RIFA 2018 – Best Research Film of the Year

We’ve revealed the shortlist for the 2018 Research in Film Awards (RIFA) and now we’re excited to give you a glimpse into each of the 25 nominated films. This week, as we lead up to the ceremony of the 2018 Research in Film Awards, we take a closer look at the five nominees for Best Research Film of the Year. Recognising the best film produced by a researcher or research team in the last year, the judges were looking for films which bring research to a wider audience and that help to highlight the value and importance of research in the arts and humanities.

Select a film to watch from this list of quick links:

The Born-Free Generation, Phendulani’s Story and Me - Professor Paul Cooke
Black Snow - Professor Stephen Andrew Linstead
The Faces We Lost - Dr Piotr Cieplak
Now Circa (1918) - Professor Redell Olsen
Grenfell Tower and Social Murder - Dr David Scott


The Born-Free Generation, Phendulani’s Story and Me

Professor Paul Cooke, University of Leeds

With the trailer shortlisted for the Social Media Short Award at RIFA 2018, this film utilises arts-based participatory-research and investigates the potential of community-led campaigns and how they can support participants to raise awareness of issues that are important to them and their community.

The film helped to engage vulnerable young people living in townships on the outskirts of Johannesburg to explore the legacy of apartheid and its impact on their place in society today. Many of the children involved in the project live on their own or in child-led households, their parents having died from the HIV/Aids pandemic. The film centres on the story of Phendulani, a young boy living in Vosloorus Township in South Africa, who was central to the filmmaking process throughout.

Phendulani is a new departure for filmmaker and Professor of World Cinemas, Paul Cooke. Like all his previous projects, it is the product of a process of coproduction, and was made in partnership with Phendulani, the film’s main protagonist, and other people who use the Lethi’Themba Youth Centre. Interestingly, the actual filmmaking process is used as the basis for documentary investigation.

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Black Snow

Professor Stephen Andrew Linstead, University of York

On December 12 1866, 361 men and boys were killed in an explosion at the Oaks Colliery in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Despite being the world’s worst industrial loss of life in the 19th century, this tragedy remained relatively unremembered until 2015, when a group of ex-miners, trade unionists, and local historians attempted to raise money to erect a memorial for its 150th anniversary.

Director Professor Stephen Linstead, who was a grandson of a Grimethorpe coal hewer that was imprisoned after the 1926 strike, adds that coal has been in the family blood since the 18th century in North Staffordshire where he read English at Keele. Stephen explains how the film drew on testimony of the time to create characters to voice their stories and integrates virtual reality sequences to recreate the disaster. “We also used new arrangements of a song written by a miner and a specially composed theme to express the texture of the mining culture in which that historical community was embedded.

“The film also tells the moving story of a politically forgotten post-industrial community struggling to recover itself in remembering the disaster, and a brilliant sculptor, on the brink of retirement, discovering himself anew in his efforts to make one last masterpiece: a memorial tribute to the surviving community in the striking figure of a mother and child, heading both in panic towards the stricken pit and in awe of the unknown future that awaits them.

“It’s unique to the arts that they can make us look simultaneously backwards and forwards in creating a living history that illuminates the present - and we hope will help to change it. We’re incredibly excited that a film that drew on the voluntary work of so many local people - ex-miners in particular - could be shortlisted for such a prestigious award, and it’s a continuing tribute to the spirit of that community.”

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The Faces We Lost

Dr Piotr Cieplak, University of Sussex

Praised by one of the judges for being: ‘Fascinating and harrowing in equal measure - a film I would encourage everyone to see’, The Faces We Lost is about how Rwandans use personal, private, family-album photographs to remember and commemorate the loved ones they lost in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Award-winning filmmaker and lecturer in filmmaking in the School of Media, Film and Music at the University of Sussex, Dr Piotr Cieplak said: “I am thrilled that The Faces We Lost has been nominated for the award, [which is] based on almost a decade of research. In the film, survivors, relatives of victims and professional memory-makers guide us through their stories and share their experiences and images.

“The main idea behind The Faces We Lost was to depart from the usual representational tropes of anonymous African suffering and engage with Rwandans as active users of images, rather than only their subjects.

“The timing of the nomination is particularly poignant as next April marks the 25th anniversary of the genocide.”

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Now Circa (1918)

Professor Redell Olsen, Royal Holloway, University of London

Now Circa (1918) is a film essay that quotes original archival research undertaken at John Rylands Suffrage Collection, Manchester and The Women’s Library, LSE. It embodies historical detail and texture relating to the material culture of the suffragettes: such as the handwritten inventory of costs for a march.

The film marks the one hundred year anniversary of female suffrage in the UK. The judges remarked that this was ‘an interesting, excellent and imaginative use of the medium of film to explore issues of feminism and explain the history of women’s suffrage.’

Two women and their counterparts one hundred years earlier are making banners on the eve of a march for women - the first for votes for women and the second for women's rights. Through their conversations and the presence of a mysterious poetic visitor, the film reflects on the parallels and differences between the concerns of women in the era of the suffragettes and women in the contemporary era of Trump and #MeToo.

Redell Olsen, professor of poetry and poetics at Royal Holloway, University of London where she teaches poetic practice on the MA in Creative Writing, said: “I am so pleased that Now Circa (1918) is included on the shortlist alongside so many other politically engaged films. It is great that the AHRC recognises the creative potential of film to articulate different models of research - including those that break with conventional narrative and documentary forms in the way Now Circa (1918) does.”

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Grenfell Tower and Social Murder

Dr David Scott, The Open University

This film is an account of the lead up to the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 and provides testimonies from survivors of the fire and their families. Grenfell Tower and Social Murder provides a direct intervention in contemporary debates and valuable sources of information about the fire from ‘the view from below’. The filming was undertaken by Hamlett Films after extensive research with survivors, survivor families and academics and explores the broader context of social harm and ‘social murder’- where people are harmed or die prematurely because of acts of omission or failures to provide assistance. Described by the judges as ‘totally engaging and powerful’ it provides an important contribution to the debate of one of the most controversial and politically significant events of the last decade.

The film was shot for the Open University module DD105 Introduction to Criminology in which Dr David Scott works as a Senior Lecturer in Criminology.  David has published 11 books on issues around crime and punishment and is a former co-ordinator of the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control. In addition, he has made a number of films for the Open University. 

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