Press release

Filmmaker Rungano Nyoni awarded the sixth Wellcome Screenwriting Fellowship in partnership with BFI and FILM4

  • Fellowship worth £30,000 lets screenwriters explore intersection between science and health
  • Inspires narratives about the human condition 
  • Current fellow Michaela Coel uses her award to explore states of consciousness

Wellcome, London, 21 November 2018: Tonight at the annual celebration for the Wellcome Screenwriting Fellowship, in partnership with BFI and Film4, BAFTA award-winning Rungano Nyoni is announced as the 2018 Fellow. Now in its sixth year, the Fellowship gives a screenwriter of exceptional talent £30,000 to explore the intersection between screenwriting, health and science. Nominated by leading film and TV industry executives, this unique collaboration takes place without the constraints of a specific project. This allows the Fellow to gain inspiration and knowledge from Wellcome’s vast range of science and humanities resources, which includes access to research, meetings with leaders in the fields of science and medical history, visiting clinical centres and access to the Wellcome Collection.     

Rungano Nyoni said: “I have to say how utterly honoured I am to be this year’s Fellowship recipient. It's not often that someone shows so much faith in you and your work that they support you with no strings attached. It has come at a time where I am trying to figure out what kind of filmmaker I want to be as I embark on my second feature. It’s beautiful and refreshing that Wellcome is allowing me to just explore. That's rare. Right now I am fascinated by the idea of studying indigenous cultures in Africa, and other parts of the world, and the impact modernisation and colonisation has had on their mental health and communities. Besides that I will use the time to scour through Wellcome's extensive archives and collection of graphic novels.”

The Welsh-Zambian writer and director’s debut feature I Am Not a Witch was lauded at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, and Nyoni went on to win the BAFTA award for Outstanding Debut for a British Writer, Director or Producer. 

Since the inaugural Wellcome Screenwriting Fellowship was awarded in 2013, every Fellow has taken a very different science-based journey. This has produced a growing legacy of work rooted in a deep understanding of what it means to be human. Clio Barnard, the first recipient of the Fellowship, researched perception, memory and the long-term impact of trauma. Her successor Jonathan Glazer looked at psychological, historical and ethical themes. Carol Morley explored a range of ideas relating to mental health and Sally Wainwright looked at attitudes to sexuality and mental health. 

This year’s Fellow, Michaela Coel (Chewing Gum), has worked with a range of researchers and leading experts on different states of consciousness, the brain, memory and cognition, as well as meeting with expert endocrinologists.
Michaela Coel said: “I am very thankful to the Fellowship for giving me the financial freedom to write, think, read and learn at a pace not dictated by my deadlines. It has been crucial in allowing my mind to develop, and broadening my perceptions of the world around me and beyond.”

Simon Chaplin, Wellcome’s Director of Culture and Society, said: “We’re delighted that Rungano Nyoni will be the next Wellcome Screenwriting Fellow. With her distinct filmmaking style and keen interest in the way different cultures approach health, we’re sure that she’ll take the Fellowship in a new and exciting direction. 

“Supporting and stimulating ideas has always been central to Wellcome’s approach; the Fellowship gives screenwriters a chance to make connections and explore new ideas with Wellcome’s research. It is a joy to see how each Fellow has approached the award in entirely different yet equally creative ways, and we look forward to Rungano’s contribution.” 
The Screenwriting Fellowship is chaired by Kate Leys with Lizzie Francke (Senior Development and Production Executive, BFI), Lauren Dark (Commissioning Executive, Film4), Imran Khan (Head of Public Engagement, Wellcome), Iain Dodgeon (Creative and Partnerships Manager, Wellcome) and Emma Duffy (Drama and Film Executive, Wellcome). 

Lizzie Francke, BFI Senior Production and Development Executive, said: “It’s wonderful to see Rungano’s unique creativity and talent be so rewarded by Wellcome and the industry who voted for her. She leads a new renaissance of storytelling reinvigorating British cinema. The BFI is proud to have supported her through the BFI NETWORK and then on to I Am Not a Witch, and we are excited to see what she will do next. This award is such a great opportunity for Rungano to explore new ideas around culture, community and health and we only suspect she will do something highly imaginative and deliciously surprising with it.”

Lauren Dark, Film4 Commissioning Executive, said: “I Am Not A Witch was such a genre defying mix of social commentary and magical realism, we can’t wait to see what Rungano does next. It’s exciting to think about what might come out of this unique opportunity, to explore the incredible archives at The Wellcome Trust.”