The work of freelance cameramen and camerawomen was celebrated last night at the annual Rory Peck Awards at the BFI Southbank in London. The event, sponsored by Sony, was established in 1995 and named after freelance cameraman Rory Peck who was killed in Moscow that year. Four Awards were presented at the ceremony, during which extracts from the finalists’ films were screened to a rapt audience of international journalists and editors.
The Rory Peck Award for News presented to Pacôme Pabandji from Central African Republic for CAR: Descent Into Chaos, broadcast by AFPTV. The film depicts conflict and violence in his home country, revealing daily atrocities as well as glimpses of everyday life. The judges praised Pabandji’s ability to cast a dispassionate eye on a heated and dangerous conflict whilst living in its midst with one judge commenting that “the conviction he must have to keep going to keep telling the story of his country is admirable.”
A group of six anonymous cameramen form North Korean were honoured with the Rory Peck Award for Features. Team Minduelle (‘Dandelion’) was trained during trips to China by the Japanese journalist Jiro Ishimaru, and their resulting film provides a rare glimpse into one of the world’s most secretive states. An extract of the film screened at the ceremony showed a woman arguing with North Korean officials about her right to wear trousers, and another standing up to a male official who was trying to prevent her running a bus service. North Korea: Life Inside the Secret State was produced by Hard Cash Productions and broadcast by Channel 4 Dispatches and PBS Frontline.
The Sony Impact Award was presented to British freelancer Ben Steele for Hunted, which explores the world of Russian vigilante gangs who, encouraged by anti-homosexual legislation, go on hunting ‘safaris’ to catch, humiliate and abuse gay victims. In one scene Steele is among a group who have surrounded a victim. Despite not showing extreme physical violence, the female ringleader interrogates and humiliates the young man, promising that his punishment would have been more severe had the filmmaker not been present.
“I made a film – with Blake Wane for Channel 4 – because we wanted to tell the story that people already knew – that its not much fun being gay in Russia,” said Steele, collecting his award on stage last night. “But we wanted to connect people with the reality of what that actually meant, and we wanted to reach out, to show how horrific it is and at the same time we felt it incredibly important that we not just exposed the brutality of what was happening, but we also explore the humanity and motivation of the vigilantes who were targeting gay people. It’s all too easy to divide the world up into goodies and baddies and we try, in this film, to explore the complications around that, and what really drives people.”
This year’s Martin Adler Prize, sponsored by Hexagon, was awarded to Palestinian freelance journalist, fixer and translator Khaled Abu Ghali. The aim of the prize is to highlight the dedication and talent of freelancers who work under challenging circumstances within their own country. Abu Ghali has covered many of Gaza's most intense periods of conflict in his 14-year career, most notably in 2006, 2009, 2012, and summer 2014. Channel 4 News’ foreign correspondent Jonathan Miller, who worked with Abu Ghali during the most recent crisis in Gaza, said he assumed a critical journalistic role during that time, delivering top-level interviews and supporting reporters and news teams in the field.
The Rory Peck Awards seem particularly relevant this year, which has seen the widely-publicised beheadings of journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley. Indeed, Sky News’ Alex Crawford, who hosted the ceremony alongside Channel 4 News’ Lindsey Hilsum, introduced the Awards by saying, “At the end of a particularly horrifying year there has never been a more important time to respect and support freelancers.”
The Awards ceremony may have wrapped up last night, but the work of the Rory Peck Trust continues, dedicating its work to the safety and welfare of freelance journalists and their families around the world.