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 £100,000 to direct their first feature length documentary film at Sheffield Doc/Fest on Sunday 18th June 2023. Click on the images below for further details on the five outstanding projects.
9 Month Contract | Ketevan Vashagashvili
I Want to Kill My Grandfather | Lilyana Torres & Carlos Morales
Let’s Play Soldiers | Mariam Al-Dhubhani
The Silence of the Ants | Francisco Montoro
Women of My Life | Zahraa Ghandour
Nice Ladies | Mariia Ponomarova
A team of vigorous elderly cheerleaders called ‘Nice Ladies’ from Kharkiv, Eastern Ukraine are preparing to compete in the European championship. Combatting social prejudices and self-doubt they are getting ready to contest their younger competitors in the only available ‘25+’ category. The brutal russian invasion of Ukraine disrupts their plans and the team integrity. Will cheerleading help them to power through the times of trauma and displacement?
Mariia Ponomarova (1991, Kyiv) is a Ukrainian film director, screenwriter and artistic researcher living and working in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
When Mariia heard she was a finalist, she said: “Oh wow! This is just…amazing! I’m honestly speechless. Thank you for this opportunity especially in times like these. It’s an honour.”
Gary Kam, Oscar-Winning Producer and a member of our judging panel said: “With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the elderly cheerleaders’ fight against prejudice and self-doubt takes an unexpected turn. The war changed everything. But, the director tenaciously rolls the camera to capture not only the amazing women’s spirit but also something no weapon can take away from them.”
A group of six children attend school in the small village of Kolofata, in the far North of Cameroon. They were victims of the Boko Haram terrorist group before being rescued by Mr Lamine, a teacher who is now trying to fast track their education so they can pick up on the life they’ve lost. The kids muck about, race donkeys, mould model tanks out of plasticine and talk amongst themselves about the horrors they have seen, with a chilling clear-sightedness. Meanwhile, armed militia continue to circle their village, ready to defend it from the next attack.
Cyrielle Raingou is a Cameroonian filmmaker passionate about the concept and development of a certain African cultural identity, its promotion on an international scale and the economic interest it raises. She holds Masters degree in Law and in Documentary Film Directing.
When Cyrielle heard she was a finalist, she said: “I’m speechless…this is a new day for me. I feel honoured and grateful to be part of The Whickers Finalists.”
Raul Niño Zambrano, Head of Film Programmes at Sheffield Doc/Fest and a member of our judging panel said: “We were very impressed with the idea of using magic realism on such a topic. We believe that the Director will take us on a very special journey to realise and feel the harm that the ‘ghost’ of Boko Haram is still doing in the region.”
Sidhanta, a fisherman in Assam, has been fighting to protect the Hoolock Gibbons, India’s fast-vanishing ape species, in his village. However, this endearing tale of human-animal coexistence is threatened when a nearby oilfield disrupts the delicate ecosystem and his relationship with the Hoolocks, who are dying at an alarming rate.
Ragini Nath is a documentary filmmaker from Northeast India whose work is a medley of visual imagery and reflective storytelling on resource politics and climate justice. Chinmoy Sonowal is a filmmaker exploring visual storytelling through creative documentaries, with a keen interest in the environment and wildlife.
When Ragini and Chimnoy heard they were finalist’s, they said: “When we opened the email, it took us a few seconds to register what just happened! We are so overwhelmed and honoured that our film is one of the finalists for The Whickers. This means so much to us and will be such an amazing platform to showcase our story from the corners of Northeast India.”
Jane Mote, Editorial Consultant at The Whickers and a member of our judging panel said: “This a film that has so much too offer – stunning scenery, natural history (with a rare colony of gibbons seen up close) and a community that celebrates the environmental riches surrounding them. But the realities of the outside world, and the choices that individuals have to make to balance their short-term needs with the longer-term needs of nature become the driving narrative that casts a shadow over the fragility of their lives. This is a relatable, accessible story told with wit and humanity, which is a mirror for us all.”
Grieving his parents’ untimely deaths, filmmaker Toby Bull digs up their diaries and home videos, discovering the abuse they faced as children – and their hopes of healing through a secretive psychotherapy movement called Re-Evaluation Counselling. Interviewing his parents’ surviving friends and undergoing RC therapy himself, Toby grapples with this controversial organisation, in the hope that it will help him to understand and overcome his own traumatic childhood.
Toby Bull is an award-winning English filmmaker whose films have screened internationally at festivals like Visions du Réel, Viennale, MoMI First Look, and Hamptons IFF, and who is currently making work about his parents’ untimely deaths and their participation in a secretive psychotherapy movement.
When Toby heard he was a finalist, he said: “Wow! I’ve been sitting with this story for many years so I’m extremely excited to be nominated for The Whickers and to receive such an amazing opportunity to start sharing this project with the wider world.”
Jo Lapping, Head of Factual Acquisitions at the BBC and a member of our judging panel said: “We were moved by the multiple layers of this personal story; the emotional twists and turns it offers along the way combined with the social history of a particular moment in time. We were also impressed by the Director’s written treatment which showed the potential for an insightful and compelling voice.”
Raised up as a tomboy during the conservative 1990s in China, Viv Li now lives in the progressive city of Berlin, and she couldn’t be more troubled by the pressure of sexual and gender exploration. Following her encounters and journey back to Beijing, the film takes a witty yet sharp look on how two polarised cultures and political systems are affecting the way we live, while providing a humorous dialogue between the two societies, and within Viv herself.
