The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Guardian collaborated again on a public pitch at the occasion of Sheffield Doc/Fest 2019.

The opportunity invites filmmakers to present ideas for short documentaries that explore the nature and impact of poverty in the UK, in a way that can open up minds, improve public understanding of the issue and start to shift attitudes towards some of the most marginalised people and communities in the UK.

JRF and the Guardian are looking to support two short films with funding (a maximum of £30,000 per film) and global release via

The 2019 Joseph Rowntree x Guardian Pitch Winners :

Edwin Mingard and Elizabeth Benjamin (Stoke Film)
Hazel Falck - United Voices of the World

What kind of stories we want

We are seeking authentic and diverse stories about people and /or communities that successfully bring in the bigger picture/context surrounding people's lives eg the systems and structures that can lock people in poverty; as well as give a sense of solution too. 

In particular, we want films to try and do something different to the usual treatment given to the subject of poverty - we are really keen for surprising styles eg using humour to engage with the audience, stories that are uplifting rather than depressing and sad, characters who are heroes rather than victims, etc.

The short documentary proposals should engage with the research that the JRF have done with the FrameWorks Institute to find new ways of publicly discussing poverty in the UK. See for more information of the Talking About poverty project. The film teams will be briefed on this work by JRF and ensure their treatment reflects the insight on how to engage effectively with the public about poveryt in the UK. 

The Guardian and JRF are seeking to support films that show the systemic causes and crucially the solutions to poverty, that can drown out dominant narratives that blame people for their situation or pitch the ‘deserving’ against the ‘undeserving poor’. The documentaries should be about fixing things within the existing economic system as opposed to redistribution of wealth/inequality – in other words, we want film ideas about what is happening to those on the bottom 20% of incomes rather than the gap between rich and poor. 


What kind of documentaries we want

Proposals should have a sense of timeliness and be related to the news in a tangential way, but should also stand the test of time and remain relevant in years to come. Pitches should be for story-/character- driven films, rather than issue-based documentaries. Films can be in any style, and we welcome innovative and surprising takes on the subject and style of documentary. The key is that they are accessible and engaging to online audiences.

This year, we are particularly interested in making sure that we support documentaries with authentic storytelling rooted in the words of participants themselves - so the more we will hear directly from those with direct experience of poverty, working in collaboration with experienced and brilliant filmmakers, the better. We're looking for filmmakers who have built trust and established a positive relationship with the participants in the film to ensure an authentic representation of their stories?

We are also keen to make sure we are supporting filmmaking teams from diverse backgrounds eg from the communities in which they are filming and will be taking that into consideration in selecting pitch participants. This could mean that you are collaborating directly with your subjects or others with experience of poverty - see one of last year's supported films, Fighting Shame, for an example of this. It could also mean that the filmmaking team are from backgrounds that are not usually given opportunities in the documentary industry, including those from lower incomes and those who are struggling for opportunities because of their age (both younger and older).  It could also be that you are a regional filmmaker and we are very interested in stories from outside of London.


Please be as explicit as possible about the diversity of your team and why this is a participatory documentary - this will be a big factor for us in considering who we select to pitch.

To get a sense of the kind of short documentaries that work for the Guardian, watch the films on It is also recommended that you take a look at the Guardian's coverage of poverty for some inspiration.


How to Apply

This is an open call for submissions. Filmmakers from any country may apply however the stories must have a UK focus. Proposals should be for short documentaries of 15-30 minutes. They should be original shorts, not re-versions of longer films unless there is a clear identity to any derivative short documentary. Submissions should be well-researched, well-developed ideas with confirmed access to subjects—i.e. more than just a conceptual proposal. We are keen to mentor and work with supported filmmakers closely, and filmmakers of varying levels of experience are invited to apply as long as they can convince us they can deliver their proposal. Films must be completed by end of February 2020. 


A shortlist of up to six projects will be selected to pitch their idea to a panel of representatives from JRF and the Guardian plus industry experts during Doc/Fest 2019. The pitch will take place in front of a live audience of Festival Pass Holders and be followed by 1:1 meetings with the decision-making panellists. Attending filmmaking teams will have access to a bursary fund to help with their attendance.



For general queries about this pitch opportunity, please contact

For queries for the JRF, please contact


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