BFE-RAI Ethnomusicology Film Award

This biennial award is for the most outstanding film about music/sound in the world. Special consideration will be given to innovative audiovisual work that increases knowledge and understanding of musicians, music cultures or soundscapes. The value of the prize is £250. The prize is sponsored by the British Forum for Ethnomusicology.

Submissions are now open for the 2025 RAI Film Festival. The festival is a biennial international event celebrating the best in documentary filmmaking from around the globe. Established in 1985 by the Royal Anthropological Institute (UK), the festival showcases new work from academic anthropologists and related disciplines, and from filmmakers at all levels of experience from students to professionals. It looks for fearless films that ask difficult questions, build bridges, seek redress and promote social justice and dialogue.

The festival welcomes submissions from independent filmmakers and researchers in all areas of music and sound studies. 

The festival will be held in person from 27–30 March 2025 at the Watershed Cinema and the Arnolfini Arts Centre and Gallery in Bristol, an official UNESCO City of Film. After this, festival films will be available for streaming throughout the month of April 2025.

Please submit your films for the regular deadline of 31 August 2024. Details of the festival, including submission procedures, are available at the RAI Film Festival site. We look forward to receiving your submissions!

RAI Film Festival

Since 1982, the RAI Film Festival (formerly knows as the RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film) has served as a leading forum for exploring the multiple relationships between documentary filmmakinganthropology, visual culture, and the advocacy of cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue through film. The festival takes place biennially, and since 2015 has had its home at Watershed, an independent arthouse cinema in Bristol (UK).

The festival showcases films organised in a number of strands (main competition, student films, short films) and it assigns a number of prizes and awards. The film screenings are accompanied by workshops, masterclasses, and an academic conference.

The RAI Film Festival is organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, a scholarly organisation devoted to anthropology in all its many fields and applications.

Previous Winners

2023 Winner - La Tumba Mambi (2023, Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier and DJ Jigüe)

As a result of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), many French settlers travelled to Eastern Cuba with their slaves to escape the revolt. The Tumba Francesa Societies, known as a brotherhood and a mutual aid network, emerged from these waves of slave migrations. Through the Society’s youngest member, Flavio, we meet his grandmother Andrea and mother Queli, two charismatic knowledge keepers of their rich cultural traditions. The original film soundtrack composed and produced by Cuban based DJ Jigüe, in collaboration with the Tumba Francesa members, is a rhythmic and striking reminder that the present is grounded in a history of struggles for freedom.

2021 Winner - In Search of Bidesia (2019, Simit Bhagat)

In this vivid exploration of Bhojpuri folk music, we were particularly struck by the centrality of musical performance in conveying the history of multiple forms of labour migration, both domestic -  across the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar  - and also incorporating indentured labour migration to the Caribbean. Traveling and migration permeate the various levels of the film, from the filmmaker’s own journeys to meet contemporary performers, to the songs’ poignant lyrics concerning the challenges of separation from home and loved ones in difficult circumstances. Both the vitality and the precarious nature of the traditions are impactfully conveyed, as well as the music's connection with the fight for independence in the twentieth century. The long takes of performances and the emphasis on musical process allow space for the complexities of remembering and recreating to unfold, as well as illuminating the often-blurred boundaries between rehearsal, performance, and oral testimony.

2021 Commendation - Elder's Corner (2020, Siji Awoyinka)

Inspired by a collection of recordings, director, musician and narrator, Siri Awoyinka, travels from the US to Nigeria in search of the musical icons of the Highlife & Juju eras. An impressively wide range of key musicians of the period revisit their musical pasts through a mixture of studio performances and moving oral testimonies, that interweave experiences of colonialism, political unrest and migration. Striking cinematography and rich contextualization with archive sources contribute to a nuanced and detailed historical record of music making in the pre-1978 period and its centrality in Nigerian society.

2019 Winner - Up Down and Sideways (Anushka Meenakshi and Iswar Srikumar)

Almost all of the 5000 inhabitants of the village of Phek in Nagaland, India (close to the border with Myanmar) cultivate rice for their own consumption. As they work in cooperative groups, the rice cultivators of Phek sing. The seasons change, and so does the music, transforming the mundane into the hypnotic. The love that they sing of is also a metaphor for the need for the other - the friend, the family, the community, to build a polyphony of voices. Stories of love, stories of the field, stories of song, stories in song. Up, Down and Sideways is a musical portrait of a community of rice cultivators and their memories of love and loss, created from working together on the fields.