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Spotlight on...the shortlist for the Best Doctoral Award or Early Career Film

Date: 20/10/2017

Film has the power to represent voices that are often powerless or forgotten. The five films shortlisted for the Best Doctoral Award or Early Career Film at this year’s Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Research in Film Awards provide, in different ways, a portrayal of these diverse stories and viewpoints.

All of the films, which were produced as a result of AHRC funding, provide a profound insight into the lives and communities which may not be so commonly known, thanks to the powerful combination of research and film.

Read on to find out more about the shortlisted films for the Best Doctoral or Early Career Film – which saw a number of high-quality entries demonstrating the breadth and scope of arts and humanities research.

A Queering of Memory: Parts 1 & 2

Timothy Smith (The University of the Arts London)

Giant’s Causeway as featured in A Queering of Memory

With an almost poetic quality, this film questions the role of memory and story-telling, and how there can essentially be ‘two versions of one truth’ which is often distorted by factors such as time and distance.

The film presents two very distinct narratives where a feud has been a central focus. The first part provides a queer reading of a popular mythological tale related to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, while the second is based on the opposing memories and truth of a family feud on opposite sides of the world.

The film was produced as part of an AHRC funded, practice-based Doctoral Research Project at The University of the Arts London, by London-based artist/filmmaker, Timothy Smith, who has previously worked at the British Film Institute before beginning his research degree in 2016.

Timothy said: “Listening to (and truly hearing) those who have been represented unfairly by history is key to my approach to both the theoretical and practical aspects of my research.

“Through an ongoing series of audio-visual experiments, I will engage with different ‘historical’ and mythological narratives that have been previously presented through a white, heteronormative, patriarchal lens and attempt to subvert them.”

Quantified Life

Btihaj Ajana (King's College, London)

Bringing to life the pros and cons of self-monitoring and health management, this documentary explores the self-tracking practices and habits of a dedicated self-quantifier, Thomas Blomseth Christiansen from Denmark. As well as showcasing his own methods of using digital data, the documentary also questions the benefits and implications of this increasingly popular technology, from the perspective of leading experts in this field.

Thomas believes that self-tracking has ‘turned him into a better listener of his own body;’ enabling him to successfully manage his health and allergies over the past eight years, and in many ways, essentially diminishing the role of the doctor or GP.

One of the judges commented that this was a “very strong overview of a significant but little discussed development in how we live (and are increasingly likely to live) while capturing the range of different views generated by the research.”

Northern Irish Masculinity: Wounds and the Peace Process

Edwin Coomasaru (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

It will  be 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement in 2018, which makes Edwin Coomasaru’s short film on the ‘The Troubles’ particularly timely.

Edwin’s research, funded by AHRC, explores Northern Irish masculinities and the legacy of the ‘Troubles’ in contemporary art and visual culture, between 2005-15.

His film explores the idealised images of conflict – the way that men were rarely depicted with blood (unless they were victims or the classic ‘injured hero’), but rather as strong and unbreakable, as Edwin says: “I argue that the societal idealisation of men as stoic, strong soldiers helped cultivate the conflict.”

“When the legacy of the conflict urgently needs to be worked through, my documentary contributes to public understanding of the aftermath of the ‘Troubles’ through the lens of masculinity – an understudied topic in its own right.”

This is a very thought-provoking film, which makes you question how art can easily sway public opinion or provoke a spate of propaganda, whether intentionally or not.

Schrödinger’s Shoreditch

Matthew Holman (University College London)

A still from the film Schrödinger’s Shoreditch

There’s something almost heart-warming about this film which focuses on a parish and small community in Shoreditch, London which is under threat by the proposal of a luxury high-rise housing development. The Reverend of St. Leonards parish explains about the housing plans and how they will essentially be of no benefit to the locals or the community due to it being unaffordable and as a result, the film raises much wider policy issues around housing and indeed homelessness.

The film interweaves testimonies from church volunteers and those recovering from homelessness, along with readings from poets, making it “at once a celebration of artistic collaboration and an indictment of failing housing policy in the East End.”

Producer Matthew Holman, was walking past his local parish church when he met Robin Hatton-Gore, St Leonard’s verger who explained how the proposals would block light access to the Boundary Estate (the oldest example of social housing in London), which would ‘accelerate rather than alleviate the desperate housing problem in the area’. “I was inspired by what Robin and others in the “More Light More Power” campaign were doing, and wondered how to help narrate the exhibition’s development and aims.

“I’m delighted to be shortlisted for the Research in Film awards, especially against such a rich and diverse background of contributions. This short film was a collaboration with UCL alumni, Ellen Evans, and is about poetry, lost and found cats, and taking on the powers that be. Ellen and I are looking forward to representing UCL at the awards ceremony in November.” 

Unearthing Elephant

Sarah Butler (Open University)

This is a touching documentary which provides a platform for the stories and memories of those who had, or continue to have, a strong affinity to this distinct shopping centre in south London which is in jeopardy of being demolished and replaced with 1,000 new homes, a pedestrianised town centre, a market square and outdoor retail units.

As Sarah Butler, a novelist and AHRC funded Creative Writing PhD candidate , who worked with local artists on the film, explains, “Regeneration narratives are quick to write off places like Elephant and Castle shopping centre as unprofitable and out-of-date, but as our film, Unearthing Elephant, shows, this space has real value for many people.

“The film creates a platform for a multiplicity of people whose voices are often unheard or ignored within the regeneration processes, and who feel powerless in the face of regeneration.”

Despite being seen as old fashioned and ugly and in need of regeneration, The Elephant and Castle shopping centre has helped to foster many small businesses and serves an important community function, and this film provides a somewhat political message about the importance of these local spaces.

On receiving the news about the awards, Sarah said: “Myself and my collaborators are thrilled to have been shortlisted for the awards and excited that Unearthing Elephant will reach a wider audience as a result.”


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