Guardian Bertha

The Guardian is partnering with Bertha Foundation to tell international documentary film stories with global impact. We are commissioning a series of 12 short documentary films from independent filmmakers. The series covers global stories with a focus on films that have the ability to advance the contemporary issues they address and raise awareness of people and movements making a difference in the world.

White Fright

In 2015, the community of Islamberg discovered that a Tennessee minister was plotting the deadliest attack on US soil since 9/11 against their village. Why have Americans heard nothing about him, and why has the safety of this community been ignored?

On 10 April 2015, the FBI quietly arrested Robert Doggart, a white, 63-year-old Christian minister, after they discovered he was plotting an attack against Islamberg, a small African American Muslim community in upstate New York. Inspired by claims on Fox News that the community was a terrorist training camp, Doggart discussed firebombing a mosque and a school in the village, and using assault rifles and a machete to murder the residents.

No terrorism charges were brought against Doggart. No national news outlets covered his arrest, and one month after he was taken into custody, a judge released him on bail. As Doggart’s case went before an all-white jury, White Fright examined the US’s inconsistent system of national security, the media’s role in exacerbating terrorist threats, and the failure to protect vulnerable communities from racist attacks.

Read more on this story – Terror attacks by Muslims receive 357% more press attention, study finds

Key Credits
Director, producer and editor: David Felix Sutcliffe
Producer: Nehad Khader
Executive producers for the Guardian: Charlie Phillips and Lindsay Poulton
Commissioned by the Guardian and Bertha Foundation
Length – 29 mins
Source: The Guardian


The life, death and impact of Pakistan’s working-class icon Qandeel Baloch, killed in 2016 after becoming a social media celebrity. This film tells Qandeel’s story through her own videos and media appearances. A young, fearless woman who collided with Pakistan’s mainstream media, Qandeel exposed the religious right and challenged middle-class morality.

From her life before stardom in a rural village to her early days in entertainment as a model and actor, Qandeel gained attention by making provocative web videos. We get to know Qandeel through her family, admirers and those she interacted with and inspired. The film also analyses her life through the lens of class and power politics and connects it to women’s continuing struggle for self-expression in Pakistan.

Key Credits

Directors and producers: Saad Khan and Tazeen Bari
Editor: Caterina Monzani
Executive producers for the Guardian: Charlie Phillips and Lindsay Poulton
Commissioned by: the Guardian and Bertha Foundation

Chalk Girl

A protester at the heart of Hong Kong’s democracy movement. Two years since her arrest made her an accidental infamous hero of the pro-democracy umbrella movement, the 16-year-old must decide whether to rejoin the battle alongside the ‘localist’ youth. As elections loom, Chalk Girl is torn between wanting to respect her family, who are concerned about the risks of her activism, and standing up to Chinese interference. Young localists see themselves as being in a fight to save their beloved city, and in the middle of it all, Chalk Girl is just a teenager wanting to feel part of something bigger.

In 2014, as a 14-year-old schoolgirl, she was arrested for drawing a chalk flower on a wall where thousands of people created protest artworks. It was the end of the umbrella revolution, in which tens of thousands of people occupied parts of downtown Hong Kong. She was detained and removed from her father’s care, and only released when international outrage began to cause embarrassment. Because she was underage, her face was obscured in the press, but a cartoon form of her image became synonymous with the fight for democracy. The world came to know her as Chalk Girl.

Now 16, she remains masked and scarred from the damage done to her and her family, but her generation of ‘umbrella soldiers’ faces a new fight. Trouble is brewing as Hong Kong gears up for the first elections since the protests, and these young people are moving away from frontline street battles to stand in mainstream politics. Government suppression has caused youth anger to grow and inspired the creation of the localist movement – groups determined to defend Hong Kong’s culture and autonomy from the creeping dominance of mainland China.

What does it mean to be an accidental hero and a teenage girl at the heart of Hong Kong’s movement for autonomy, as the city’s youth mobilise to challenge China’s influence on the territory?

