A new 20-minute documentary which tells the story of how cobalt used for batteries in electric vehicles is extracted from the ground and the people behind it in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has won two top national film awards at the British Universities Film and Video Council Learning on Screen Awards 2023.

‘Cobalt Rush’, produced in-house by University development scholar Professor Roy Maconachie, filmmaker Simon Wharf and Dr Bossissi Nkuba (a specialist in mining governance from the DRC), won the ‘Best Educational Film Award’ and the prestigious ‘Premier Award’ at a ceremony which took place at the British Film Institute (BFI) in London.

Almost half the world’s cobalt supply comes from the DRC. Against this backdrop, the film tells the story of cobalt from the perspective of the artisanal miners at the bottom of the supply chain. Shot on location in Lualaba and Haut-Katanga Provinces in the DRC, it sheds light on the gruelling conditions they often face.

Commenting on the film, the judging panel said: ‘Cobalt Rush explores themes of hope, resilience and survival in the lives of three poor cobalt miners in the DRC. As they negotiate dismal circumstances, our own complex relationship with green technologies becomes apparent, and the invisible side of global cobalt demand is revealed.’

The judges said the film was clear and powerful and praised the composition of the production team, which contributed to the film’s authenticity, as well as the excellent evocation of the landscape and environment. It also received perfect scores from the judges, who described it as ‘an absolutely outstanding film’ in awarding it the ‘Premier Award’.

Commenting on the win, Professor Maconachie said: “We are thrilled that 'Cobalt Rush' has been so well received, and it’s a great honour to receive these awards. Almost a third of cobalt extraction in the DRC is carried out by an informal workforce of artisanal miners, called ‘creuseurs’. Many operate illegally on the outskirts of large-scale mining operations, with little or no safety equipment. They face perilous working conditions, human rights abuses, and are paid poverty wages, but they still find hope and ambition. This film gives voice to these creuseurs and it’s been a privilege to work with them and help them tell their stories."

Simon Wharf from the University's Audio Visual Unit added: “Winning the 'Best Educational Film Award' was fantastic but winning the 'Premier Award' for best film in the entire competition has blown me away. The quality of the other films was so high that I come away with an enforced sense that this is such an important story that will resonate with many audiences.”

Professor Deborah Wilson, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, added: "To win two film awards among really stiff competition at these national awards is a tremendous achievement for Roy, Simon and Bossissi. 'Cobalt Rush' tells a really powerful, human story of the challenges in the DRC which go hand-in-hand with our rush to electrification. The team have produced a documentary which has got people really thinking about the issue, and I’m delighted they have been recognised in this way."

Chris Youles, Chief Information and Digital Officer, said: "'Cobalt Rush' demonstrates how film can be such a powerful medium for our researchers to use to express complex ideas and issues. It really shows Simon's incredible filmmaking skills, but it is also testament to the work of the whole AV team in helping our academics at Bath. We are delighted at the success of this collaboration between Roy and Simon and excited to see how this film will make a wider impact into debates about electrification and sustainability."

Rob Hyde, AV Service Manager, added: “This is fantastic news and shows the ethos of what our staff try to help academic staff do - bring the world to life. To take Learning on Screen's 'Premier Award' for a 'perfect film' is amazing."

‘Cobalt Rush’ builds on previous projects from Maconachie and Wharf , including ‘Voices from the Mine’ – which focused on artisanal diamond industry supply chains - and ‘Gender and Fairtrade’ – which looked at conditions for female cocoa farmers in Ghana. Further publicity and an official launch event for the film is currently being planned for later in 2023.