Viv Li, Chinese filmmaker. She likes to joke, but please take her seriously.
When Viv heard she was a finalist, she said: “This is one of the best news of 2022 so far! I am very overwhelmed to be one of the only five finalists. Sheffield, we are coming!”
Oli Harbottle, Head of Distribution and Acquisitions at Dogwoof and a member of our judging panel said: “We were all incredibly taken with ‘Two Mountains Weighing Down My Chest’, which offers a refreshingly light-hearted and idiosyncratic look at the complexity of cultural differences. Viv Li’s singular style and lightness of touch really shone through in her pitch materials.”
When raising a kid as a homeless single mother in Tbilisi becomes too hard, Jana decides to become a surrogate mother for foreign families to provide her daughter with a secure life she’s never had.
Ketevan Vashagashvili is a Georgian documentary filmmaker and Chevening scholar, her work concentrates mostly on social and human rights issues.
When Ketevan heard she was a finalist, she said:“I am thrilled and excited to return to the UK after my studies already as a Whickers finalist!”
Olivier Tournaud, Managing Director of Cinephil, and member of our judging panel said: “I think this subject is fascinating. I can’t remember ever having seen a film like this before. I felt the filmmaker had a really close and comfortable relationship with her subject.”
I Want to Kill My Grandfather | Lilyana Torres & Carlos Morales
The director’s approach using a detective and a film crew to uncover her family’s past is witty and compelling. But, beneath the conceit of her mission, she is deadly serious about uncovering Mexico’s criminal underworld and the effect it has on families. Here is a film that works on many levels and makes a difficult subject accessible.
Sharing the same birthday is not the only coincidence between the two, both are documentary filmmakers that tell intimate, moving stories. Lilyana Torres has worked as Development Executive and Creative Producer with work that expands into hybrid formats. Carlos Morales is a screenwriter dedicated to telling stories about migration and queer experiences. His protagonists have been heard at different festivals such as Sundance, Berlinale, and Hot Docs.
Upon hearing she was a finalist, Lilyana told us: “I have no words!”
Sam Soko, a documentary filmmaker based in Nairobi, Kenya, and a member of our judging panel said: “Stylistically it pushes the genre in a direction I find really appealing and interesting. I found the comparisons to Mexican B Movies in the trailer made me chuckle the whole time. The personal layers of the story add huge potential.”
Nasser, a former child soldier from Yemen, is doing everything he can to prevent his two younger brothers following in his footsteps. He struggles to find a way to support his family and contend with his older brother’s trauma. This deeply humane film provides unique access to a country that is rarely seen beyond the headlines.
Mariam Al-Dhubhani is an award-winning Yemeni journalist and filmmaker based in the MENA region.
When Mariam discovered she was a finalist, she told us: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be selected as a finalist! I can’t wait to share this news with my team and celebrate together. Thank you so much for this opportunity!”
Sam Soko, a documentary filmmaker based in Nairobi, Kenya, and a member of our judging panel said: “We don’t get many films from Yemeni filmmakers and it’s a world I had no idea about, the access is super powerful. The lead subject, Nasser, is also really interesting to watch.”
A highly original take on an adoption of a Ukrainian child by a Spanish couple followed for nearly a decade of filming. The story comes to a crux as the child, now 15, is deciding whether to return to her war-torn country and join her older sister, or be adopted in Spain. This story stood out for its universal themes and the Director’s flair as a filmmaker.
Francisco Montoro is a researcher, filmmaker, and educator from Spain, with a passion for combining creativity and teaching, and a track record of award-winning short films showcased at international festivals.
When Francisco heard he was a finalist, he said: “I’m so excited about being a finalist at The Whickers! It is such an honor!”
Raul Niño Zambrano, Acting Creative Director and Head of Film Programmes at Sheffield DocFest, and member of our judging panel said: “This film made me really curious, I’ve heard stories about these themes before but watching the trailer I was like “wow, the framing!”, it’s got a great energy and is visually dynamic.”
Keisha Knight, Director of Funds at the International Documentary Association (IDA), and member of our judging panel said: “The proposal to give Karolina the camera in the coming months was an interesting shift that really convinced me about the project.”
When Zahraa was nine years old, she witnessed her best friend Noor being dragged away by her family, never to be seen again. This powerful and compelling investigation into the ‘disappeared’ women and children of Iraq does not flinch from discussing the complicity of other women within the system. The Iraqi Director says that “it is time to be freed of the frames that the media has always tried to squeeze us in”.
Zahraa Ghandour is a filmmaker, producer, and independent actor. She is the executive producer and co-founder of KARADA films production company based in Baghdad. Starting her career as a writer, TV presenter, and TV documentaries director, she also built a freelance career as a director and producer over the past decade. As an actor, she has won several international awards for roles in productions on Channel 4 and Hulu. She was one of the International Emerging Film Talents Association’s Global Film Expression initiative winners in 2021.
When Zahraa found out she was a finalist, she told us that “Being part of The Whickers is exactly what we need at this stage of our project”.
Jo Lapping, Head of Factual Acquisitions at the BBC and member of our judging panel said: “The narrative of this project works so well. I want to know what happens. You get drawn into a hidden world that we very rarely hear about. Being able to hear these women’s voices is powerful and crucially important.”