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A Cinematic Exploration of the Unheard:
Listening Pitch by Aesthetica x Audible

What can we hear when we truly listen? In a world where we are surrounded by a cacophony of sounds, how can we separate essential information from white noise? Aesthetica teams up with Audible UK, offering £20,000 to fund a new documentary. In 2021, The Listening Pitch was established to focus attention on what it means to slow down and take in our environments. The initiative is currently looking for stories that demonstrate how listening helps us to understand different points of view.

In a world that’s never been louder, this year’s Listening Pitch challenges filmmakers to find extraordinary narratives that reflect the world around us. They can be personal or universal, and this year’s theme takes notice of global stories and human connection. We are looking for documentaries that bring life to unheard voices, and resonate with audiences on a deep, emotional level. If you’re driven by the desire to tell powerful, evocative stories, this is your chance. We encourage filmmakers from all walks of life to share their unique perspectives on the theme. Challenge the conventional, experiment with your craft and redefine what it means to truly listen.

Four years ago, the recipients of the inaugural Listening Pitch were Jessi Gutch and Liz Jackson, with Blind as a Beat, which premiered at Aesthetica 2021. Their film is a cele­bration of the power of listening, set against the backdrop of a film director’s failing eyesight. Jackson was an in-house documentary director at the BBC for 10 years, making a range of films for the broadcaster. Told through four phases of loss, the film portrays her journey: from ex-documentary filmmaker who used sight as a primary sense, to someone who is visually impaired and using hearing predominantly. “There is a growing movement for film to become more accessible. People are starting to see that the disabled audience is a big one – they should be thought of in the production process. In this script, we’ve taken the idea of audio description but elevated it to be visually evocative. We like the idea of giving people pictures in their head just from the words.” Co-director Gutch is a BIFA-nominated writer, filmmaker and producer whose established credits include The Forgotten C, Until The Tide Creeps In and Octopus. Living with ovarian cancer, she is committed to authentic storytelling about the disease. She also specialises in creative documentaries and working with NGOs. Whilst working for the BBC for a decade, Jackson collaborated with mis­represented communities to tell their stories.

2022’s awards were given to three films. Birdsong by Sparsh Ahuja and Omi Gupta explores the dying whistling traditions of the Hmong people of northern Laos, whose sonic exchanges straddle the boundary between music and speech. The film follows the personal stories of three individuals from Long Lan village as they reflect on their vanishing musical language. Jade Ang Jackman’s Speed of Sound is a sonic portrait of self-professed adrenaline junkie Carina Edlinger, whose determination and athletic prowess led her to win gold at the Beijing Winter Paralympics. Meanwhile, Echo by Ross McClean tells the story of a man who communicates via an intricate system of radios. The films premiered at Aesthetica 2022, with Birdsong being picked up by Guardian Documentaries.

Last year saw the premiere of two outstanding projects. Meghan McDonough’s Old Lesbians, also taken up by Guardian Documentaries, asks: How do we communicate the history of a population that is rapidly disappearing? Her moving project continues the work of activist Arden Eversmeyer, who travelled the USA to record stories from her community. The other winning short, a film by Matthew Herbert, looks at the environmental cost of growing and exporting bananas, 250 million of which are eaten daily. Banana invites us to hear what the fruit hears, following the pickers, packers, machines and fridges involved in bringing us a food that is now part of our everyday.

The Listening Pitch, organised in collaboration with Audible, is currently open for entries. We’re inviting filmmakers to submit proposals for a short documentary on the subject of listening. We’re looking for original stories that show how listening lets us understand different points of view and discover new ideas.

Submit your story before 21 April for the chance to win £20,000 to fund a new documentary.

Following the deadline, five filmmakers will be selected to present their ideas at a live virtual pitch in May 2024. A panel will review the pitches and a grant of £20k will be awarded to the filmmaker with the strongest idea, that offers a new perspective on the theme. The winning project will premiere at Aesthetica in November 2024 and also be shared on Audible and Aesthetica social channels.

Cover image: Polina Washington, from The Past Is Something You Could See (2020).

Blind as a Beat dir. Jessi Gutch, Liz Jackson

Birdsong dir. Sparsh Ahuja, Omi Gupta

Banana, dir. Matthew Herbert