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2024 FOCAL Awards 2024 Winners & Nominees

Jane Mercer Researcher of the Year Award

2024 Winner

Stephen Maier for Stasi FC

Production Company:
Corso Film


Dresden, 1978: A musty-smelling locker room. The Dynamo Dresden players celebrate their outstanding victory in the GDR championship. But their laughter stops when Erich Mielke storms in. He has not come to congratulate them, but to make it clear that this will be the last championship celebration for the popular club for the time being. From now on, his team, BFC Dynamo Berlin, would take over the GDR league. And so it was: in the following ten years, Erich Mielke's favourite club won ten championships with the help of dubious refereeing decisions, forced player transfers and cunning manipulation. The Stasi's influence on the national football league - which is said to have triggered a government crisis - even went so far as to plot the murder of an East German footballer who had gone to the West.

For football fans in East Germany, the choice of their favourite club was often also a political statement and therefore had far greater significance than in West Germany. While BFC Dynamo received every conceivable kind of state support, it was much more difficult for Union Berlin to achieve success.

Archival highlights

Apart from interviews, "Stasi FC" consists almost exclusively of archive material. In his role as archive producer, Stephen therefore had a key position in this project. Without his knowledge of GDR film sources, his passion for research and his tenacity in clearing rights and negotiating prices, the project would not have been possible. Important film footage and photos, which are central to the story of the film, could only be used because Stephen did everything he could to fulfil the director's wishes. This was only possible because Stephen has maintained good contacts for several years with archives, some of which are difficult to access, that hold important material for the project.


Kyle Gibbon for The Stones and Brian Jones

Production Company:
Lafayette Film


THE STONES & BRIAN JONES looks at the relationships and rivalries within The Rolling Stones in those formative years. It explores the iconoclastic freedom and exuberance of the 60s, a time of intergenerational conflict and sexual turmoil which reflects on where we are today.

Featuring revealing interviews with all the main players and unseen archive released for the first time, THE STONES & BRIAN JONES explores the creative musical genius of Jones, key to the success of the band, and uncovers how the founder of what became the greatest rock & roll band in the world was left behind in the shadows of history.

Archival highlights

Kyle not only Produced this film but also undertook all of the archive research and clearance. Kyle has always had a natural talent for archive and in the ten or so years we have worked together we have made several archive feature films including Whitney: Can I Be Me, Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love (Focal winner), My Father and Me, and this latest film The Stones and Brian Jones.

Kyle's ability to find rare and interesting archive is unlike anyone I have ever worked with. On subjects that have been so well documented over decades he can still deliver unseen archive, as he did with The Stones and Brian Jones, which to me is remarkable - I can always rely on Kyle to deliver.

Jackie Clary for Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

Production Company:
Apple Original Films / Concordia Studio


Told in his own words with a mix of archival and scripted elements, STILL: A MICHAEL J. FOX MOVIE recounts Fox’s rise to the heights of stardom in 1980s Hollywood. The look at his public life unspools alongside his private journey including the years following his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease.

Archival highlights

Long story short: Jackie was the engine behind Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie. It’s a film that is predominantly made of archival footage. Jackie is a rare treasure and a treat. She works like crazy to get what is requested and thinks gigantically out-of-the-box to get the best possible plus options. Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie would not be the beloved and award-winning film that it is today without Jackie Clary.

I joined the production of what turned out to be Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie in April 2021 as the main producer. Jackie was a recommendation from a friend of our editor Michael Harte, and I’ll be forever grateful for that recommendation.

Not only did Jackie present the experience and tenacity we were looking for, she also seemed like a lovely person AND was a long-time Michael J. Fox fan. Everything seemed perfect with this key hire.

Well. Not only did Jackie incredibly excel at this particular job, she did it under pressure. And she did it with the best attitude ever.

Jackie sourced not only all the usual suspects (and with Michael J. Fox, there are a lot of usual suspects) but she also tracked down incredibly rare and never-seen work that took a lot of time and persistence to find.

