Breadmakers in The Scotsman

This was an article in The Scotsman newspaper by Arts Correspondent Tim Cornwell. It was published on 23rd October 2008.

Even in Hollywood, film awards rarely bring more than a statuette, a movie star's handshake and, hopefully, enough publicity to sell a few more tickets. But the makers of a low-budget Scottish documentary about a bakery staffed by people with Down's syndrome and autism have won $75,000 (£46,000) at a festival in Abu Dhabi.

Breadmakers – made for little more than £8,000 – won the Black Pearl Award for Best Documentary Short Film at the Middle East International Film Festival. It was awarded to the director, Yasmin Fedda, who used to work part-time at the Garvald Bakery in Edinburgh, and producers Jim Hickey and Robin Mitchell.

Mr Hickey accepted the prize from Casino Royale star Eva Green and the actor Joseph Fiennes at the Emirates Palace Hotel, in its 1,100 seat cinema. "I will never forget it," he said. "It proves that a short film can make a journey from comparatively modest beginnings to holding its own against the best in the world. "One of the contenders was an Oscar-nominated short film and we managed to beat that to the prize."

He and his fellow film-makers plan to ensure part of the cash goes towards the bakery and the people who work there. Proceeds from the film have already helped pay for a new roll-slicing machine.

The 11-minute documentary shows Garvald's breadmakers kneading, shaping, and baking bread for more than 20 bakeries and delicatessens around Edinburgh. Mr Hickey said the film gave an insight into the lives of people with different learning disabilities. "There is a fascination of seeing a very everyday thing of baking bread of being carried out in a context where very few words are spoken because they communicate mostly in sign language. Baking of bread is something in every country which people can identify with."

"We're a bit stunned," said Alastair Baines, a workshop leader at the bakery. "Money-wise, it's incredible."

Breadmakers has already been screened at the Athens Disability Film Festival, others in Poland and Iran, and the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in the US. It was nominated for a Scottish Bafta award last year.Fedda plans to take bakery workers to see Breadmakers at a Food on Film Festival in Kingussie next year.

The bakery is run by Garvald Edinburgh, which provides support services for adults with disabilities.Grace Nicol, of the charity, said: "The film was made as quite a small scale plan to show people what goes on in our workshops. It's just got a life of its own. Our members at Garvald have achieved so much in confidence and credibility for the work they do by the film being screened. That is just as important." Breadmakers has brought other benefits as well. Ms Nicol said: "We recently received a £25,000 anonymous donation, a huge amount of money for us. Perhaps they saw Breadmakers." The Kendal Film Club in Cumbria, which recently screened the film, sent a donation of £50.

Breadmakers was funded as part of a new talent initiative by Scottish Screen and Skillset.

The Garvald Bakery is an "unprepossessing building tucked behind a car showroom in Gorgie, Edinburgh," says Breadmakers director Yasmin Fedda. But she was inspired to make the film partly by the "variety of sounds" she experienced, when she worked for a year covering shifts there.The film was initially conceived as a promotional DVD for the bakery.

Made with £8,000 in funding from Scottish Screen and other backers, it has no spoken narrative, but features only snatches of conversation and singing, and the sound of dough hitting tables. The lack of language may explain why it has done so well internationally. It won a short film award when it was screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and a Scottish Bafta nomination.The bakery is one of nine sites operated by the charity Garvald Edinburgh, providing "curative education" and therapy to more than 100 people.

Fedda, a Lebanese-Canadian who came to study in Edinburgh in 1998, made a previous documentary, Milking the Desert, based on her time in a Syrian monastery which encourages Muslim-Christian relations.