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RIFA 2018 - Doctoral Award or Early Career Film category


We’ve revealed the films shortlisted 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 we’re starting with the Doctoral Award or Early Career Film, which showcases the rich and diverse research produced as a result of AHRC funding. From exploring the notions and changing landscape of public health to hearing from those at the forefront of climate change, these films help to showcase the value of arts and humanities research.

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

Sitting on a Man - Onyeka Igwe, University of the Arts London
The Saving Tree - Dr Brett Matulis, University of Leicester
Shelf Life - Dr Mariana Lopez, University of York
Articulating Archives - Sophie Everest, University of Manchester
Correspondence O - Ilona Sagar, Royal College of Art

Sitting on a Man

Onyeka Igwe, University of the Arts London

With its three-screen split format, the judges hailed this short as creative and visually beautiful. The intriguing title is based on an Igbo practice in which women came together to protest the behaviour of men by adorning themselves with palm fronds, and dancing and singing in a bid to ‘sit on’ or ‘make war’ on the male in question.

This film features an interplay between two contemporary dancers who reimagine the practice of ‘Sitting on a Man’, drawing on both archival research and their own experiences.

Used as a tactic in the Aba Women’s War of 1929, filmmaker Onyeka Igwe explains:  “This was the first major anti-colonial uprising in Nigeria. Thousands of women came together in Aba and Ikot Epene to protest the collection of taxes from women and the corrupt District Officer system. These protests went on for several months and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of women at the hands of British soldiers."

The practice involved gathering at the man’s compound, sometimes late at night … 'the head wreathed with young ferns symbolised war, and sticks, bound with ferns or young palms, were used to invoke the powers of the female ancestors… much noise, stamping, preposterous threats and a general raucous atmosphere were all part of the institution of “sitting on a man”.’ (van Allen 1972, pp. 170-175).

Onyeka is an artist filmmaker and AHRC-funded PhD researcher at University of the Arts London, she was awarded the 2018 British Association of Film & TV Studies Best Practice Research Portfolio: Experimental.

Talking about her research, Onyeka explains: “I have developed a methodological approach - critical proximity - which is being ‘close to’, ‘with’ or ‘amongst its’ contents. The film uses this approach with a particular focus on embodiment to achieve it. The revisioning of this historic event, through the film, privileges the body as a site of knowledge...”

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The Saving Tree

Dr Brett Matulis, University of Leicester

This poetic, atmospheric film gives a voice to those who have had their lives endangered from climate change and showcases the value they place on nature as a community. Highlighting that much of the more renowned nature writing tends to come from the perspective of white, western men, this film provides a rare glimpse into the lives and perspectives of Filipino women in relation to their natural environment.

Brett Matulis is an early career researcher at the University of Leicester and is Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded project 'Filipina Nature Writing for Environmental Justice'. The 'video essays' associated with the project are two of his very first experiences with filmmaking.

Brett explains: “This film was written by a group of brave women - flood survivors - from Bagong Silangan in the Philippines. I think of myself as more of a facilitator that gave them a platform to tell their story; one of survival in the face of extremely challenging social and environmental conditions. I'm very pleased that the film has been shortlisted so that more people will hear their voices.

“Ultimately, this video essay works to tackle the current global environmental crisis, and its underlying social causes, by amplifying the valuable local knowledge and, most importantly, the voices of Filipina women.  There is much for the rest of us to learn from the honest account the women provide – in their own words – of environmental citizenship, devastating loss, and ambitious hope for the future.”

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Shelf Life

Dr Mariana Lopez, University of York

Shelf Life


Shelf Life was produced as part of the AHRC-funded project ‘Enhancing Audio Description’ which explores how sound design techniques, first person narration and spatial audio techniques can be used to rethink accessibility to film and television for visually impaired audiences. Principal Investigator, Dr Mariana Lopez is Lecturer in Sound Production and Post Production in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York, and is also UK Section Chair of the Audio Engineering Society.

