Since the pandemic began, opportunities for documentary makers to meet and share their work have been few and far between. For those in the audio documentary community, such events have been virtually non-existent. Therefore, it was wonderful that despite the challenges, so many were able to attend The Whickers’ Audio Documentary Showcase at Bertha DocHouse on November 10th. Curtis Gallant returned to the organisation he helped establish to bring you this report:
The Whickers’ Artistic Director Jane Ray hosted a veritable feast of audio delights, beginning with an amuse-bouche sourced from the UCL audio documentary course she has been running with former BBC colleague Zillah Watson. Two of their brave students, Jake Walker and Zoe Andrews, let us showcase their debuts in the world of audio, on the subject of “The thing I failed to throw away”. Things which you fail to throw away often reveal so much more about yourself than those which you choose to keep. This was the case here, with two novice documentarians crafting audio nonfiction with skill and inventiveness well beyond what one would expect. Why not make your own foray into the world of audio documentary using this prompt? All you need is a smartphone and a free audio editing programme, such as Audacity.
It was intriguing to hear the work of last year’s RAFA winner and runner-up, Mads Mordigan and Priyanka Gaikwad. Both weave audio tapestries which take us into previously unexplored worlds, continents apart. Mads took us Back and North to Macclesfield where we were introduced to Jessika, a professional sex worker and amateur stand-up comic who was 3 years into transition. Jessika had felt forced out of her hometown by transphobia but took the brave decision to return. Meanwhile, Priyanka used a soundscape to transport the audience to her native India. Her documentary highlights the Unmatched Lives of women who face societal and economic pressures to marry and to do so within their caste. Both are still working on their projects and the showcase provided an unparalleled opportunity for them to share their progress and get feedback from peers in the audio documentary community. From what we heard, there are a couple of moving, provocative and insightful documentaries in the works. Watch this space.
The main course of the evening’s aural buffet was the presentation of the winning documentary from 2019’s RAFA (Radio and Audio Funding Award): A Perfect Match by Ibby Caputo. In 2019, the Arkansas journalist had won over the judges with a story which is both globally relevant and deeply personal. This poignant and necessary documentary charts Ibby’s own experience of searching for a bone marrow donor and contrasts it with the difficulties faced by people of colour in similar situations. She exposes the deep inequities in American healthcare, combining incisive journalism with moments of heartrending emotion. To listen to it in a cinema, with the audience illuminated only by the subtitles on screen, was a captivating experience. Humans have always gathered together to hear stories, and numerous attendees remarked how rewarding it was to be able to do so after such testing times. If you didn’t make it to the showcase and would like to share in the experience: dim your lights and get ready for a potent 26 and a half minutes of audio. Ibby’s documentary, heard by large audiences on the BBC World Service, PBS and at medical schools, has already led to an uptick in the registration of bone marrow donors. Let no-one doubt the power of audio documentary.
Audience Q&As, as well as complimentary drinks in the bar, created a space for this tight-knit audio community to share their ideas, as well as catch up on what they had been working on during lockdown. It was marvellous to be joined by the likes of Falling Tree CEO Alan Hall, 2021 RAFA runner-up Talia Augustidis and Chair of our Awards Committee, Valerie Kleeman, who made the journey from France.
Ibby Caputo’s sentiments capture the evening’s atmosphere: “The Showcase reminded me of the type of cozy, celebratory events that take place at the HearSay Festival in Ireland. Despite the fact that tens of millions of people heard A Perfect Match, I don’t get much feedback from listeners. So to have the opportunity to sit in a room filled with listeners, where I could sense and hear their reactions, and then get the chance to answer their very thoughtful questions was just wonderful. The reception afterwards was lovely too. One of the finalists from this year’s RAFA actually said to me that she had listened to A Perfect Match three times (!) prior to that evening, but usually while doing something else. She said having the opportunity to sit and focus entirely on the piece while reading the subtitles helped her hear things she hadn’t heard before.”
So next time you listen to an audio documentary, why not give it your full attention – you might be surprised at what you pick up on. And if you haven’t yet had the inimitable experience of sitting in a dark room, full of strangers, listening to something which moves you…there’s always next year’s RAFA.
The RAFA is awarded annually to an emerging audio producer based anywhere in the world to create an original radio or audio documentary of between 28-45 minutes. The application must fulfil the core criteria detailed here. A main award of up to £6,000 including mentorship from a top industry professional will be awarded to an audio documentary-maker to produce a feature-length programme.
Missed the event in person? You can see the recording of the whole evening HERE.
Curtis Gallant first helped to establish The Whickers in 2015 at Sheffield Doc/Fest. He is a freelance producer who currently divides his time between working for the BBC’s HARDtalk and Cat Flap Media.