Since 2004 FOCAL International Awards competition is dedicated to the promotion and celebration of archival footage and its contribution to the creative and cultural industries. We congratulate all the past winners.
The Jane Mercer Researcher of the Year Award
The recipient is an individual Footage Researcher (or team), who has demonstrated outstanding achievement whilst being primarily responsible for the footage research undertaken for a production(s) or project(s) premiered or released during the qualifying year (2021). Such production(s) or project(s) can include series that have been aired over many years, providing the cited episode was premiered in 2021.
Kate Griffiths and Tess McNally-Watson for The Sparks Brothers
Complete Fiction Pictures Limited
How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential, and criminally overlooked all at the same time? From acclaimed director Edgar Wright comes THE SPARKS BROTHERS, a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers/bandmates Ron and Russell Mael, celebrating the inspiring legacy of your favourite band’s favourite band.
It was a herculean task condensing a 50 year career into a feature length documentary, which features over 80 studio interviews, 84 minutes of archive and over 100 music tracks.
The original budget was for a 90 minute film with an allowance for 25 minutes of archive, so the fact that our Archive Producer Kate Griffiths managed to more than treble the amount of archive for the same budget is nothing short of magic, and indeed testament to her hard work and dedication. She negotiated deals with over 50 archives world-wide and tracked down archive that had been missing for many years and in some cases deemed lost forever.
The Documentary is almost wall to wall of incredible archive which brings colour and humour and pathos to 5 decades of storytelling and music making.
Kate brought so much passion to the project and worked tirelessly over a 3 year period despite illness in her family, a global pandemic, constantly shifting goal posts and some very tricky archive owners, one of which she personally went to his house in LA to help him scan all of his transparencies!
We couldn't have made this movie without Kate and she absolutely deserves the recognition for her amazing work.
Stephanie Jenkins for Muhammad Ali
Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. is born in Louisville, Kentucky and takes up boxing at the age of 12. Hard-working and determined, Clay rises through the amateur ranks and at eighteen years old wins the light-heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Olympics. He turns professional and moves to Miami, where he trains with Angelo Dundee, sharpening his boxing skills and honing his genius for self-promotion. Meanwhile, he quietly begins attending meetings of a separatist religious sect called the Nation of Islam and becomes a close confidant of the charismatic minister Malcolm X. In 1964, at just 22 years old, he shocks the world by upsetting the heavily favored Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight championship.
Stephanie Jenkins is a dogged researcher who has developed relationships with hundreds of archives and has found never-before-seen footage in attics and warehouses. Muhammad Ali was her most ambitious archival project yet. Stephanie managed a team that pulled in over 1000 hours of footage from more than 100 archives throughout the world. In spite of the vast trove of known archival material on our subject, Stephanie turned up plenty of never-before-seen gems that lent a remarkable depth and dimension to our portrait of Muhammad Ali.
For example, Stephanie was determined to find early footage of Louisville, Kentucky, where Cassius Clay was born. Over two years, she formed a connection with local television station WHAS and discovered they had a film morgue. This station had never allowed an outside researcher into their collection. They agreed to let her make two trips into the archive, which yielded a lot of the visual imagery in Episode 1 of our series. Most excitingly, she found what we believe is the earliest extant moving image material of young Cassius Clay, which shows him signing up for an amateur boxing tournament at age 13. We’re proud to have Stephanie represent our company as an archivist. Her love and appreciation of archival materials is clear in her work and the care she takes in cultivating relationships and seeking out unique and beautiful materials.
Sports can provide some difficulty in licensing, as well as a great expense. The per-second licensing cost for Muhammad Ali was the highest of any Florentine Films (Ken Burns) production. We went to great lengths to secure the funding to make exactly the film we wanted to make, despite the high cost of sports footage. Faced with a far more substantial budget need for the archival footage than we had originally anticipated, Stephanie approached us with an appeal, and great efforts were then made to raise the additional funds.
