Best Short Documentary
Joshua Hughes & Felix Bazalgette
10' • United Kingdom • 2020
This film is about a group of men who print a newspaper five nights a week. At the Awoko printing press in Freetown, Sierra Leone, they suffer power cuts, ageing machines and dangerous chemicals – but it’s also a place to sleep, chat, joke and, of course, earn money. Some of the older men like James and Joe have worked in the industry their whole lives, while the younger printers like Ibrahim and Sheka see no future in it – they would rather be lawyers, or accountants, if they could afford the university fees. Newspaper printing has a rich history in Freetown, Sierra Leone, established as a colony for former slaves in the late eighteenth century. The first movable type printing press in sub-Saharan Africa arrived there in the 1790s, and in the nineteenth century the city became a centre of writing and publishing in West Africa. Weekly newspapers printed in Freetown travelled thousands of miles, connecting a vast transnational readership and fostering the anti-colonial consciousness that would lead to a rejection of European rule in the twentieth century. Today, in a country where fewer than 15% of the population have access to the internet, print newspapers remain a vital, if precarious and declining, institution. Newspaper printers in Sierra Leone sometimes take a political risk with their work – they've been arrested by governments in the past – but they also, every night, take on personal risks working with toxic chemicals and ageing machines in order to keep information flowing out to their many thousands of readers. So while this film is about one night shift at the Awoko press, it’s also about the fact that, around the world, the vibrant public sphere and political change promised by journalism doesn’t happen by accident, but through untold hidden hours of boring, messy, dangerous work.