A University of Bath film shot on location in Sierra Leone by development scholar Professor Roy Maconachie and in-house videographer Simon Wharf has won top prize in the international ‘Let’s Talk About Water’ film competition.

The short film, titled ‘Green Island’, which is currently being edited into a longer piece to support Roy’s wider research on urban food production and resource use in West Africa, tells the story of a female farmer in the country’s capital Freetown. It reflects on the impact that increased migration has had on access to the water she and other farmers depend on.

Roy is part of the Water Innovation and Research Centre at Bath and the GW4 Water Security Alliance. His current work, funded under the British Academy’s Urban Infrastructures of Wellbeing programme, is an interdisciplinary collaboration with researchers in Bath’s Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, as well as geographers at Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone.

The project seeks to explore the challenges that urban farmers in Freetown face, particularly with respect to accessing clean water to irrigate their crops. But the work feeds into wider discussions about the sustainability of rapidly expanding cities in sub-Saharan Africa, as extreme pressure is placed on the urban fabric.

This latest venture marks a string of award-winning collaborative projects between Roy and Simon. Back in 2017, they won the ‘Learning on Screen’ film HE award for their film ‘Gender and Fairtrade’, which explored the lives of female cocoa farmers in Ghana. In 2019, their next film ‘Voices of the Mine’, which told the story of the value chain of diamonds from mine to shop window scooped the same award, before being premiered at the UN in New York.

Professor Maconachie explains: “Like no other medium, film has the power to reach a very wide audience. In my own work, it has become an essential part of my strategy to generate impact and translate my research into a format that is accessible beyond academia. I am really thrilled that this film is already receiving international attention.

“Unlike other projects that Simon and I have worked on together, this particular film was shot and produced during a global pandemic. Travelling to Sierra Leone, ensuring everything was Covid-safe, presented extra challenges this time. But it also really struck us how life remained unchanged for the urban farmers we were working with. The day-to-day struggle of putting food on the table and making ends meet was still the over-riding concern for those living in such a precarious urban environment.”

Simon Wharf added: “This is an international film competition with over 160 entries received from countries around the world, and so I’m very proud we have won the grand jury’s first prize.

“The relationship I’ve built with Roy goes from strength to strength, with every project representing a step-up from the last. It feels like we are gaining real momentum as we discuss lots of other projects in the pipeline. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work with academics like Roy, to capture the amazing research they are doing here and helping it reach wide and diverse audiences.”

Professor Joe Devine, Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences, said: “This is another fantastic accolade recognising one of Roy and Simon’s innovative and inspiring films. As they have shown on previous occasions, their partnership is really helping to bring complex but important development stories from often forgotten parts of the world to a much wider audience. Our congratulations to them both.”