Ian Katz has a night to remember at the RTS Television Journalism Awards – and celebrates a Channel 4 art-house hit
Surprise hit of the week is 100 Vaginas, in which the artist Laura Dodsworth photographs the genitalia of 100 women and then talks to them about the images and how they feel about their bodies. It’s a great film – bold and political and warm – but firmly at the art-house end of the channel’s output. Everyone is delighted when it attracts an audience of more than 1 million.
The show’s title has been the subject of some controversy. When I met Dodsworth at a party a few months earlier, she rebuked me about it, pointing out rather sternly that her photographs were of vulvas, not vaginas. I sheepishly explained that I didn’t think 100 Vulvas would bring an audience to the film. What did she suggest? “My Beautiful C***,” she replied without hesitation, or the faintest hint of a smile.
For weeks now, my Twitter feed has been dominated by abuse from fans of Michael Jackson, enraged by the Channel 4/HBO film Leaving Neverland.
None of them has seen it yet, but many appear to be devoting much of their lives to marshalling “evidence” that proves the claims made by the two boys (now men) in the film cannot possibly be true. There have been menacing legal letters from the Jackson estate, too.
Already, there has been a lively debate about whether it will ever feel OK to listen to Jackson’s music again. At an event to launch the channel’s 2019 slate, a few weeks back, this was suddenly rendered a more than academic question.
After watching a shocking clip in which James Safechuck describes how Jackson enacted a “marriage” ceremony with his 10-year-old self, the crowd of journalists stood in shocked near silence. Until, that is, the venue’s ambient soundtrack was quietly restored. As the murmur of conversation rose again, an unmistakable refrain was audible just above it: “Billie Jean is not my lover.…”
Another screening, this time for the new series of the joyous Derry Girls. I have a running joke with Saoirse-Monica Jackson (age 25) that we have acquired some cryogenic freezers to ensure that she and the other “girls” will be able to play 15-year-olds for the next 20 years.
Each time I make it she forces a small grin, possibly because she thinks I actually mean it, possibly because it’s not remotely funny. I make a mental note: Don’t Mention the Freezers.
This is the season of black tie, rubber chicken and fixed grimaces. Awards dos run chewing your own limbs off a close second in the list of things best avoided on a weekday night – unless, of course, you’re winning.
Happily, Channel 4 cleans up at the RTS Television Journalism Awards, with seven wins for Channel 4 News and another for Dispatches’ Myanmar’s Killing Fields.
Channel 4 News’s Cambridge Analytica investigation is rewarded with a clutch of awards. I had an inkling of what a remarkable story it was when, during a meeting at a Hollywood studio last year, a senior executive burst into the office and declared: “I heard there was someone from Channel 4 here, and I just wanted to thank you for saving democracy!”
My favourite moment of the evening is when Channel 4 News investigations editor Job Rabkin, who led the Cambridge Analytica investigation, has to get special dispensation not to have his photo taken after receiving the award for International Coverage. He has to rush back to his table in time to collect the next award, this time for Home Coverage.
At the weekend I flip on Radio 4. It’s Weekend Woman’s Hour and I am delighted to find that they’re talking about our 100 Vaginas film. Except that the discussion seems to be mostly about why it was not more accurately titled 100 Vulvas.
Laura Dodsworth generously suggests that the channel feared it might have been confused with a film about Swedish cars. The presenter is unimpressed. “It’s just an indication of how far we still have to go,” she concludes, wearily.
Ian Katz is director of programmes at Channel 4.