Film & TV Funding Award Finalists 2024


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 16th June 2024. Click on the images below for further details on the five outstanding projects.

Camels of the Sea | Vikram Singh

Camels of the Sea

Highness and Excellency | Sajad Imani

Highness and Excellency

One of Us | Rachel Close

One Of Us

Replica | Chouwa Liang


The Cord | Myriam Guillot

The Cord
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.”

Le Spectre de Boko Haram | Cyrielle Raingou

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.

Our Hoolocks | Ragini Nath & Chinmoy Sonowal

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.”

Re-Evaluation | Toby Bull

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.”

Two Mountains Weighing Down My Chest | Viv Li

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.”

9 Month Contract | Ketevan Vashagashvili

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.”

Let’s Play Soldiers | Mariam Al-Dhubhani

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.”

The Silence of the Ants | Francisco Montoro

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.”

Women of My Life | Zahraa Ghandour

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.”

Camels of the Sea | Vikram Singh

Adam Abdrehman’s family are amongst the last in the world to herd a special breed of swimming camels called the Kharai. In the face of rampant and often illegal industrialization on India’s western coast, Adam struggles to keep his family, his camels and his sense of self together.

Vikram Singh is a documentary filmmaker and journalist based in New Delhi whose main areas of interest include conservation and environmental issues, with a special focus on human-animal conflict and co-existence.

Vikram said “It’s an incredible feeling to have made it this far, and excited to share our story with the Whickers jury and also the audience at the Sheffield DocFest. Thank you for supporting the project!’

David Green, a British film and television director, now living and working in Hollywood said “I was moved by this beautiful film and overwhelmed by how well the director mixes people, animals and the age old issues of the environment and war.”

Highness and Excellency | Sajad Imani

For over a decade in a conservative Iranian town, Rahim and Halima have faced infertility, prompting Rahim to turn to illegal boxing to fund fertility treatments. When hope dwindles, they defy societal norms by hiring a surrogate and staging Halima’s pregnancy, navigating love, sacrifice, and the unwavering pursuit of their deepest desire: to build a family.

Sajad Imani is an award-winning Iranian writer, director, and editor who has made several outstanding documentary and short fiction films. His works as editor have been recognised in numerous national and international festivals, including IDFA, Venice IFF, DMZ IDFF, and Big SKY. 

When Sajid  heard that he was a finalist his reaction was “YES! We made it, I can’t wait to prepare for the pitching.” 

Robin Smith, CEO of Blue Ice Docs Inc, and Whickers judge said  “This film blew me away, beyond the drama that is going on in their lives and the gender roles that are being examined,  I was captivated to see where this story goes”.

One of Us | Rachel Close

Adopted in the 90’s by a family from Teesside, Rachel returns to Romania to help a stranger search for her birth mother. Forced to confront truths about her own adoption from one of Ceausescu’s ‘dungeons of neglect’, Rachel’s search evolves into a transformative personal reckoning after uncovering the truth about her own mother’s role in the traumatic fates that befell her and her sisters.

Rachel Close (Taparjan) is a British- Romanian film maker, Social worker and Therapeutic practitioner living and working in Middlesbrough England; adopted as a baby and in foster care as a teenager, she is on a mission to merge pedagogy, play and creativity to all her work, in service to healing and belonging. 

She said “I feel incredibly lucky to have made it to the Whickers final five, considered alongside all the other fantastic submissions from around the world- as the late great Alan (Whicker) once said, ‘Luck is everything'” 

Fozia Kahn, Head of Unscripted at Amazon Studios UK and one of our judging panel said “I had a very emotional response to this film.  I found the way the film looks at how we understand, deal with and process early trauma today, extremely interesting”.

Replica | Chouwa Liang

Realising I could never meet my ex-boyfriend’s lofty expectations for long legs, perfect cooking skills, and endless patience, I turned to seek a more reliable relationship with my AI boyfriend. Millions of women in China, just like me, are taking risks by entrusting their deepest secrets to AI lovers due to a profound yearning for unconditional love – ‘Replica’ is their story.

Chouwa Liang, a documentary filmmaker from Beijing, delves into modern intimate relationships in China through a unique female lens.

On hearing that she had it to the final, she said “This is a significant acknowledgment for us, and I can’t wait to share this fantastic news with the team. We are eager to bring our project to life and showcase it to the world.”

Jane Mote, Consultant Editor for The Whickers said “This film looks at what appears to be missing for women in China.  Men are not giving them what they want so they are willing to risk themselves on a platform which is taking their data as well.  This is a fascinating story around loneliness as well as ethical issues”

The Cord | Myriam Guillot

In Maracaibo, Venezuela, we see that the health system is broken and life hangs by a thread. In her make-shift ambulance, ex-revolutionary figure and former gang leader Carolina relentlessly maintains the vital cord between pregnant women and their babies.

Myriam Guillot has been a director and DOP for short formats in both France and Latin America for the past ten years.

On hearing the news she said “Finally, I get the opportunity to take the leap into my first artistic and character-driven feature film, while raising awareness about women’s sexual and reproductive rights!”.

Ibrahim Nashat, Whickers judge and multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker  based in Berlin, Germany said  “This is a beautiful film that is composed of so much beyond what has already been filmed.  A heroic story of one, that once had a dark side, and is now trying to heal and help others heal. It’s a beautiful metaphor, which is needed in the world today.”