BFE-RAI Ethnomusicology Film Award

This prize is awarded to the most outstanding film about music/sound in the world submitted to the biennial RAI Film Festival. Special consideration will be given to innovative audiovisual work that increases knowledge and understanding of musicians, music cultures or soundscapes. The film must be substantial (at least 30 minutes long) and should address issues of concern in ethnomusicology, but need not necessarily belong to any conventional ethnographic genre. The value of the prize is £250. The Ethnomusicology Film Award is sponsored by the British Forum for Ethnomusicology.

The next edition of the festival is due to take place in 2023.

The 17th edition of the festival RAI Film Festival took place online from 19th-28th March 2021. Details of the 2021 BFE-RAI Ethnomusicology Film Award winners are below.

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

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 - 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.