In a major coup for the University's Film and TV Production courses, two MDX entries have won prestigious Royal Television Society London Student Awards.
At last week's online ceremony, documentary One Day You Will Hear My Voice about emigre Iranian singer Golazin Ardestani won in the Non-Scripted genre category, and drama Yard Kings, about a young girl's scrapyard escapism from her mother's relationship with an abusive partner, took the Scripted prize. Both films now go through to the RTS Student national finals in June. Another MDX student film, Between Us, directed by Antonio Mendes and produced by Claudia Carbajo, was shortlisted in the Scripted category. Countdown to Earth Hour, a studio show directed by MDX's Federico Favretto, was nominated for a Production Design award.
The RTS jurors said One Day "told a powerful story and spoke to us beyond the characters featured to tell us about life in Iran," and that they "loved the way the interviews were shot, the storyline and the editing as well as the use of archive footage".
The documentary's director and producer, third year TV Production student Timea Moshaver had met Golazin (Gola) about three years ago through her husband Bijan who already knew her. A member of "Iran's first girlband," Orchid, but banned from having a solo career in her native country, Gola moved to London in 2011 to study at Roehampton University. Timea, who is Hungarian Romanian, says she was "astonished to find out [Gola's] story in trying to be the singer that she is today and at same time... deeply upset to find out that In Iran the government does not allow women to sing solo in public, take singing modules at university, or let little girls ride a bike etc"
"I told myself that this story needs to be told in order to address the issues of gender equality and human rights - we have them here in the UK, but what about the rest of the world? Gola is an artist with a huge heart who continues to fight for freedom and will not stop until everyone’s voice is heard. So let’s fight together for to achieve this, because together we are stronger!"
With a team of just herself and her co-director and editor, coursemate Anand Tiwari, she filmed for five days, capturing Gola recording a song in the studio, doing a photo shoot for one of her singles, and performing on Persian language Manoto TV on International Women's Day last year. Some archive images came from Gola's own collection.
Timea and Anand finished filming just before lockdown started last March, then faced a difficult process trying to edit the film remotely. "Patience was needed" says Timea. She says she "often felt lost" over how the documentary was going to turn out, but Senior Lecturer in TV Production Paul Kerr who supervised the project "helped me to see clearer... I am very grateful to have had him as my tutor".
Timea aspires to make programmes that encourage viewers "to become better people", including getting subjects who feel ashamed about their past lives to come to terms with this and realise how many people watching might relate to their experience. Her favourite documentary films include Touching the Void and 2018's Whitney, and she's a fan of Turkish drama series based on real-life stories, Red Room.
Paul Kerr says: "We're immensely proud. Anand and Timea deserve huge congratulations, not least because this was a second year production [for the Documentary module led by Paul and Tom McGorrian]. We can’t wait to see what they will produce in this, their final year".
Yard Kings grew out of its director Vasco Alexandre's desire to write about the subject of domestic abuse, and his fascination with the view of the world through a child's eyes. "Since the beginning, we wanted to portray a strong social component" says Vasco. "It was a real challenge for me as a Portuguese person, to make the actors sound like real British people. I accepted a lot of collaboration from as many people as possible during the process". The story focuses on 11 year old Ellie, who can't stand her mother's new partner. Vasco picked Derby-born Billy King from his year to produce, and the two worked on a script from July to November 2019, "draft after draft until we were happy with it," says Billy.
The film was intentionally ambitious, with two actors under 12 as main characters, chaperoned on set by their parents, and location filming in a scrapyard and the huge Buckles Lane travellers' site in South Ockendon, Essex. "I’ve always said to Vasco, give me as many problems as you can and I’ll try and do it," Billy says.
There's a sequence involving an activated car-crusher, and to film a scene with the young actor playing Ellie's friend on top of a truck cabin, the crew worked for over a week to make sure it was safe. The child actors were completely opposite characters, very shy and very confident - "I had to talk to them in separate ways" says Vasco. "But in the end I saw a chemistry. I’m really glad we cast them". Because of school half-term they shot the film in February, and then like Timea and Anand needed to edit it over lockdown.
While the film has won a clutch of prizes since November, Billy says he was "shocked" by the RTS announcement as he watched on his laptop. The jurors praised it for "showing a real depth of maturity in filmmaking - utterly compelling and very touching, particularly the way the young actors portrayed a carefree joy and hope in their careworn lives. The dialogue was credible and the film was well edited".
"To be called the best student film in London is a pretty prestigious title," Billy says. "I'm feeling very blessed, very fortunate". Most of all, he wants the wider crew involved in it to be acknowledged. He feels particularly indebted to Senior Lecturer Eddie McCaffrey who supervised the film, for his tireless enthusiasm and support: "He constantly added and enhanced things. If he hadn’t been so straightforward and on point, it wouldn’t have been what it was".
"To have two films nominated for an RTS award in a highly competitive field tells you something about the programme and the quality of the students" says Eddie McCaffrey.
"BA Film is a very collegiate programme – we work very closely with the students. We use a lot of professional standard equipment. We sit down with students as a team and go through the rough-cuts.
"I hear a lot of people talking about employability. Films like Yard Kings and Between Us speak volumes about employability: the high standard of work and discipline demonstrated. The producers of both films are now studying at the National Film and Television School. The amount of effort and energy needed to go out on cold winter days, to raise money, keep people safe, organise transport and accommodation, deliver a script on time and on budget, demonstrates the 'soft skills' that are exactly the skills needed in industry".
Billy says he chose MDX, after briefly studying at Business School and doing a short course in film, because of the Film Department's resources and the approach to teaching: "I saw the capabilities, facilities and all the practicality of the course. No other uni I could see in London is doing similar". Vasco, who is now doing a Master's in directing fiction at Edinburgh University, says the value of the MDX Film programme is in having so many specialist departments - "directing, cinematography, editing, sound design, art direction" - which results in "a more collaborative working flow. I could dive into working on the story.
"The tutors were amazing: they believed in us, nothing was too ambitious for them. At MDX you learn that everything is possible - that’s really good when you come to the industry". Vasco wants to continue to focus on directing, while Billy, who is studying Creative Business for Entrepreneurs at the National Film and Television School hopes to build his career across a range of cultural forms in creative media.