Key Credits
Director, producer, camera: San San F Young
Editor: Adam Thomas
Commissioned by: The Guardian and Bertha Foundation

The Island

Christmas Island, off the coast of Australia: here 50 million crabs make their slow and ancient migration from the jungle to the ocean’s edge, while thousands of people seeking asylum are indefinitely held in a high security detention facility. Poh Lin, a trauma counsellor living on the island, bears witness to the dramatic stories and decline of those being detained.

Poh Lin works with asylum seekers in the detention centre, using narrative therapy and sand play to explore people’s stories of trauma and survival. Poh Lin struggles with seeing her clients getting worse due to the time spent in indefinite detention, and the uncertainty of living in limbo. In real therapy sessions with Poh Lin we encounter asylum seekers being detained and hear their stories from inside.

Some speak of the families they’ve left behind and the journey they took to get to the island, others of waiting indefinitely and being exposed to the gradual mental collapse of their friends and family around them. Rarely leaving the detention centre, and with little idea of the natural beauty of Christmas Island, their sessions with Poh Lin are rare moments of human connection.

The island’s crabs come to serve as a metaphor for the ancient and timeless natural movements of migration. Their spectacle sits in stark contrast to the chaotic human movements and entrapment that become senseless and absurd – not just on this island – but around the world.

See also:

Key Credits
Directors: Gabrielle Brady
Producer: Alex Kelly
Executive producers for the Guardian: Charlie Phillips and Laurence Topham
Commissioned by: The Guardian and Bertha Foundation

The Internet Warrriors

Why do so many people use the internet to harass and threaten people, and stretch freedom of speech to its limits? Director Kyrre Lien meets a group of strongly opinionated individuals all across the world, who spend their time debating online on the subjects they care most strongly about. They feel like warriors for their own personal causes, often feeling left behind by offline society, feeling like they are the ones who have all the right answers. Online platforms are their favourite tools to express the opinions that others might find objectionable in language that often offends. Do they behave in the same way when they come offline?

Some internet commenters are what others might call ‘trolls’ but some are just very opinionated, and it’s not always clear where that line is. We meet the characters in their own homes or in their favourite places, sometimes in front of their computer or their phone – the places where they spend hours and hours every day writing comments. Some, like Ashleigh, have written as many as 175,000 tweets and regard online commenting as being like their diary. Without seeking our approval or condemnation, they try and explain in the offline world whether they stand by their strong online views.

We meet a global set of people – some who hate immigrants and threaten to kill them, some who defend animals more than other humans, someone very annoyed with Lady Gaga, Trump supporters, and a refugee fighting Assad from afar. The characters read their online comments out loud and offer thoughts on why they have written what they have. Do they show any remorse for the hurt they may have caused? Is there any space in their minds for accepting other peoples’ ideas?

Featuring internet commenters living in the UK, USA, Norway, Lebanon and Russia, this is a global picture of the real lives behind the anger.

Kyrre Lien is a documentarist living in Oslo, Norway. Named by Forbes to be one of 30 young media entrepreneurs defining the ever-shifting world of news and content in 2017, he has received numerous of national and international awards, including Picture of the Year in Norway in 2014

Find out more about Kyrre Lien’s 3 year project –

Key Credits
Directors: Kyrre Lien
Editor: Noah Payne Frank / Kyrre Lien
Thanks to: Fritt Ord and VG.


Esperanza and Teodula are calling for justice in rural Peru, part of 300,000 people sterilised without consent more than 18 years ago. The Quipu project is their phoneline that allows victims across the country to share their shocking testimonies and ensure those responsible are punished.
Together with other affected women, activists and artists, Esperanza and Teodula are using technology that’s designed to reach those living in isolated communities. They have established the Quipu Project, a specially developed phone line connected to the internet allows women to share their stories in their own words, listen to others’ experiences and be heard around the country and the world.

The Quipu team travel across Peru to the regions that were most affected by the sterilisation campaign – impoverished villages in the Andes and Amazon. As they meet more people and collect their stories on the phone line, the real scale of the campaign starts to be revealed.

This documentary film follows the intimate journeys of these two peasant women fighting for recognition and women’s rights in a male-dominated society, while inviting others to join them in the hope that their voices will no longer be silenced. Featuring stunning landscapes and mass women’s protests around Peru’s 2016 election campaign, Quipu tells the story of some unlikely, inspiring heroes.

