We are very happy to announce this year’s finalists for The Whickers Film & TV Funding Award. They have been selected to pitch for a chance of winning £80,000 to produce their first feature length documentary film at Sheffield Doc/Fest Online 2021. Click on the images below for further details on the five outstanding projects.
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
My Husband, the Cyborg | Claire Oakley & Susanna Cappellaro
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 short films have played at more than 50 festivals worldwide and her debut feature Make Up is currently in post-production. 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.“
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.”
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.
Directors: 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 a young girl from the mountains of central Afghanistan mysteriously commits suicide inside Kabul University, her family’s calm rural life enters into a painful and exhausting process. Her parents are now looking for justice in one of the most corrupt judicial systems in the world; while Freshta, their younger daughter, attempts to gain admission to the same university to complete what her sister had started.
Directors: Three years ago, Ilyas Yourish and Shahrokh Bikaran, decided to tell the story of Kamay; their own story. Born and raised in Afghanistan and having traveled the country extensively, both of them felt uniquely positioned to observe their homeland through their lenses. Shahrokh has graduated in 2016 from The Tehran Film School, where he studied directing, score composition, and Audio Engineering. He has since been involved in the creation of more than ten documentaries. Ilyas has graduated in 2014 from the Faculty of Journalism at Kabul University. Since 2011, he has worked as a journalist, researcher, and filmmaker. Ilyas and Shahrokh have recently established their Afghanistan-based Film Production Company.
Judge Gary Byung-Seok Kam said: “It is rare to see a local story from directors’ inside Afghanistan and it is a great way into a world often clouded by war and conflict. The film is not about finding out the truth, but instead it is looking into the definition of justice through the eyes and voice of the younger sister. Cinematically it is beautiful.”
When Ilyas and Shahrokh heard they were finalists they responded: “This was very unexpected! In such uncertain times in Afghanistan, we couldn’t hope for a better news!”
In the midst of shocking family revelations, a young filmmaker is diagnosed with terminal cancer. What follows is an intimate and darkly humorous journey of a family’s attempt to make sense of their upended past and disrupted future.
Director: Kit Vincent is a director/producer with an interest in character driven stories, that use humour to explore nuanced, real life drama. Kit began his career working on flagship documentary series’ for Channel 4 and other UK broadcasters and attended the Sundance Talent Forum as part of the Documentary Film Programme in 2019. Red Herring is his debut feature.
Judge Gary Byung-Seok Kam said: “Red Herring is a poignant but heartwarming journey to the inevitable ending of the director’s time on earth. Capturing the remaining precious moments with those closest to him, Kit gently and sometimes with humour, invites us to think again about the meaning of life, death and family.”
When Kit heard he was a finalist he responded: “Naturally, my dad was the first person I told. He could barely contain his excitement, followed in close second by me and the rest of the team.”
Devi, a former guerilla fighter who survived war time rape, decides to fight for justice. Nepal’s leaders want to keep the shameful truth about how sex abuse was used as weapon of war buried, but Devi will do whatever it takes to bring her suffering and that of her countrywomen to light and resolve the conflict still raging within her.
Director: Subina Shrestha, a filmmaker and a journalist from Nepal, likes to push boundaries in storytelling and tells stories of the people from the margins of the society.
Judge Mandy Chang said: “I love the tenacity of the filmmaker and the main character in deciding to bring this story into the open. It is a political story that gives insight into an unfamiliar and intriguing region we know very little about, yet at its heart it is a deeply personal and tender story about family and one woman’s growth as an individual, an activist and a leader.”
When Subina heard she was a finalist she responded: “This means so much to me and the team. This could make a world of the difference to the women whose stories we aim to tell for the first time, and to Devi most of all.”
Three trailblazing women – managing director Motto, farmer Wakinesh and factory worker Beti – navigate the bumpy expansion of the biggest Chinese industrial park in Ethiopia. The African giant wants to lift tens of millions out of poverty. But is the China Model what it needs?
Directors: Xinyan Yu and Max Duncan are filmmakers and journalists with a combined 20 years’ experience working in China and around the world. Made in Ethiopia is their first feature length documentary.
Judge Jane Mote said: “This is a story of our global times – foreign (Chinese) investor brings jobs and industrialisation into a traditional, agricultural (Ethiopian) community raising questions, hopes and tension. The strong characters on all sides of the narrative promises to elevate this into a thought-provoking, cinematically appealing and entertaining watch.”
When Xinyan and Max heard they were finalists they responded: “Excited, honoured, nervous!”
Concrete Land is an intimate look at the lives of a nomadic Bedouin family in its struggle to hold on to its traditional life under the pressures of urbanisation. Their only wish as a family is to stay together, with their loyal yet eccentric pet sheep Badrya firmly by their side.
Director: Asmahan Bkerat’s passion and love for intimate and personal stories inspired her to pursue a career in documentary films, she was hooked to the art of observational docs ever since.
Judge Patrick Hurley said: “With real intimacy and humour, we see first-hand the effects gentrification and urbanisation can have on traditional ways of living. We really get close to the characters, inside their tents and their lives as they navigate towards an unknown future. The director’s passion for storytelling and observational filmmaking is infectious.“
When Asmahan heard she was a finalist she responded: “I don’t think I’ve been this excited since digital cameras first came out!”