Rory Peck Award handed to film-maker who followed Russian anti-gay vigilantes

Ben Steele's film Hunted took the prize

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The Independent Culture

A British film-maker’s disturbing investigation into the Russian gangs who embark on "safaris" in order to seek out, abuse and humiliate homosexuals has won a prestigious Rory Peck Award for freelance journalism.

Ben Steele filmed Hunted in the winter of 2013, infiltrating the world of Russian vigilantes who've been buoyed by the country’s new anti-gay legislation.

The film, broadcast on Channel 4’s Dispatches shortly before the Sochi Winter Olympics this year, includes footage of a gang luring a young homosexual man into a room for a vicious interrogation. Instead masking their actions, the gang members appear proud – although they admit the treatment given to the young man would have been much more severe had Steele and his camera not been present.

Steele was honoured at a ceremony at London’s BFI Southbank hosted by the Rory Peck Trust, named after the freelance cameraman killed in Moscow in 1993. The Trust provides support to independent newsgatherers and their families across the globe.

Hunted captured “the extraordinary atmosphere of homophobia in Russia”, said judges, and was given the Sony Impact Award.

One judge added: “Ben was non-judgemental and showed great compassion – even to the perpetrators. He understood that that is what Russia is like today.

“This is a real film-makers’ film. He invested in the subject, worked hard to gain access and trust and showed incredible presence of mind in difficult situations.”

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Ben Steele’s ‘Hunted’ showed gangs of vigilantes viciously interrogating gay men

Also celebrated at the ceremony was Team Mindeulle, a group of six anonymous North Korean cameramen who filmed undercover within Kim Jong-un’s pariah state.

Their film, North Korea: Life Inside the Secret State, provided a rare and enlightening glimpse of a nation cut off from the outside world.

It highlights the bleak existence of many North Korean citizens but also captures signs of rebellion – from both citizens on the streets and members of the regime.

Judges gave the film the features award, praising its “enormous historical importance” and “the extraordinary bravery” of the cameramen involved.

Pacôme Pabandji, 23, was given the news award for his film, CAR: Descent Into Chaos, which depicts the eruption of violence in his home country, the Central African Republic.

It also offers a contrast to the scenes of brutality, with footage showing a church service and a fashion show.

Pabandji’s ability to remain dispassionate while filming in the midst of the conflict was commended by judges, with one commenting that “the conviction he must have to keep going – to keep telling the story of his country – is admirable”.

The Martin Adler Prize, which honours local freelancers who have made outstanding contributions to journalism, was awarded to Palestinian journalist, fixer and translator Khaled Abu Ghali. His career has spanned 14 years and has seen him cover the critical points in Gaza’s recent history.

Tina Carr, director of the Rory Peck Trust, said all finalists had “created work of the highest quality at a time when freelancers are being targeted and silenced more than ever”.

She added: “Without their work, our understanding of the world would surely suffer and for that they deserve our protection, recognition and support.” 

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