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Spotlight On...the new category for RIFA 2017: The International Development Award

Date: 27/10/2017

In June this year, the AHRC organised its first International Development Summit  in London where policymakers, NGO’s and academics came together to share and learn more about how arts and humanities can play a fundamental role in many of the global challenges of our time.

It seems only timely then, that the special category for the 2017 Research in Film Awards is on this very subject; and ties in with some of our key international funding schemes such as the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and Newton Fund.

The International Development Award: Mobilising Global Voices is designed to help showcase and enhance public knowledge around some of the issues in developing countries. The films shortlisted for this award give a voice to those who are in the grip of these obstacles as they seek to find a solution to the challenges that they and their community may face. The subjects covered range from the effects of climate change and displacement to important and emerging cultural shifts – particular in terms of attitudes towards young women.

So, without further ado, here are the five films that have been shortlisted for this exciting category, where film has proven to be a vital medium for telling these stories and providing insight and previously unseen footage.

Zanzibar Soccer Dreams

Florence Ayisi (University of South Wales) and Catalin Brylla (University of West London)


Imagine, just because of your love for a sport such as football, that you were insulted and called ‘immoral’ – this was the reality for women in Zanzibar, where they were branded hooligans for playing a sport that is enjoyed and watched by millions around the world. This film documents the personal and societal shift, in this predominately Muslim society, where up until fairly recently, the participation of Muslim girls in sport was still largely frowned upon.

As a result of the vision of Nassra Mohamed, founder and coach of the first female football team on the Island, Muslim school girls can now play football and it has also been introduced in schools. This film shows some of the many benefits that playing sport has on the lives of young women.

Florence Ayisi who was born in Cameroon, Central Africa, is Professor of International Documentary Film at the Faculty of Creative Industries, University of South Wales, as well as an award-winning documentary filmmaker.

Professor Ayisi, said: “Making Zanzibar Soccer Dreams allowed me to continue the effort to highlight the challenges that women and girls there faced in the country, and how they were up against insults…and cultural challenges.

“The film shows changes in both the individuals featured, and the society they live in, as women’s soccer moved from the streets to the playing fields of government schools where young Muslim girls can now equally participate in soccer as part of sports education.”

The Damara King's Festival

Sian Sullivan (Bath Spa University)


Described by one of the judges as ‘Great fun, and a rare opportunity to look into the cultural world of a relatively unknown part of Africa,’ this film by Professor of Environment and Culture at Bath Spa University, Sian Sullivan, helps to captivate the imagination and showcase the excitement of the Damara King’s Festival , an annual festival which is now in its 37th year, where Damara people gather to sing and dance, eat, and receive counsel from their king.

Sian is an environmental anthropologist who has carried out ethnographic research in Namibia for more than 20 years. Her current collaborative AHRC research project, Future Pasts, includes filmwork by the Namibian organisation Mamokobo as an integral part of the project's documentation of heritage practices regarding places and landscapes in west Namibia.

Sian was born in Uganda, has lived in Swaziland, and although now based in Bath remains committed to research on past and future environmental sustainabilities in Namibia.

Sian said: “In 2016 the festival took place at the end of an intense three-year drought. Calling for rain formed a major focus of the festival which, in a potent moment of relief and gratitude, was blessed by the first showers of the season. 

“Overall, the festival is an annual ritual of renewal enabling performers and audience alike to ‘think aloud’ about their identities, histories and imaginaries for the future. It is not staged for outside consumption. The Namibian film organisation Mamokobo, through the AHRC-funded research project Future Pasts and in collaboration with the Damara King’s Festival Organising Committee, is therefore privileged to have made the first filmed record of this event.” 

Tabuluja (Wake up)

Jasper Chalcraft (University of Sussex) together with Rose Satiko Hikiji and Shambuyi Wetu


Opening with the line ‘Wake up, wake up my brothers, wake up and understand how powerful we are,’ this film explores elements of racism and the mistreatment of black people, as well as other  key narratives including the representations of history and self-image.

