'The Slumdog Children of Mumbai' Wins Honor at Rory Peck Awards

U.S. photojournalist Roger Arnold and Afghan-Brit Najibullah Quraishi also snagged awards.

A documentary about the lives of children who live in the Mumbai slums that was commissioned by the U.K.’s Channel 4 as a companion to the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire was among the honorees Wednesday night at the Rory Peck Awards in London.

The annual international competition honors the skill, courage and enterprise of freelance news and current affairs cameramen and camerawomen. Led by main sponsor Sony, the awards serve as the main fundraiser for the Rory Peck Trust, which supports freelance newsgathers and their families in times of need and promotes their welfare and safety.

British director and cameraman Nick Read and his film, The Slumdog Children of Mumbai, earned the Sony Professional Impact Award, which honors freelance camerawork in either news or current affairs that raises humanitarian issues and whose broadcast has had an international impact or contributed to a change in perception or policy.

Shot over three months through the Monsoon, the film follows the lives of four children: 7-year-old Deepa, who lives next to an open dump and runs barefoot through traffic selling flowers to help support her family; 11-year-old Salaam, who, a few weeks after running away from his abusive stepmother, lives outside the main railway station; and twins Hussan and Hussein, also 11, who risk cholera and infection fishing for scraps in a filthy canal so they can earn money to eat.

“The documentary was designed to be a complement to Slumdog Millionaire and a counterpoint to the movie,” Read told The Hollywood Reporter. “As the movie was a parable, we were tasked with providing a very real story.”

Since being broadcast in the U.K., a foundation set up by the film’s producers, production company True Vision, has thus far raised an estimated $30,000-50,000 to fund the children’s education and future welfare.

“I went back after we wrapped to help local producers to disperse the funds,” Read said, adding that with the money, Deepa’s home was rebuilt while the three boys were placed in a shelter where they will receive education and accommodations. “We stay in touch with them, and we are trying to work out how to look after their long-term welfare with the foundation. This story is going to run and run for me personally.”

Also during the ceremony, U.S. photojournalist Roger Arnold received the Rory Peck Award for News for his coverage of the final week of anti-government protests in May in Bangkok. Arnold’s footage shows the violence of the protests, and among the many people injured during the conflict were several of Arnold’s journalist friends, one of whom was killed. Shot for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ.com), it marks the first time that footage produced and broadcast solely for a Web publisher has won a Rory Peck Award.

Afghan-Brit Najibullah Quraishi was presented with the Rory Peck Award for Features for Behind Enemy Lines, a film for Channel 4 documenting 10 days he spent with Hezb-i-islami insurgents in Afghanistan in 2009. Witnessing attacks on NATO supply routes, Quraishi also captured the day-to-day lives of the insurgents.

The Martin Adler Prize was presented to freelance cameraman Arturo Perez, who lives and works in Mexico’s border city of Ciudad Juarez, covering its drugs war. This non-competitive prize honors a freelancer who has played an exceptional role in the telling of a significant news story.

“The winners of this year’s Rory Peck Awards highlight the strength of talent in today’s international freelance community and the lengths that they go to, to hunt out and report the real issues at play in the world,” said Olivier Bovis, business group head for AV & media at Sony Professional.