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VOA's Pitch Contest Heads into Phase Two

(From left to right) VOA Mandarin’s E-Ting Chung, J.J. Thompson and Yiyi Yang on the set of “Cow Girls.”
(From left to right) VOA Mandarin’s E-Ting Chung, J.J. Thompson and Yiyi Yang on the set of “Cow Girls.”

Another edition of Voice of America’s pitch contest is well underway and into phase two of the program. Phase two of the expanded contest is dedicated to three subjects: Telling America’s Story; Refugees; and an Open Topic.

The VOA Pitch Contest began in 2020. Two winners were selected for this contest and their respective divisions received only $2,000 from the VOA Director’s office to produce each story. This contest was spearheaded by the VOA Women’s Caucus and stories had to be completed by March 1, 2020. Winners were Iram Abbasi of the Urdu Service for her plan to cover how domestic violence plays out in the South Asian community in the U.S., with a multimedia package in English and Urdu. Also, Victoria Kupchinetsky of the Russian Service was selected as a winner for coverage of “The Lakota Daughters” a story of how Native American women in South Dakota work with adolescent girls through the Imagine Project. The final story included a multimedia package in both English and Russian. This film won numerous awards including a Gracie Award in June 2021, the Loyola Feminist Film Festival in April 2021 and Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary Short at Kansas City FilmFest International.

2021 pitch contest winners included, “Fulfilling Buddha's Vision: In Ordination, Buddhist Nuns Seek Equality,” “Kenya Changing Gender Roles,” “Storm Damage: Rafael's Nightmare” and “The Invisible Enemy: Climate Change and Migration in the Sahel.”

Fulfilling Buddha's Vision: In Ordination, Buddhist Nuns Seek Equality,” produced by Warangkana “Waan” Chomchuen of VOA Thai and “Kenya Changing Gender Roles,” produced by Juma Majanga of the News Center were the winners in the Women’s category. “Fulfilling Buddha's Vision: In Ordination, Buddhist Nuns Seek Equality” focuses on the struggle for gender equality in Buddhism, one of the world's oldest and most widely practiced religions. “Kenya Changing Gender Roles” centers around Miriam Kasumuni, a Massai woman turned widower, who must challenge traditional norms as she becomes the breadwinner of her family.

Storm Damage: Rafael's Nightmare,” produced by Aunshuman Apte of VAO Urdu and “The Invisible Enemy: Climate Change and Migration in the Sahel” produced by Henry Wilkins of the News Center were the winners in the Climate Change and Migration category. “Storm Damage: Rafael's Nightmare” is the story of Rafael Ocasio Barreto, a native of Puerto Rico who had to leave his Caribbean home in the aftermath Hurricane Maria’s devastation. “The Invisible Enemy: Climate Change and Migration in the Sahel” documents the challenges of climate change in the Sahel region, which is further complicated by conflicts linked to extremist groups.

Given the success of this contest in 2020 and 2021, the Acting VOA Director López recognized the importance of building on its success to create a cadre of documentary filmmakers and to cultivate long-form story telling expertise within VOA. The VOA Director’s office increased funding from $2,000 to $10,000 for each story produced and expanded the contest into two phases.

During phase one of the project, the 2022 proposal pitch contest winner in the Women’s Issues category is Chu Wu of the VOA Mandarin Service for “Cow Girls”. The story is about girl power in American western culture and barrel racing, the only female-dominated rodeo sport. In the Press Freedom category, the proposal winner is Ksenia Turkova (Kiriya) of the VOA Russian Service for “Fatema”. The story focuses on a 27-year-old Afghan refugee journalist, Fatema Hosseini who follows the events in Ukraine with a heavy heart and the war in her new home in Kyiv. The proposal winner in the Open Topic category is Arzouma Kompaore of VOA’s French to Africa service for “The New African Elite in America.” The story follows five African immigrants who bring a unique perspective on what the American dream looks like today through their inspiring stories.

The impetus for these contests came from a desire to create a team of long-form storytellers within VOA, as VOA has not had a documentary unit in many years. The contest intends to highlight great stories and to develop the skillset and talent within VOA to produce award-winning documentaries.

“It is important to highlight the issues that are effecting so much of the world. Stories focusing on women’s issues, refugees, telling America’s story, press freedom, and climate change are the topics that resonate well with our audiences,” explained Acting VOA Director Yolanda López. “This contest is helping to draw out the tremendous talent VOA has and I’m excited to see the final products.”

Contest winners for phase two will be announced on June 21, 2022, and all stories must be completed by September 15, 2022.