As this is a Researcher award, we want to note that Stephanie’s passion about archival research extends beyond our edit room. She founded and runs ArchiveNYC, an email listserv that includes 200+ New York-based archival researchers. This is a vibrant resource for researchers, and a way to foster community amongst many who are often isolated on individual projects. Stephanie has also lectured at and participated in panels at DOCNYC, ACSIL, Iowa University, UGA Brown Media Archives, The New School and others.
Mridu Chandra and Lewanne Jones for CURED
Story Center Films, LLC and Singer & Deschamps Productions, Inc.
Mentally ill. Deviant. Diseased. And in need of a cure.
These were among the terms psychiatrists used to describe lesbians and gay men in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. According to the medical establishment, every gay person—no matter how well-adjusted—suffered from a mental disorder. And as long as lesbians and gay men were “sick,” progress toward equality was impossible.
CURED chronicles the battle waged by a small group of activists who declared war against a formidable institution—and won a crucial victory in the movement for LGBTQ equality. This award-winning documentary takes viewers inside the David-versus-Goliath struggle that led the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to remove homosexuality from its manual of mental illnesses in 1973. Combining newly unearthed archival material with incisive eyewitness testimony, the film reveals how a small group of impassioned activists achieved this unexpected victory.
While CURED is indisputably about science, medicine, and politics, at its core this is a film about the process of social change. It features a diverse group of activists who came together at a crossroads in LGBTQ history. Their tenacity brought about a change that transformed not only LGBTQ people’s perceptions of themselves, but also the social fabric of America.
We are humbled that CURED has received numerous accolades, including the American Historical Association’s John E. O’Connor Film Award for best historical documentary of 2021. We feel certain that the archive research undertaken by Mridu Chandra and Lewanne Jones is a central reason for this recognition. In February 2022, the AHA hosted a screening and discussion of CURED as part of its annual conference. We would like to share remarks that Professor Dagmar Herzog presented during the post-screening discussion. Herzog is Distinguished Professor of History at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and the author of seven books, including Cold War Freud: Psychoanalysis in an Age of Catastrophes. She is recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts on the histories of gender and sexuality. She offered the following comments on CURED:
“Among the film’s numerous distinctive strengths is its reliance entirely on the voices of its protagonists. There are no academic talking heads describing events from afar, nor is there a generic authorial voice-over. At every point, the story is carried along by a blend of—quite brilliantly juxtaposed—clips and footage from the 1950s-1970s (from cassette tapes to television shows) and retrospective interviews conducted with the main actors, some from the more immediate aftermath and culled from archival sources (1980s-1990s) and some conducted by filmmakers Sammon and Singer themselves in the 2000s.
“The thoroughness of the archival research in CURED is staggering. The service to historians of American society and culture is immense. Through their persistence and ingenuity, the film team has unearthed a mountain of material—much of it long believed lost, or sitting in dusty boxes no one had opened for decades, including audio and video recordings, revelatory photographs, handwritten notes, old typescript texts, diary entries, newspaper and magazine clippings, and much else. The feel of the spaces, the fashions of the eras as times changed, the tone people took in their discussions of homosexuality as expert opinion began to be contested, the energy of ‘zaps’ and demonstrations, the doggedness of careful planning, the noxious authoritative certitude of the opponents that needed convincing or outmaneuvering: all of this is captured beautifully.
“The film manages to communicate, more compellingly and clearly than I have ever seen before, just how horrendous, how stunningly sadistic, the cultural climate of the pre-sexual revolution, pre-civil rights era was for Americans with same-sex desires. As one of the main characters in the film notes, if an individual’s homosexuality was revealed, ‘You couldn’t keep your children, you couldn’t be a teacher, banker, judge, or head of an industry.’ The film begins by conveying potently the emotional damage done in the name of psychotherapy, as well as the terrors of physical torments, including whole-body electroshock, genital shocking, hysterectomies and castrations. These are all facts that are hard—but essential—to imagine and remember now…. Among the several incredibly powerful messages conveyed by the film is the remarkable revelation that a truly tiny handful of determined individuals can change an entire society.”
