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Recognising innovation in filmmaking in the 2017 AHRC Research in Film Awards

Date: 06/11/2017

From an animation that anonymises food bank users, to a rare glimpse inside an Israeli hair salon through the ‘abandoned camera technique’ – this year’s entries for the 2017 Innovation Award does not disappoint.

Tackling a diverse range of issues from politics to poverty, motherhood and the issues surrounding music and copyright – the judges were looking for films that showcase technical innovations or methodologies in filmmaking as well as those which challenge our perceptions of the world around us.

Here’s a rundown of the five films that have been nominated for demonstrating imaginative or inventive filmmaking.

Mining the Memories: Coke Not Coal

Jennifer Granville (Leeds Beckett University)

Mining the Memories: Coke Not Coal is a lively and captivating film about the emotions and anger felt towards Margaret Thatcher by mining communities in South Yorkshire. The film was made in collaboration with both ex-miners and those from mining communities and it’s this collaboration that is one of the unique aspects of this film, which utilises their knowledge and experiences.  Interestingly, the participants were all unfamiliar with screenwriting or filmmaking techniques but were involved in the process.

Filmmaker Jennifer Granville, said: “Coke Not Coal is part of an ambitious research project carried out by the Northern Film School, which produced five live action dramas, an animation and two documentaries, all authored by members of ex-mining communities who were invited to examine their experience of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike and the effect on their lives today, via the medium of filmmaking. Coke Not Coal is written by Tony Goodwin, an ex-miner and poet and revisits the day of Margaret Thatcher’s state funeral and the way it was celebrated by residents of Goldthorpe – and uses the event to reflect, in Goodwin’s blisteringly caustic screenplay, on the current landscape of the lost mining communities.

“Being nominated for this AHRC Award for Coke Not Coal is very exciting for all of us who were involved in the project, as all the individual films were developed out of experimental, collaborative methodologies.”

Hunger By the Sea

Sue Sudbury (Bournemouth University)

As to be expected, this category received a number of animations, but Hunger by the Sea is one of two animations that has been shortlisted by the judges for demonstrating imaginative processes.

Hunger by the Sea provides a unique platform for the voices of food bank users to be heard, and to discover the stories and struggles of those that frequent them.

The decision to use animation allowed those using a food bank in a British seaside town to talk openly to the filmmakers while remaining anonymous.

Food banks are becoming a feature of British life where ‘law-abiding tax-paying citizens are having to resort to coming to these places just to live’, and are prevalent in seaside towns due to the seasonal nature of local jobs.

Sue Sudbury, a Senior Lecturer in the Media Faculty at Bournemouth University, and research lead on this project, explained that her student researcher, Charlie, spent several weeks volunteering in three local food banks but it became clear that people were very ashamed about their need to resort to a food bank and would not be comfortable being filmed on camera.

For this reason, Sue re-defined the project as an animation film and took on another co-researcher, Xue, an animation student.

“Deprivation in British seaside towns is well documented but no-one has researched through film the use of food banks and its location provided strong images as a backdrop for the subject. 

“This is the first time I have co-researched with students and I have found it an enriching experience.”

Going for a Song

Bartolomeo Meletti (University of Glasgow)

The CREATe film Going for a Song is the second and final animation in this category which explores a very different subject – the complex issues surrounding copyright, but it’s been done in such a way that makes it both engaging and easy to understand.

As one of the judges said: ‘the harmonious use of design, animation and sound’  makes it appear both simple and effortless when in fact it also manages to cleverly tell the story of Tina and Ben, a music composer and a lyricist who create an original song and discuss how to market it. As Bartolomeo Meletti, Lead Producer of CopyrightUser.org for CREATe, the RCUK Centre for Copyright and New Business Models in the Creative Economy, based at the University of Glasgow, explains: “Decisions around creating and distributing music are influenced heavily by perceptions ­and often misconceptions ­ about copyright law.”

Bartolomeo adds: “Going for a Song is the result of an innovative production process. Instead of composing the music after finishing the animation (as we usually do), we did it the other way round: after writing the script, first we produced the track, and then we developed the video upon the music.

“The idea was to illustrate the journey of a song from its creation to its distribution, with a view to exploring the various copyright aspects of this journey. This is why we are particularly delighted to have been nominated for the AHRC Innovation Award: it is a prestigious recognition of the innovative techniques and approaches we adopt to make research more accessible and engaging to communities beyond academia.'

The Shampoo Summit

Iris Zaki (Royal Holloway, University of London)

In the Shampoo Summit viewers get an interesting glimpse of a hair salon in Haifa, Israel, where inside, away from the surrounding racism and politics, Arab and Jewish women enjoy a shared and harmonious experience.

Filmmaker Iris Zaki used what she terms the ‘Abandoned Camera’ technique, where a fixed, unmanned camera has been set up to help reduce the awareness of the subjects being filmed, and as a result the women talk with ease about Israeli history, politics, life and love, whilst Iris shampoos their hair.

Iris explains how one of the core elements of this method is in ‘challenging the traditional position of the filmmaker, by positioning them within the community and occupying an active, commercial role – such as a hotel’s receptionist or a hair­washer in a hair salon.

Iris adds: “My film is a result of a long academic and creative journey, which has allowed me both to make documentaries and to reflect on the process of making them, with all its ethical and artistic dimensions. Being selected for the AHRC awards means a great deal to me. These awards provide a much-needed recognition of the importance of creative practice as research.”

Mothers Make Contemporary Art

Professor Susan Hogan (University of Derby)

The Birth Project utilises the arts to explore the complex and emotive subject of the trauma sometimes associated with childbirth.

Hearing the stories and seeing the eight mothers discuss and develop their own personal work during the contemporary artist led sessions is not just insightful, but instrumental in helping to confront what is still a taboo issue. The filming took place over 12-weeks and has been edited in a way that addresses the research questions.

Professor Susan Hogan said: "I am delighted that Mothers Make Contemporary Art has been nominated because the distress caused by insensitive medical practices and hospital protocols which can override what women (and couples) want, is very real and long lasting, with negative consequences for the development of children; so this shortlisting will help to highlight these important issues. The film also illustrates how revivifying new mothers found the opportunity to make art and develop an arts practice with the workshops led by Lisa Watts. Furthermore, the shortlisting draws attention to the exciting Creative Practice as Mutual Recovery research consortium, of which this is a part.”

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