sH₂Ort stories, lasting impact

Esteemed sH₂Orts judge, Charlie Phillips, Head of Documentaries at The Guardian, discusses the recent film competition and expresses his admiration for all of the shortlisted entries.


25 Mar 2015

It's not easy to make a documentary on a big theme, and there aren't many bigger themes than water. Water - it's everywhere, it plays a part in almost every documentary, so how do you do something original with it? Something that people will want to watch in big numbers, whether they're committed to the cause of clean and easy water access, or whether they just want to watch a great doc. How do you avoid the clichés of the stereotypical charity doc that languishes in the dark corners of the internet?

WaterAid and WorldView approached this challenge with an impressive attitude and that's why I was intrigued to be a judge in this competition - they wanted short films about water that people would watch, because they loved the arc of the storytelling, because it said something clever and witty and kept you watching, because it had a payoff at the end that made you reflect on water, but also made you reflect on a whole series of bigger ideas. And all this in barely a minute.

Lots of the entries to the competition succeeded, and it was a delight watching the shortlisted films. Some had a simple but effective conceit - we saw a fantasy of a world with bad water situations and then a real world of clean and friendly water. Lovely, fresh and fast narrative turnarounds. Some went wider and more systematic - we saw the everyday people and facilities who maintain reliable clean water, and we understood that water feels like a personal quest every day but it's part of a much bigger political mix and where water is concerned, the personal can't help but be political.

The most original entries did something less categorisable entirely - a horror film set in a bathroom of a dripping tap, street poetry about the joys and dangers of water, children asking difficult questions about our watery world, an imagined world without water, a quest to find water across a fantastic wasteland, a formally-clever process documentary about making water come from pump to bottle in the face of technical difficulties. All these took forms of filmmaking from other genres and attempted something magical with the doc form.

The points where filmmakers were fast and loose with the traditions of documentary were the exciting ones, and the ones best suited to an online audience with easily distracted eyes. Doc audiences are restless and want something new, and they enjoy seeing the looseness of a doc-maker playing with their craft, so the more freedom the filmmaker felt, the more I enjoyed it.

So what happens now? We've judged and awarded the garlands to the winners. But all of these films say something profound about the cause of global water and tell us small stories, and all of them can be part of campaigning for better awareness of saving and giving access to water. It's not about who wins, it's about what we do with this knowledge and I hope we'll see all these films flying across lots of different internet platforms around World Water Day, furthering the knowledge of who has and who controls water.

Watch all the winning entries and other shortlisted films > 

We're now inviting established filmmakers to pitch story ideas for the chance to be awarded a grant of up to £3,000 by WorldView, to make a documentary film, in time for World Water Day 2016. Find out how to enter >