Key Credits
Directors: Maria I. Court and Rosemarie Lerner
Producers: Sandra Tabares-Duque and Rosemarie Lerner
Editor: Javier Becerra Heraud

Radical Brownies

Berets, badges, Black Lives Matter and social justice: the youth group for activist girls of colour.

The Radical Monarchs is an alternative to the Scout movement for girls of colour in Oakland, California. Its members earn badges not for sewing or selling cookies, but for completing challenges on social justice including Black Lives Matter, ‘radical beauty’, being ‘an LGBTQ ally’ and the environment.

Dressed in berets and uniforms, the Radical Monarchs show us the neighbourhood where the Black Panther movement was born and meet veterans of the struggle against racism. The group was started by parents concerned that their daughters were being denied access to a fuller understanding of the issues affecting mostly black and Latino communities. The group, open to girls aged between eight and 12, aims to provide the same fun as other girl groups, while also building their pride in being young girls of colour and teaching respect for everyone else.

The Monarchs’ critics accuse them of brainwashing their children and unnecessarily segregating them. But their warm welcome in Oakland and the demand from across the US and around the world for similar groups suggests that they’ve tapped into something that’s needed.

Key Credits
Director: Linda Goldstein Knowlton
Producer: Grace Lee

Desert Fire

Football’s world cup for unrecognised territories is viewed through the eyes of the manager and players of one of the most fascinating teams, Iraqi Kurdistan.

In summer 2016, an extraordinary tournament took place: football’s ‘rebel’ world cup for stateless nations, minority ethnic groups and unrecognised territories. This surreal and vibrant spectacle is viewed through the eyes of the Kurdistan players and coach.

At this biggest and most bizarre global soccer stage outside of Fifa, teams are drawn in from across the football wilderness. The championship clashes take place in Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia loyal to Vladimir Putin. All 12 teams represent stateless groups battling for global recognition as they use the tournament to press their claims for official nationhood. Any lack of sporting skills is made up by a powerful passion for identity and the beautiful game.

The Kurdistan football team represent the Kurds of war-torn Iraq and are among the favourites to win the tournament. Their coach experienced first-hand Saddam Hussein’s brutal repression of the Kurds and is now determined to push his sportsmen to victory. Players converge from all over the region – some leave behind their normal jobs, others take leave from the peshmerga military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan, which fights Islamic State just 40 miles from the training ground.

​The film tells a gripping story of triumph and failure, separatism and unity, nationhood and exile, against the backdrop of global events.​

Will they hold their nerve in a tournament that means far more to the Kurds than mere points on a scoreboard?

Jack Losh is a British freelance journalist, documenting life and conflict in eastern Ukraine for publications in the UK and the US. Sebastien Rabas is a documentary filmmaker and cinematographer based in London.

Key Credits
Directors: Sebastien Rabas and Jack Losh

Gun Nation

A revealing and unsettling journey to the heart of America’s deadly love affair with the gun. In the 18 years since Zed Nelson’s seminal photography book Gun Nation was published, 500,000 Americans have been killed by firearms in the US and many more injured. Nelson returns to the people he met, photographs them again, and asks why America is a nation still with an insatiable appetite for firearms.

Avoiding stereotypical images of gang members or extremists, Nelson focuses instead on another side of America’s gun culture: the mainly white middle classes who sell and purchase guns in vast numbers.
Nelson’s two-decade-long rapport with his photographic subjects gives unique and intimate access to the minds of gun owners. As they cling to the notion of a centuries-old ‘right to bear arms’, Nelson seeks to understand why – despite the enormous death toll – there is such fierce resistance to gun control laws, particularly the debate about ownership of assault weapons.

Gun Nation explores the paradox of why America’s most potent symbol of freedom is also one of its greatest killers. Zed Nelson is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker. Gun Nation was awarded first prize in the World Press Photo Contest, the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award and the Visa d’or.

Key Credits
Director: Zed Nelson
Producer: Zed Nelson
Editor: Noah Payne Frank

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