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Home Breadmakers in The Guardian

Breadmakers in The Guardian

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This was an article by the journalist Erlend Clouston that appeared in The Guardian on Wednesday 29th October 2008.

A short film about a Scottish bakery that employs people with learning disabilities has landed the biggest prize payout in the history of documentary film making.

An 11-minute film about life in a charitable Edinburgh bakery has been named best short documentary at the Middle East International Film Festival, picking up a cheque for $75,000.

The film's co-producer, Jim Hickey, was presented with the Black Pearl trophy last week in a six-star Abu Dhabi hotel. The prize money – the biggest sum in the history of documentary filmmaking – works out at more than £4,363 for each minute of the film, called Breadmakers.

The cheque was an unexpected bonus for the film's director, Yasmin Fedda, who was unable to pick up the award because the prize giving coincided with her wedding.

Her film's triumph over rivals including an Oscar nominee and a winner of a Sundance Festival award was received with delight in the humble Edinburgh office of the Scottish Documentary Institute, which had backed the film in 2007. "We could not believe the amount of cash – we thought it was a misprint," said Finlay Pretsell, the institute's distribution and production manager.

At the Garvald Bakery where 12 workers with learning disabilities turn out 100 loaves and 60 rolls a day in premises modestly located behind a car dealership, there was hope that international celebrity might induce a more sympathetic funding settlement from Edinburgh city council.

Profits from the bakery help subsidise a parent organisation, which provides 40 people with supported accommodation and 120 with training and workshop opportunities. "The publicity has been brilliant," said the day services manager, Nancy Macdonald.

Already an anonymous donation of £25,000 is being linked to the coverage given to Fedda's documentary, which has been shown at 22 film festivals, from Reykjavik to Tehran. Baking, despite being one of the oldest professions, has had a low cinematic profile.

And Fedda, 29, an Edinburgh-based Lebanese-Canadian, did not initially feel that her film, which has no dialogue and no storyline beyond the gradual heating of dough, was going to change this. "You know what it is like when you are doing something new: you struggle a bit, you wonder if it works. In the end I was just happy that it made sense," she said.

The director, currently filming Greek Orthodox nuns in Syria, completed two stints as a volunteer at Garvald before sensing that its contented world of hums, clangs, whispers and whistles offered artistic possibilities. "Sounds are very interesting," she said.

Some of the money will be shared among Fedda's former workmates and some will be used to subsidise an outing for the bakers to the Food on Film Festival in Kingussie in February.