SOAS University of London

SOAS scoops two awards at AHRC Film Awards

13 November 2019
SOAS Award Winners with Trophies

SOAS researchers and filmmakers won two awards and had three films in the final shortlist in a third award at the prestigious AHRC Film Awards on Tuesday 12 November. The £2,000 prize for each winner will be put towards further research films. 

  • In the Best Social Media Short category, five films were nominated overall but SOAS’s  Migration Leadership Team scooped the prize with their film, Life on the Move. 
  • Faces | Voices by Professor Paul Basu was nominated with four other films in the Best Research Film category, but it saw off the competition on the night and won the award. 
  • In the Inspiration Award category, three SOAS films were in the running for the award,  Life on the Move by the London International Development Centre Migration Leadership Team (LIDC-MLT), North Star Fading by PositiveNegatives (SOAS Research Project) and Faces | Voices by Professor Paul Basu. Unfortunately SOAS missed out on this award which was won by Spirit by Ross Harrison and Dr Jane Dyson. 

Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Research in Film Awards (RIFA) is an annual event which celebrates academic filmmaking. Since 2015, it’s inspired researchers from all over the UK to think more deeply about how they share their work with the wider world. The 2019 RIFA ceremony took place on Tuesday 12 November at the BFI Southbank in London. 

About the Films

Faces | Voices
by Paul Basu (SOAS) and Christopher Allen (The Light Surgeons)

Professor Paul Basu, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, said: “We are, of course, delighted to receive the AHRC’s Best Research Film award for Faces|Voices. There were some brilliant films nominated, so the competition was tough, and it is great that SOAS has done so well. I think it is hugely important that we, as academics, use film and other creative media to communicate our research with different kinds of audiences. Public engagement is at the heart of the [Re:]Entanglements project, including developing partnerships and working with different communities in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, as well as in the UK. We are looking forward to bringing this all together in a big exhibition at SOAS’s amazing Brunei Gallery in October 2020.”

Unseen for more than 100 years, a vast and controversial picture archive by Northcote Whitridge Thomas from the height of colonialism is looked at through a 21st Century lens in Professor Paul Basu’s film, Faces | Voices.

Thomas was an English anthropologist, who worked in Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone between 1909 and 1915. In his six years in West Africa, Thomas took approximately 7,500 photographs. These photographs include images of everyday life but about half of the photographs, however, are of a particular anthropological genre known as ‘physical type’ portraits. 

In the Faces | Voices film, participants are invited to reflect on some of the faces captured in Thomas’s physical type photographs and to comment more generally on their significance. We find that the same portrait may invite quite different interpretations. Where one sees coercion, another detects boredom. The crushing experience of colonialism may be found in one subject’s expression; optimism, defiance or resilience is discerned in another. Perhaps most surprising is the sympathetic view – even identification with – the face of Northcote Thomas himself.

Juxtaposing the faces of Thomas’s anthropological subjects, with the eloquent, questioning voices of contemporary commentators, the film complicates any simple reading of the colonial archive. While we should never forget the circumstances in which they were taken, these photographs elicit a plurality of responses, in some cases reinforcing senses of the violence of colonial subjugation, yet in others confounding such expectations, opening up more ambiguous, even more hopeful readings. Laughter, too, is to be found in this picture archive. As one respondent passionately observes, the smiling face of a young woman photographed over a century ago carries an important message for young people today: ‘There is a certain powerful conviction in that smile that we shall overcome, we shall overstand, we shall overcome’.

Faces | Voices was created as part of the [Re:]Entanglements / Museum Affordances project, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. The project is being led by Paul Basu, Professor of Anthropology at SOAS University of London with project partners including the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, the British Library, the Royal Anthropological Institute and the National Archives. The project will culminate with a large exhibition at SOAS’s Brunei Gallery in October-December 2020.

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Faces | Voices


Life on the Move
By the LIDC Migration Leadership Team 

Life on the Move showcases the important research themes and creative partnerships emerging from the London International Development Centre Migration Leadership Team (LIDC-MLT). The film's purpose is to explore how researchers can collaborate with artists in innovative ways to generate new kinds of knowledge and engage wider audiences in debates about complex social and economic issues.

Professor Laura Hammond, Department of Development Studies, said: "We are really delighted that our stop-motion animated film Life on the Move was nominated. It was a great collaboration between ourselves, Positive Negatives, and filmmaker Osbert Parker to help bring the narratives from a range of different migrants together to demonstrate the simple but powerful message that migration in and of itself is not a problem unless it is unsafe or forced.

"We wanted to use the film as a demonstrator, to show other researchers how they might use their research to engage with the arts in novel ways to reach wider audiences than traditional academic outputs do. We are thrilled that the judges felt that we had succeeded.

"There is also a companion film to the animation which shows the 'Making of...Life on the Move' to give a behind the scenes look at how the film was produced, which might also be good to plug. Both films are available on the Migration Leadership Team website."

This stop-motion animation explores the complex reasons behind migration, showcasing research from the Horn of Africa as a case study. The film brings to life a multitude of migrant experiences, exploring the personal, social and economic reasons why people move across borders. It illustrates how complex research findings can be disseminated in a clear and accessible style suitable for many public audiences. Visualising internal and external migration routes, it disrupts mainstream media coverage of migration as a problem, presenting a more holistic narrative.

This is a collaborative production, involving the LIDC-MLT, non-profit organisation PositiveNegatives, artist and graphic novelist Karrie Fransman and award-winning film maker Osbert Parker, with field work facilitated by the International Organisation for Migration.

The film is intended to be used as a tool that may inspire other researchers to engage in similar arts-based collaborations. Each stage of the production process has been documented and is available in a companion ‘making of’ film. Through this additional footage we hope to share a potential road map for future partnerships in filmmaking and other artistic production, as well as to reflect on the methods and expertise behind this particular style of production.

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Life on the Move Film


North Star Fading 
By PositiveNegatives 

PositiveNegatives, a not-for-profit education organisation based at SOAS,produce comics, animations and podcasts about contemporary social and humanitarian issues, including conflict, racism, migration and asylum.  Combining ethnographic research with illustration, adapting personal stories into art, education and advocacy materials.

PositiveNegatives’ approach to creating literary comics combines continual engagement and reaffirmation from participants, and as such is sensitive to the culture, histories and beliefs of their communities.

SOAS Director, Baroness Valerie Amos is also a patron of PositiveNegatives.

North Star Fading is inspired by the testimonies of 4 Eritrean refugees who fled their homes to make the dangerous journey across Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya to Europe. Illustrated by Karrie Fransman with sound and voiceover by Lula Mebrahtu.

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North Star Fading