Not only am I thrilled that I met and hired Jackie, I will be forever grateful that she powered through it all with me every single day. And now Jackie is not only an incredible colleague and collaborator, but also a treasured friend.

Molly Rokosz for The Pigeon Tunnel

Production Company:
Apple Original Films / Ink Factory


A look at the life and career of former British spy David Cornwell – better known as author John le Carré. The film spans six decades as le Carré delivers his final interview and features archival footage and dramatized vignettes

Archival highlights

My goal in making The Pigeon Tunnel with John le Carré was to get inside the mind of one of the greatest authors of the 20th century and figure out how it worked. I wanted to discover the people and events that shaped him, and which were in turn reshaped by him in the course of his long literary career. His father, the arch-conman and libertine; his time nestled in the bosom of the British establishment, from boarding schools to MI5; his time on the front lines of the Cold War with MI6. To bring these moments to life and create a concoction for the audience like the one in John le Carré’s brain, I turned to archival producer Molly Rokosz for help.

Molly unearthed television programs featuring le Carré during his rise to fame, allowing the audience to experience what he was like as a young man. One show that provided a vast amount of material was an episode of London Weekend Television. It showed le Carré walking around Paris and West Berlin, sharing stories about his life and what it means to be an artist.

Just as important to my film as these glimpses of le Carré over the years was the footage Molly curated to establish the places and historical events that shaped him. The shots around Berlin from the time the Berlin Wall certainly come to mind. But so too do the grainy, black and white views of pigeons at Eton. And the rictus of an elderly Kim Philby on a picnic in Russia.

The archival footage for The Pigeon Tunnel is essential to helping the audience look into the past and understand where artistic inspiration is born. The fruits of Molly Rokosz’s archival research on this project enabled me to recreate a version of John le Carré’s mind’s eye and to illustrate his creative process, giving viewers unique insight into the workings of a literary wonder: a man whose output changed the way we view the history of the twentieth century.

Helen R. Russell for Bill Russell: Legend

Production Company:
High Five Productions, LLC


Bill Russell: Legend captures the remarkable life and legacy of an NBA superstar and civil rights icon. This two-part film from director Sam Pollard (MLK/FBI) features the last interview with Russell prior to his passing in 2022. Russell’s story is told in his own voice through original and archival interviews as well as excerpts from Russell’s memoirs read by actor Jeffrey Wright. WIth archival footage as the film’s backbone, Russell’s story spans history from the 1930s - 2020s. On the court, Russell led every team he played on to championships -- two NCAA titles, a gold medal at the 1956 Summer Olympics, and eleven NBA Championships in thirteen years as a Boston Celtic, his last two as the first Black head coach in NBA history. Off the court, Russell was a force in the fight for human rights - marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and leading boycotts in the NBA and local communities over racist practices and segregation — efforts which earned him the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom. From his humble beginnings in Louisiana to the top of the sports world, Bill Russell: Legend illuminates how Russell stood tall in every sense of the word.

Archival highlights

Helen tirelessly uncovered footage from his college years at the University of San Francisco through his tenure as a Boston Celtic and beyond as a coach, commentator, and television personality. She found never before seen home movies of the Celtics off the court at one of the player’s homes that said a lot about the team’s camaraderie and Bill’s close relationship with his teammates, and poignant audio from a town dinner to honor the Russell family that happened a short time before his home would be ransacked in that same neighborhood.

What set this documentary apart was finding visuals depicting Russell’s participation in the civil rights movement. Helen and the team uncovered footage that depicted Bill’s activism in the racially charged Boston of the 1960s and beyond; and footage of his travels to Mississippi after the death of civil rights activist Medgar Evers.

What her search uncovered was a man who was more than a basketball star. He was a human being whose measure went beyond the sport of basketball. Helen’s contribution was phenomenal and for my money ranks Helen as one of the best archivists I have ever had the opportunity to work with.