For those who may have missed Sheffield Doc Fest, here is a nice consolation prize; Open City Docs Fest, situated in the heart of London. It may be a smaller- scale festival, but with a big a heart and a definite must-visit for all true DocGeeks out there.
With a multitude of documentary screenings, workshops, masterclasses and events this is one not to be missed. Set over four days on and around the UCL-campus near Euston Square, the festival program boasts a large diversity of documentaries which explore life from unique and previously unseen perspectives.
The various documentaries have been grouped into nine different topic strands to help you navigate your personal preferences; Protest Works, Science Frictions, Sound Waves, Still Lives, World Visions, Artistsʼ Documentary, The Image of the Engineer, City Scope and Shorts.
Opening the festival on Thursday is the beautiful Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, which was chosen last weekend by the Sheffield Doc/Fest jury to win the Special Jury Award. The film is an an extraordinary documentary bringing us a mesmerizing portrait of the pioneering and controversial performance artist focusing on her MoMA show – which is based on an almost humanly impossible task. With a personal goal to use her performance at the MoMA to show that performance art is not ‘experimental’ she embarks upon not just a physical but also mentally challenging task which is based around transference. The power of Akers’ film is that it manages to capture some of the artists remarkable strength and draws the audience into the film in a way that will stay with them long after they have left the cinema.
In terms of the various strands Protest Works is probably one of the most current, discussing this year’s outbreak of world-wide protests including the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement. One of the highlights is ‘Strains of Resistance: Syrian Docs’. This session consists of three documentaries made between 1978 and 2011 which, together, form a unique and insightful view of the violent shifts within Syria and its regime over the last three decades.
Another topical feature is the screening of no less than eleven Chinese documentaries, including the film High Tech, Low Life, one of the two films which were mentioned as the reason for the Chinese delegation to be pulling out of last weeks film festival in Sheffield.
Various strands bringing loads of doc goodness
The Science Frictions strand incorporates documentaries which discuss the influence of science on our lives, raising both ethical and humanitarian questions. The highly acclaimed Project Nim is definitely one to watch (or re-watch if you have done so already!) It is profoundly thought provoking, raising questions about human morality and its place within science.
The Sound Waves strand explores the concept of sound as a communicator, a barrier, a friend or foe. It includes several documentaries, as well as live performances and a workshop. The workshop; ‘Ill Capo rescored’ is one for those who are fascinated by the collaboration of music /sound and image. This is demonstrated by the viewing of the highly acclaimed short Il Capo by Yuri Ancarani’s, accompanied by three very different musical scores. This is then followed by a discussion with Yuri Ancarani and several industry experts.
The Still Lives strand incorporates a variety of documentaries that delve into the lives of unique individuals. These include Barbaric Genius, a film by Paul Duane, which sketches a portrait of the life of the writer John Healy, whose tumultuous life took him from homeless petty thief to chess champion and acclaimed author. This is followed by a discussion with both director and subject which should cast unique and riveting perspectives on the film.
The World Visions strand tells us exceptional stories from around the globe. Extremely exciting is the world premiere of 5 Broken Cameras which is nominated for the festival’s Grand Jury Award. It shows the powerful and personal story of resistance by the director Emad Burnat and the members of his Palestinian village, who are being forcibly removed to make way for Israeli settlements.
The Artistsʼ Documentary strand consists of six different programs each with a different theme surrounding the topic of avant garde and experimental documentary. Each program includes the screening of several shorts or clips and discussions with the filmmakers and industry experts. The Image of the Engineer strand investigates the implications of modern technological development. One of the highlights The Lightbulb Conspiracy by Cosima Dannoritzer which discusses the moral and social questions raised by electronics purposely build with a short life-span to ensure the ongoing conveyor-belt of consumerism.
City Scope ties together a string of documentaries which take the ever shifting topic of urban life and identity as their centre-point. The Vanishing Spring Light by Xun Yu follows a Chinese family that is being forced to leave their home in a two thousand year old area of Dujjangyang city as the area is demolished to make way for a theme park. It makes a poignant comment on renewal versus cultural and historical preservation, and the way in which this ties in with community and sense of identity.
The Shorts strand include several programs of shorts on different topics. This includes a screening of the shortlisted films from this year’s new festival competition entitled My Street. There are also several other workshops and events to look out for, including a masterclass with the award-winning director of Être et Avoir, Nicolas Philibert.
All in all this is a very-affordable documentary extravaganza that is not to be missed. Stay tuned this week for more info and reviews on the festival’s films and events.
For further information and for tickets go to the Open City website.