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Meet the Vanguard of Documentary Filmmaking

The Listening Pitch is a cinematic exploration of the unheard. For the past four years, Aesthetica and Audible have come together to offer a £20,000 grant for filmmakers to make a documentary about the power of listening. This year’s theme asked: What can we hear if we listen right now? We challenged documentarians to amplify unheard voices and share unheard stories. Today, we are proud to announce the two winners of the 2024 grant are: Liberty Smith’s Greensound (Main Prize) and Ornella Mutoni’s One Thousand Hills Between Us (Runner Up). Both Liberty and Ornella will premiere their projects at the BAFTA-Qualifying Aesthetica Short Film Festival on Saturday 9 November in York, UK.

Greensound is Liberty Smith’s Main Prize-winning project. The short film follows a group of men from Port Talbot, Wales, on a summer of sensory and immersive forest walks. They are from a community in the middle of devastating economic turmoil. In January 2024, the Tata Steel Plant announced it would close both its blast furnaces in the town, resulting in over 2,500 people losing their jobs. Greensounds’ protagonists are reeling from the impact of such large-scale redundancies and meet in the forest to share their experiences and memories. Each participant is equipped with directional microphones and headphones, which amplify the surrounding soundscape. This means they can hear everything from the distant noise of industry to a caterpillar crawling nearby. Active listening is a way for these men to connect, talk about everything on their minds and know that they don’t have to face such an uncertain future alone. Their conversations come to the fore amongst the sounds of the forest so the film intertwines personal narratives with broader themes like the environment, industrial decline and shifting identities. Greensound champions the transformative power of listening, and the connection built by becoming a listener to nature, ourselves and each other.

Runner Up Ornella Mutoni will produce a documentary reflecting on the experiences of contemporary Rwandans three decades after the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. One Thousand Hills Between Us follows Thierry, a 29-year-old whose mother’s world was torn apart by the genocide, who confronts family secrets and the intergenerational wounds carried by his peers. Along with a group of young adults, he takes part in a healing workshop where they learn to lean on each other and find the courage to break the cycle of trauma together. The group is led by Emilienne, a community healer, whose practice revolves around open conversations. However, she does not share her memories with her own daughters. This layered, multi-faceted short celebrates collective healing whilst acknowledging the pain of genocide and mass violence. The film probes at silence and the impact this will have on the next generation of Rwandans.

Since 2021, the Listening Pitch has funded and produced six ground-breaking films. Our 2023 winners were Banana, directed by Matthew Herbert, and Meghan McDonough’s Old Lesbians, which has recently been acquired by Guardian Documentaries. Sparsh Ahuja and Omi Gupta won in 2022 with Birdsong, also distributed by Guardian Documentaries, alongside Jade Ang Jackman’s Speed of Sound and Ross McClean’s Echo. The first-ever recipients of the grant were Jessi Gutch and Liz Jackson, the directors behind the BIFA-nominated Blind as a Beat. Many of these projects have gone on to screen at prestigious festivals, such as SXSW, San Francisco International Film Festival, BFI Flare and Sundance.

This year’s winning pitches were selected by an esteemed panel of judges, composed of members from Aesthetica, Audible and the New York Times’ Op-Docs. Cherie Federico is a Director of Aesthetica, the internationally acclaimed British media organisation that began as the contemporary art magazine in 2003. It is now a multi-platform, reaching an audience of over 550,000 and it also includes the BAFTA-Qualifying Aesthetica Short Film Festival. Steve Melia is a Producer at Audible, working across platforms such as audiobooks, podcasts and videos. Cherie and Steve joined forces to establish the Listening Pitch in 2021. The third member of the judging panel is Holly Newsom, the Senior Executive Producer at JamPot Productions. Before this, she was a presenter and Executive Producer for video content and podcasts with Audible, as well as the face and voice of their popular chat show series Audible Sessions. Finally, Christine Kecher joins the team as the Senior Commissioning Editor for Op-Docs, the New York Times’ award-winning series of short documentaries created by independent filmmakers. Her credits include Carol Dysinger’s Oscar-Winning short Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) Werner Herzog’s Meeting Gorbachev.

Our 2024 winners have put forward two vital projects. Each is a tribute to the act of listening, revealing the ways in which it is a powerful force for connection and healing. Liberty and Ornella each tackle vastly different subject areas but show how coming together can start the journey of healing trauma. It’s a true testament to the power of paying close attention to the natural world and the people around you, so that we can unearth important stories waiting to be told.

Join us for the premiere of this year’s winning films at Aesthetica Short Film Festival on Saturday 9 November in York UK. The full festival dates are Wednesday 6 November until Sunday 10 November.
Tickets available from mid June 2024.

Learn more: asff.co.uk


  1. One Thousand Hills Between Us (2024), dir. Ornella Mutoni
  2. Blind as a Beat (2022), dir. Jade Ang Jackson
  3. Greensound (2024), dir. Liberty Smith
  4. Birdsong (2022), dir. Sparsh Ahuja and Omi Gupta