Award of Excellence – “Soft Facts” (UK)

Title: Soft Facts
Runtime: 15 min
Country: UK
Director: Paul Copeland
Placement: Award of Excellence
Competition: September, 2023

Synopsis: Aid agency worker Maia McCarthy has disappeared, leaving her husband Danny only a cryptic voice note.  News reports emerge that she’s been killed in an airstrike in Syria, though her body has not been found.  Desperate to find out the truth and with no help from the Foreign Office or Maia’s Agency, Danny begins to work with a mysterious hacker named Viper66 to piece together a digital trail of clues…and together they uncover the secret online world Maia was inhabiting in the middle of the life they shared.  

Viper hacks into Maia’s work PC and finds Danny a string of messages from a doctor in Syria, Saleh, who holds up a picture of a war orphan named Ayesha, hoping to motivate press interest and even foreign military intervention in the fighting.  But when Maia uses this same photograph whilst giving a testimony to Parliament about the scale of war crimes, she acknowledges that help may never come.  Even the extremes of human suffering – the kind of human rights abuses that Maia had dedicated her working life to exposing – have become the raw material for a propaganda campaign.  The scale of disinformation around the conflict, revealed to Danny via the avalanche of abuse that Maia was receiving from online trolls, has turned the truth into an argument and hard facts into ones that are unclear and contested – ‘soft facts’.  

Danny begins to comprehend the deep political despair Maia was living through, but also knows how that despair was personal too.  Searching for a reason for her disappearance, he relives his memories of the previous months.  After Maia suffered a miscarriage Danny encouraged her to throw herself still deeper into work.  He also remembers a late-night taxi ride, where the driver, an Iraqi Kurd, had seemed to form a mysterious connection with his wife…

Now it all begins to come together.  Danny finds the taxi card given to Maia that night, and on the back a number – which rings through to none other than Dr Saleh, Maia’s contact discovered on her PC message feed.  Viper confirms this is a key connection – and through his own hacks on this phone number uncovers another mysterious contact.  Danny calls.  Far away on a remote desert road, a phone rings in the back of a jeep.  Danny waits with bated breath as it’s picked up – expecting it to be Maia, he’s stunned when it is answered by the girl from the orphanage.  He realises that Maia is bringing her home.  

In the front seat Maia turns and realises that the truth is out – in all its terrible complexity.