Since the launch of Guardian Documentaries in 2016, the short film division of the British daily newspaper has garnered an Oscar and a BAFTA over the past two consecutive years, scoring the best British short film trophy for Cherish Oteka’s “The Black Cop” on March 13.
About Gamal “G” Turawa, a Black gay man who joined the London police department to help change its racial make-up, “The Black Cop” explores Turawa’s memories of homophobia, racial profiling, and harassment. Commissioned by Guardian Documentaries, the doc received additional funds from the BFI Doc Society Fund.
“Guardian Documentaries compliment Guardian journalism,” says Lindsay Poulton, head of Guardian Documentaries. “I felt that Cherish’s initial proposal expressed urgent themes in a creative way. We were reflecting on the Black Lives Matter movement; on the push for LGBTQ+ equality; we knew there were a lot of important, uncomfortable conversations to be had about policing and abuse of power. So, these were all themes that were editorially very relevant to us.”
Since its inception Guardian Documentaries has released approximately 80 nonfiction shorts on Guardian’s website. Poulton says that the unit receives proposals from filmmakers at any phase of production, and at any stage of their career.
Oteka, who is the first openly non-binary person to win a BAFTA, began working with the Guardian during the development phase of “The Black Cop.” The director explains that they wanted to work with the Guardian because the film arm “didn’t follow a creative formula. I felt like I had the chance to just tell a story in a creative way and wouldn’t have the pressure of making it in a specific way for their platform.”
Guardian Documentaries is one of many media platforms that have gotten behind short nonfiction content distribution in the last decade. The New York Times, the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times and Time Magazine have also created short docu divisions that compete with the likes of Netflix, HBO, PBS, MTV and A&E.
“It feels like a different universe compared to 10 or 15 years ago,” says Charlie Phillips, head of video at Guardian News & Media. “It’s really great.”
While “The Black Cop” did not qualify for Oscar consideration this year, the Guardian has had success at the Academy Awards. Last year, it won the short documentary film trophy for Anthony Giacchino’s “Colette,” about a member of the French Resistance who, after decades of refusing to step foot in Germany, visits the concentration camp where the Nazis killed her brother. The unit also received an Oscar nom for Ed Perkins’s 2018 short, “Black Sheep,” about Cornelius Walker, a young English Black man who is unable to escape his racist surroundings and tries to change himself and his physical appearance to fit in.
Last year’s Oscar winner Giacchino is one of several American filmmakers including Nancy Schwartzman (“Anonymous Comes to Town”), Zac Manuel (“This Body”), and Ivete Lucas and Patrick Bresnan (“Skip Day”) who have worked with Guardian Documentaries.
“Nearly half of our audience comes from the U.S.,” says Poulton. “An important part of what we do is reaching out into the world of independent, international filmmakers to tell stories and create films within communities that they specifically know and have relevance with.”