Aesthetica Film Festival and Audible have teamed up for The Listening Pitch 2023. Filmmakers were invited to submit proposals for a documentary based on the theme of how hearing new stories can change our lives. Winning films such as The Short-Wave Listener (Ross McClean, 2021), Speed of Sound (Jade Ang Jackman, 2021), Birdsong (Sparsh Ahujua, Omi Gupta, 2021) and Blind as a Beat (Jessi Gutch, Liz Jackson, 2020) have since gone on to screen at award-winning festivals such as South by Southwest (SXSW), San Francisco’s International Film Festival, Steve McQueen’s Lamma’s Park Showcase and Sundance London.
This year, two winners have been selected. Each film is a story that needs to be told. Both filmmakers will be awarded £20,000 to make their project and their film will premiere at our BAFTA-Qualifying Festival on 10 November. Here, we preview the two groundbreaking projects.
Old Lesbians | Directed by Meghan McDonough
How do we communicate a history of a population that is rapidly disappearing?
For the past 25 years, Houston native Arden Eversmeyer journeyed across the USA to record oral accounts of a fading community – old lesbians. Arden passed away in 2022 at age 91, but her legacy persists through the voices she preserved. Having once lived in fear of losing her job for who she loved, she recognised the significance of reclaiming the words “old” and lesbian” with pride rather than shame. In 1998, after her partner of three decades passed away, Arden realised that many of her Houston peers would die before telling their truth. As a result, she purchased a small audio recorder and began taping. As the Old Lesbian Herstory Project (OLOHP) expanded by word of mouth, she and others began to road-trip across the country to gather stories. Today, only about half of the interviewees are still alive. Through a stop-motion animation of treasured objects, photographs and text in a Joseph Cornell-inspired shadow box, joy, pain, love, loss and humanity are united in the words of activists, veterans, nurses and zoologists. In this film, McDonough documents the legacy of outstanding women who have carved out lives for themselves in a historically heteronormative society.
Meghan McDonough is a queer filmmaker and journalist who directs and edits documentary to better understand our world. A Question of Sex (2022), her series for Scientific American about how gender biases skew science, was nominated for the 2023 GLAAD Media Awards, and Invisible Monsters and Tomato Soup (2021), her animated short about pandemic dreams, was featured in The New Yorker Documentary. She has worked at NBC to produce innovative video and has since appeared in FiveThirtyEight, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and Atlas Obscura and has been supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.
Banana | Directed by Matthew Herbert
What does the food chain sound like from the perspective of a banana?
More than 250 million bananas are consumed daily. The personal and environmental cost is immense. In this voyage from tree to breakfast bowl, Herbert’s film tracks a banana’s journey. The audience hears what the fruit hears – starting in the Dominican Republic and moving to the normally inaudible stories of pickers, packers, machines, crew on cargo ships, fridges, ripening gas processes and workers that bring us our food of the everyday. Despite being the world’s most consumed fruit, the banana is facing extinction. Seedless and asexual, it is vulnerable to disease. This expedition asks us to carefully listen, to understand the context of consumption at the cost of modern agribusiness, and most crucially, at expense of sustainability.
Matthew Herbert is a composer specialising in turning ordinary sound into music. He has worked extensively on the soundtracks of BAFTA and Oscar winning films such as The Wonder (2022), The Cave (2019) and A Fantastic Woman (2018). In 2020, he established the Sound of the Year Awards and has also created The Museum of Sound, an online compendium of hundreds of sounds around the world. Herbert has a PhD in the ethics of working with sound and is also a DJ and performer.
Aesthetica Film Festival runs from the 8-12 November in York, UK. Join us for the premiere of the two winning films on 10 November. | asff.co.uk