Made by Jasper Chalcraft, University of Sussex (and European University Institute), with Rose Satiko Hikiji (University of São Paulo, visiting scholar at SOAS University of London) and Shambuyi Wetu, (an artist from the Democratic Republic of Congo and a refugee in São Paulo who has constructed narratives about the diaspora experience), this film is part of a larger project developed by Rose and Jasper, ‘Being/Becoming African in Brazil: migrating musics and heritages’.

Jasper said: “This film was a shared project developed with Shambuyi and Rose, and is primarily Shambuyi’s response to how heritage, the artworld, racism and refugee politics are interwoven in Brazil. At the same time its themes are deeply transnational, but it was the process of making the film together that remains particularly important to us. As Shambuyi narrates, ‘We are still bound’, to the legacies of colonialism and commodity extraction, and also to the deeper problems inherent to the image-making that we all participate in. Being shortlisted for the award tells us that maybe we haven’t been barking up the wrong tree, and offers the tantalizing possibility of extending our collaborative work further”.

Jasper adds: “At the same time [the film] casts light on how audiences engage with identity, alterity and contemporary art, through a critical representation of selfie-culture and the continuing exoticisation of blackness and 'Africanity'.”

My FGM Story

Judy Aslett (University of Sussex)


This documentary sheds light on a very difficult and emotive subject, which through the engaging presenter, Halimatou Ceesay, a student and journalist from the Gambia, shares some of the disturbing stories of female genital mutilation (FGM), including that of her own experience.  Halimatou interviews members of her family, friends, a religious leader and seeks out the woman who cut her, in a bid to question and challenge this practice.

The film was made in collaboration with the NGO "Safe Hands for Girls", a group of young men and women based in The Gambia. Filmmaker, Judy Aslett, who began her career as a TV news correspondent specialising in foreign affairs, is a Teaching Fellow at Sussex University and combines this role with her research into FGM in The Gambia.

Not only does this film show the courage of Halimatou, but it has also had a very positive impact in the wider community, Judy explains: “From September 2016 the Safe Hands for Girls group  has been showing the film in schools to boys and girls aged 13-15 in an attempt to persuade them not to cut their girls when they go on to have families.

“The group has reported back that it has been very useful for them in opening up a debate and showing young people that they have a choice. It has inspired young people to talk to their own families about how to change their culture to end FGM.”

The Lived Experience of Climate Change: A Story of One Piece of Land in Dhaka

Dr Joanne Catherine Jordan (University of Manchester) and Ehsan Kabir (Green Ink)

Climate change is without doubt one of the most pressing issues of our time, and this documentary explores the effects of climate change on slum dwellers in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which, like many poor areas, has a high vulnerability to flooding, drainage congestion and heat stress.

As part of her research on climate change, Dr Joanne Jordan, an Independent Climate Resilience Consultant, Honorary Research Fellow at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester and a Visiting Researcher at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Independent University Bangladesh, spent months in the slums of Dhaka interviewing over 600 people.

These findings were then utilised in a colourful and thought-provoking theatrical form to raise awareness of the issues around climate change. Joanne worked with the University of Dhaka to develop an interactive theatre performance known as Pot Gan, ‘one of the earliest forms of storytelling which has been performed for generations in Bangladesh’ which has managed to engage a wide range of audiences.

Project Coordinator, Dr Joanne Jordan, said: “I am really delighted that ‘The Lived Experience of Climate Change’ has been shortlisted by the AHRC for the International Development Award. The project uses indigenous performance theatre and film to raise some of the voices and stories from the communities living on the frontline of climate change.

"Being shortlisted for an AHRC award provides crucial support and recognition of the important role of film and performance theatre in challenging audiences to actively engage with the personal experiences of slum dwellers affected by climate change in Dhaka."

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