On Thursday 5th September 2019, The Whickers finalists, team, judges, and fans of great storytelling, gathered at the Regent Street Cinema for a cornucopia of audio events, starting with the annual Radio & Audio Funding Award pitch. The event formed part of the annual Open City Documentary Festival, and by the end of the day, one deserving finalist walked away with £7,000 to make their audio documentary a reality, and a runner-up received a £3,000 contribution. Finalists travelled to London from a small island off the coast of Denmark, Brisbane, and Arkansas, to pitch in the world’s only annual, free-to-enter, non-fiction audio award of it’s kind.
After a warm introduction from Artistic Director of The Whickers Jane Ray, comedian and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli takes over presenting duties. Hardeep reminds us that while Alan Whicker may have made his name in TV, his heart was in audio storytelling. He wanted to make a difference to how little funding goes into new documentary radio talent compared to TV and film. The judges this year include Senior Commissioning Editor at the BBC World Service Steve Titherington, In the Dark founder Nina Garthwaite and Overcoat Media’s Creative Director Steven Rajam.
First up to pitch is Ibby Caputo with A Perfect Match, an incredibly personal story about her own experience of having a bone marrow transplant to treat an aggressive form of leukaemia, and the close friendship she forms with fellow patient Terika. A Perfect Match shares the personal story behind the statistics of who is more likely to find a perfect donor, of who is more likely to survive and who is more likely to die. Ibby’s story shines a light on the larger issue of epistemic injustice in healthcare. In the judges’ questions after the pitch, Steve Titherington asks Ibby whether “over-building” the story is a concern for her. Ibby explains that in order to tell the story well, she wants to find someone who is currently going through what she and Terika went through – and that she is still keen to meet Terika’s bone marrow donor.
Ade Bamgbala is next up with his documentary BLIND.ED (Blind Education), a story about identity, family and ‘third culture’ kids. Ade, a British-Nigerian man, wants to travel to Nigeria to meet his father for the first time in over 20 years and ask him ‘where have you been?’.
Navin Sam Regi then takes to the stage to pitch Hummingbird Stories, a deeply moving project set in one of Australia’s three children’s hospices. Navin discusses how uncommon it is “to hear stories about grief and bereavement, let alone the impending death of a child”. Hummingbird Stories is an effort to engage with the discourse around death and dying that is so desperately needed. After the pitch, judge Steven Rajam asks what form he expects the documentary will take and whether he will feature in the story himself. Navin explains that he plans on being in the story and that wants to structure the project as a three piece mini-series, the first episode following the story of a family whose child is dying, the second about Hummingbird house itself, and the third about the community supporting the family.
Then it’s Becca Bryers turn to pitch with Building the Wall. The piece follows Richard Gamble, ex-chaplain for Leicester City Football Club, who says he has received a message from God to build a national monument made of one million bricks, with each brick representing an answered prayer. Building the Wall follows Richard’s mammoth task of trying to fund and build the wall, as well as the personal impact of the project on his relationship with his own faith, his family and with himself.
Finally, Rikke Houd shares her project, I Am the River, the River Is Me. The story follows Rikke’s personal connection to the Whanganui river in New Zealand, the river’s complicated history and the special relationship between the river and the Maori community. By exploring why the river gained the legal rights of a human being in 2017 and discussing how the river can be listened to spoken for, Rikke wants to promote “a new form of eco-centric longform storytelling in podcasting.”
While the judges deliberate, the audience is treated to free drinks, a ‘Sonic Pub Quiz’ led by Pez Andrews and Geoff Marsh, as well as the world premiere of “It’s Not Easy Being Green… and Black” performed by last year’s RAFA winner Isis Thompson and composer Axel Kacoutié. After a no-doubt anxious wait from the finalists, it is revealed that going home with £7,000 this year is Ibby Caputo to make her audio documentary A Perfect Match. The runner up award of £3,000 goes to Navin Sam Regi for Hummingbird Stories.