchal world she has grown up in to help answer questions about her place in it and her relationship with her father. This father/daughter journey will take us deep into a hitherto unseen Upper Middle class Egyptian society giving audiences a very different perspective on Africa.”
For safety reasons, we are unable to publicly share details about the winning project, which will be directed by a first-time director working under the pseudonym Mohammad Mohammad. Artistic Director of The Whickers, Jane Ray shared these words:
“The 14 projects selected for the Close Up Initiative this year are incredibly strong. It was a great privilege to meet such a diverse selection of talented filmmakers who had been nurtured and guided by four of the best mentors in the business: Bruni Burres, Gitte Hansen, John Appel and Nino Kirtadze. It is therefore the mother of all understatements to say that it was “not easy” to choose one for our inaugural bursary award. In the end we opted for the only one we actually can’t talk about, at least, not yet. At this stage all I can say about ‘Hollywood Gate’ is that it’s an observational story from the Middle East about the things we leave behind. This first time documentary feature director has some exceptional footage and we realise how hard it must be to get development funding for a projects that cannot be openly discussed. We hope that our bursary helps to move it to the next stage and we are so excited to play a small part in this journey. Watch this space!”
Upon hearing the news the director, Mohammad Mohammad responded: “Thank you all so much. I’m in tears because that description Jane just shared means a lot. It’s really hard to finance such a film knowing that a lot of people want to see it, but cannot. It really means a lot to us receiving such an award and I also want to thank Close Up. I hope that in the near future I can reveal myself and meet you all in person.”
Miles We Go, to Feed Ourselves is the story of a brick kiln, told through the monotonously rhythmic nature of the brick making process and everyday conversations between female labourers occupying that space. Lured into contractors’ debt traps, due to lack of job opportunities in the neighbouring villages, these women work tirelessly. Though, together, they manifest an atmosphere of unshakeable resilience as they attempt to clear their debt and break free from the cycle.
Megha Acharya is a documentary practitioner, based in New Delhi. She is presently working as a producer in Chambal Media. She works there on projects in various capacities – script writer, director, editor and producer. Her work has mostly dealt with the subjects of climate change, gender, agriculture and public healthcare politics. She has also worked as a freelance editor, cinematograpgher, and sound recordist for documentaries. Her short film ‘Sudhamayee’ (2019), has won best film, best director and special mention in prestigious festivals across India.
Geeta Devi, Khabar Lahariya’s Uttar Pradesh head has been covering environment, climate justice and resilience and migration for over a decade. Her association with the organisation began in 2009. Her special reports on these subjects and her deep dive investigative pieces have earned her great repute in the world of reportage, both national, anand with her appearance in a Google News Initiative short film.
Upon hearing the news, Megha and Geeta said: “We are extremely grateful to The Whickers for the DocedgeKolkata Bursary. In Chambal Media, we work on stories dealing with complexed realities through a feminist lens that brings out nuances often overlooked. This award has not just paved a way for us to take this project forward in the direction we wanted, but also boosted our motivation as a team of women filmmakers that there is always space for important stories and documentary cinema in this world!”
Set in the North in her homeland of Vietnam, Children of the Mist sheds new light on an unseen world and at its heart is a universal take on what it means to grow up. At the centre of the story is Di, a 13-year-old Hmong girl about to face the destiny of many teenage girls of her ethnic group: bride kidnapping. It is a film about the holy time of childhood and its disappearance.
Hà Lệ Diễm was born in 1991 to the Tay community, an ethnic group in Northeast Vietnam. She left her hometown to study journalism at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Hanoi, from where she graduated in 2013. Having directed two short films (My Son Goes to School and Beautiful Beds), Children of the Mist is Diem’s first feature documentary. She is the winner of The Whickers DocEdge Kolkata Bursary and is a Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program Grantee.
When the team heard they had won the award they said: “We are thrilled to be awarded the Whicker Bursary at Doc Edge. It means we will be able to hire Nu, a talented young assistant editor from the Hmong ethnic minority. Now we can bring him from the remote northern borders of China to join the team in Hanoi for several months. Not only will Nu be invaluable in making sure our Hmong translations are completely accurate he will also help us better understand this very complex culture and the nuance of all that Diem is seeing through her lens. This will greatly enrich Children of The Mist and we are grateful.”
Outsider follows Veeru, a charismatic little boy born in a remote Himalayan village in Northern India to Nepalese refugees. Although Veeru has known nothing other than the Indian village where he grew up, he is still considered an outsider by those around him. As he transitions from childhood to teenage-hood, his poetic journey of perseverance echoes issues that span across ages and communities.
Upon hearing the news, Kanishka and Siddesh said: “We are extremely overwhelmed to win the Whickers Docedge Bursary Award. This support means a lot to us as new filmmakers as it provides trust and strength to our project. It also means that this will help us kick start our next leg of the shoot as Veeru reaches a crucial time in his life – as he transitions into teenage-hood and begins to understand and comes to terms with his mixed identity. It is a huge turning point in his life as well as the film where we will see him build strength to face society on his terms.”
Our Consultant Editor, Jane Mote said: “The Whicker Docedge Kolkata Bursary for £3,000 was established three years ago to help support and nurture first time Directors from the region. I have been overwhelmed by the quality and range of suitable projects this year and must congratulate Docedge Kolkata for their selections and for providing this vital platform to develop and showcase such talent. It has been very hard to just choose one project but our winning project awards a duo of Directors who have spent two and half years developing a relationship with a young boy, Veeru, who has won our hearts.”