Shelf Life was produced during the final stage of the project to demonstrate how the techniques developed could be applied to a newly created film," explains Mariana. "The film includes the use of binaural audio (3D audio through headphones) to allow listeners to identify the positions of characters and objects in space, and reduce the number of verbal descriptions as a result.  It also uses a variety of sound effects to make the meanings of the actions clear, along with first person narration to provide an alternative to traditional third person description.”

All of these techniques have been developed as a result of working with visually impaired volunteers and trialling different systems for two years. Mariana adds: “Being shortlisted means we can showcase the work we've done and demonstrate how accessibility can be key to the creative process of making a film; it doesn't need to be and it shouldn't be an afterthought.  The creative sector should join forces with accessibility experts to provide the best experiences possible for visually impaired audiences".

Mariana and Co-Investigator (Dr Gavin Kearney) acted as Executive Producers for the film while and the creative and technical roles were covered by students and graduates from the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York.

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Articulating Archives

Sophie Everest, University of Manchester

A poignant film which gives a unique perspective to museum collections and the labour of creating them that can often go unnoticed.   Filmmaker Sophie Everest is a researcher at the Institute for Cultural Practices, University of Manchester. Sophie worked with a group of Year 8 students where they studied taxidermy objects, archival film and hunting diaries produced by Maurice Egerton, the 4th Baron of Tatton Park, Cheshire, during a safari in Northern Sudan in 1928-29. In the second workshop at the Manchester Museum, the students performed their finished pieces to camera.

Sophie’s own work is interested in how filmmaking practice can help us to think about museums, archives, collections and audiences in new ways. Alongside her academic practice, Sophie is co-director of Belle Vue Productions, a film and digital production company that creates film content for the cultural sector. 

Described by one of the judges as ‘an innovative and collaborative engagement project which the film reflects very well in its combination of archival footage and children’s voices’, the film interweaves the performed narratives with Egerton’s 16mm footage and Sophie’s own footage of the taxidermy objects in situ in the gallery and stores of the Manchester Museum.

Sophie says:  “I think it’s fantastic that the AHRC are creating a platform for film to be recognised as an exciting method and output for research in the arts and humanities. This film was created as part of my doctoral research in museum studies. The majority of it was shot within the very tight timeframe of two hour long workshops at the Manchester Museum with students at Trinity High School in Manchester. It was very much a collaborative creative effort and I am delighted that it has been shortlisted for this award.”

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Correspondence O

Ilona Sagar, Royal College of Art

Watch an extract of Correspondence O on Vimeo.

Described by one of the judges as ‘thought-provoking and gripping’,  Correspondence O explores the history of the radical Pioneer Health Centre in Peckham and its subsequent conversion to gated community.  Developed through research and collaboration with scientific advisors, community groups and archives, the story unfolds through a clever split screen format, which is both visually engaging and striking.  

As an artist and filmmaker, Ilona Sagar uses a diverse range of media spanning moving-image, text, performance and installation to explore the social and historic context found in the public and private spaces we inhabit.

“This multi-faceted work expresses the complex, changing landscape of public health and social shift away from group mindset to a more egocentric, user-focused, technology-infused understanding of wellness,” explains Ilona. “Using my research-practice as a tool to test and question this, Correspondence O antagonises underlying reasons for such social reconfigurations.”

Ilona worked closely with present-day residents of the building on the production and development of the work. She says: “Chance encounters with two residents, a Building Surveyor, Tom Bell of Mowma Projects and James Hardy, a personal trainer led to their appearance in the film. Their professions becoming emblematic material components.”

Ilona explains that the ‘Peckham Experiment’ (1925-1950) was a study founded on principles of self-organisation, local empowerment and social connection as fundamental to health. “Being at the forefront of a dramatic shift in the public perception of health, its significance has been historically overlooked. The film helps to contribute to broader conversations surrounding our shared socio-political landscape.”

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