Rosemary Rotondi for ATTICA
In the fall of 1971, tensions between inmates and guards at the Attica Correctional Facility were at an all-time high due to worsening prison conditions. On the morning of September 9, it all came to a head when inmates erupted into one of the largest, deadliest prison riots ever witnessed. On Sept. 9, 1971, over 1,200 inmates at the Attica correctional facility in Attica, NY, seized the yard at the maximum-security prison, took more than three dozen guards and civilian employees hostage, and demanded more humane treatment and better conditions. For five days, the world watched as TV news cameras covered the story from both outside and inside the prison, as journalists and a team of negotiators converged at the scene. But when law enforcement was ordered by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to retake Attica, the resulting massacre by state police left 29 inmates and 10 hostages dead. Before the smoke from the tear gas cleared, police tortured inmates behind the walls. No charges were ever brought against authorities for the killings of inmates and guards. It was the largest prison rebellion in U.S. history.
The word “Attica” today most often conjures up vague notions of a violent incident. The specific and horrifying details of the Attica Prison Uprising are in danger of being lost. We wanted to make Attica in order to represent the complex events that took place over the course of the five fateful days of the Attica prison uprising, while also giving audiences a broader understanding of the tragedy within the context of politics, race, power, and punishment.
Our aim was to create an accurate account of this critical moment in history using the firsthand accounts of the people who lived it – the inmates, hostages and their families, reporters, and invited negotiators. The presence of national and local media during the rebellion became an important part of the story, as inmates held press conferences inside the yard in hopes that inviting the media into the prison would provide some level of protection. This was the first time the country heard directly from prisoners about their lives. Prisons are purposely located in remote places where no one sees them, so that no one knows what happens inside. The media’s role in documenting the rebellion was transformative, because it allowed people to see and hear the experiences these men were having.
There’s unbelievable footage in Attica that has never been put together before. ABC, CBS, and NBC all sent crews up to Attica during the rebellion, which is 250 miles from New York City — so if crews were there, they stayed and shot footage for days, using these giant portapacks. It was the first era in which they could shoot on the go, and they shot all the time. Plus, local stations sent their own crews, mainly from Buffalo.
Our archival researcher Rosemary Rotondi scraped the corners of the earth to find footage and photographs of anybody that was even marginally related to Attica in some way. Rosemary also conducted all licensing for the film.
There are moments in the film where the inmates are talking to Russell Oswald, who was then New York Commissioner of Corrections under Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and they’re saying, “We’ve seen you on the news, we know how you’re talking about us” — then Rosemary was able to find footage of Oswald saying it! As a filmmaker, to find those serendipitous moments is terrific. We also uncovered New York state prison surveillance footage that is quite amazing, much of it from cameras up in the towers over the prison. All of this footage has never been put together before.
Adrian Wood for Film, the Living Record of Our Memory
El Grifilm Productions, Filmoption International
Why are we still able to watch moving images captured over 125 years ago?
As we move ever further into the digital age, our audiovisual heritage seems to be taken increasingly for granted. However, much of our filmed history and cinema has already been lost forever.
Film archivists, curators, technicians and filmmakers from around the world explain what film preservation is and why it is needed. Our protagonists are custodians of film whose work behind the scenes safeguards the survival of motion pictures. It is a task they undertake based on their closely held belief in the artistic and cultural value of the moving image, in tune with a shared mantra that a film might one day transform someone’s life. This documentary is a homage to them all and sheds some light on their critical undertaking.
In our film footage plays a crucial role. We wanted to highlight the importance of moving images and of those who work in the field of film preservation by showing a wide variety of films. In order to achieve this, we needed a professional and seasoned archival consultant in our team. Adrian Wood is exactly that. He has been working with archival footage since the 1970s, and he is deeply involved in the work of international film archives and in film preservation. His work, experience, knowledge, advice, and kind spirit have been key in managing to have access to the footage we needed - which, at times, was quite rare footage. Having him on our team has made the lengthy and challenging process of locating and accessing moving images highly enjoyable, where we all discovered new things as we progressed. The film has highly benefitted from Adrian Wood's involvement and expertise, and it has exceeded our expectations. These years working together in such a demanding project have not only resulted in managing to secure amazing images for the film, but it has also gifted us with an unexpected long-lasting friendship and a professional bond that will bring us together again for our next film project.