We spoke to some of our alumni whose stories were nominated for the 35th One World Media Awards about how OWM has played a role in their career. Miriam Chandy Menacherry (GSDF 2020) won the Short film category this year for her documentary about the life of an Adivasi (indigenous tribal group) family that lives in the Aarey forest in Mumbai, India. Innocent Kumchedwa (2021 Fellow), Isobel Cockerell (GSDF 2019), Romita Saluja (2021 Fellow) and Ankita Anand (2020 Fellow) were longlisted in various categories.
Here are the highlights.
Why did you enter the Awards?:
Miriam Chandy Menacherry: The OWM Awards are a rare showcase for underreported stories from the global south. This makes it very specific, topical and focuses much needed attention to some of the world’s most pressing issues affecting large populations. Through the years, I have noticed important voices being nominated for these Awards. So I was thrilled when my feature documentary, From the Shadows, about survivors of child sex trafficking and their battle for justice was nominated in 2023 and my short documentary, The Leopard’s Tribe, about an indigenous family at the centre of a battle to preserve Mumbai’s last green lung won the Short Film Award.
In both categories, the films and filmmakers that I was nominated alongside are people whose work I deeply respect. I also took a look at the jury in both categories this year and I’m thrilled that this Award came from people and organisations who truly support independent and autonomous voices at a time when mainstream news is monopolised and journalism is being replaced by misinformation, propaganda and even fake news campaigns.
Innocent Kumchedwa: The Awards promote stories that don’t receive much attention from major news outlets. I entered these Awards to learn how other storytellers are working and know how I can improve.
Isobel Cockerell: I’m really proud of the story we told. It tells the strange and chilling story of the Uyghur community who live in Norway and the pressures they face from the Chinese government thousands of miles away. I featured a Uyghur man who had fled deep into the Arctic Circle and still feared the reach of Chinese agents and spies. The story is a gripping wild ride.
Romita Saluja: My story was about a painful health condition that is extremely common among women in the global south and yet it has hardly received any media coverage. I entered this story to the OWM Awards because this is one of few places for an audience of immersive, deep dive pieces that explore human complexities.
Ankita Anand: The category (International Journalist of the Year) appealed to me because my work as a journalist, editor, researcher, trainer and mentor has touched and connected various people and places around the world. In my role as an editor with Unbias the News, I have commissioned local reporters to publish underreported stories. We prioritise the physical and mental health of our journalists and mentor them by sharing opportunities, connecting them to tools, sources and trainers, giving letters of support and nominating them for awards. Managing partnerships for the publication, I have created alliances with national and international publishers so the stories we publish receive a local audience and can be read in several languages, including Braille. I am also a co-founder of The Gender Beat, a collective of journalists and editors working to raise the profile of gender journalism. And I regularly mentor journalists to share what I know and the resources I have access to.
Tell us a little about working on it – how did you decide to cover this piece, why was it important to you to tell this story?
Miriam Chandy Menacherry: I have lived in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, for the past 20 years. This is a city that constantly surprises me because of its many stories. I have had the leopard visit my home in a high rise apartment. A trap was set with a bleating goat. People crowded around the trap to get a glimpse of the majestic leopard, with his eyes blazing. For me, that one image represented the eternal debate of whether it was the leopard encroaching on our home or whether it was humans who claim forest land? Despite spending two decades in the city I had no idea that a 10,000 strong indigenous community lived in the city’s forest. I felt compelled to tell this amazing story of coexistence.
Fortunately, the project was selected at very early stages for the Global Short Docs Forum. The mentorship came at a crucial time because the post production of a feature documentary I had been working on had taken six years by then and starting a new film shoot amidst lockdown restrictions seemed daunting. But sharing my journey with other filmmakers who were also dealing with similar challenges gave me the confidence to juggle both films.
Innocent Kumchedwa: I decided to do Bitter Tales of Salima Sugar Factory because there is no “small” story. These underreported stories when told with passion turn into big stories.
Isobel Cockerell: This story took us to the furthest reaches of the Arctic: we traveled to Kirkenes, Norway, just a few miles from the border with Russia, in the depths of winter 2022. The Uyghur families we met there were living in the world’s northernmost asylum processing centre. Although their accommodation was warm and comfortable, whenever they went outside they faced temperatures around -20 C and just a couple of hours of daylight. I hope the story wakes people up to the reality refugees face when they’re fleeing authoritarianism. I hope the story raises awareness about the growing threat of transnational repression, showing how in a digital world, dissidents no longer feel safe, even if they’re living in a cradle of democracy like Norway.
Romita Saluja: Gender and health have always been my primary areas of interest. So when someone mentioned “pelvic organ prolapse” during a workshop on women’s health, it immediately caught my attention. I spent about a week or two going through research papers and talking to experts, during which I understood the extent to which it restricts women in the Himalayan villages of India. As someone with a chronic health condition, it became even more important for me to tell the story of these women who wait decades to receive treatment.
Ankita Anand: In almost all the collaborative stories, the initial idea and proposal came from my colleagues. They resonated with me because they fell within the larger framework of social justice and challenged dominant stereotypes. Such collaborations make us sensitive to issues in places we do not inhabit but are still connected to. With the growing attacks on press freedom, I see these journalistic alliances as a way to reach a wider audience, to share risks and responsibilities and to stand strong together, with and for each other.
Was being Longlisted for the Awards helpful in any way?
Miriam Chandy Menacherry: Yes, being Longlisted for the OWM Awards is definitely prestigious. My feature documentary has landed a prestigious Impact Grant and I believe being nominated by OWM has given it this visibility. Similarly my short doc, The Leopard’s Tribe, is proving that it is quite a festival favourite with official selections and nominations in three more well recognised festivals in USA and Germany in the next few months.
Innocent Kumchedwa: Being longlisted for the Awards has helped give me confidence and encouraged me to do more. Since I wrote the story, the government has started their own investigation into the company and I was happy that their findings aligned with what I established through my reporting.
Isobel Cockerell: It’s such an honour to be featured on the Longlist and any awards recognition helps get the word out about the podcast that we want as many people as possible to hear and engage with.
Romita Saluja: Most independent journalists lack resources to tell all the stories they would like to and invest much more work – pre-reporting, pitching etc. – than they get paid for. So the recognition definitely helped. I also spent an incredibly long time looking for a good publication for the story. It was too nuanced for the regular international media outlets I write for and Indian media has very limited space for longform. So while I was an OWM Fellow in 2021, I sent the pitch to a producer who shared their feedback that helped me refine it.
Ankita Anand: Once the Longlist was out, what moved me the most were the congratulatory messages, from colleagues across the world but also from people who know me personally. I was overwhelmed for the pride and faith they had in me, how they felt that by being on this list I had brought joy to their community, institution or country. There is no substitute for such support. It has given me plenty of motivation, which is the fuel that keeps freelancers running.