The end of the summer, a new edition of Open City Documentary Festival.
A year ago, we prepared for our return to the cinema with anticipation, trepidation even. For many of our 2021 festival audience, the screenings they attended during Open City constituted their first time back in a cinema since before the pandemic. During the past twelve months, it has been hard at times to hold onto the ecstasy felt as we contemplated the ten static shots in James Benning’s Ten Skies, our 2021 closing film. Sitting completely still, transfixed, wishing the final shot would never end and to be there forever in the cinema. We might never take certain things for granted again – such as the right to gather together in a public space like the cinema – but the last year has brutally revealed the full scale of the aftermath of Covid-19 for the moving image sector: unsustainable working practices in the film festival world, a shattered film culture, fractured communities. A now-irreversible move online that brings with it both opportunities – in terms of access – and losses – in terms of rapture. Does cinema still matter today? Does cinema still hold the power to bring us together? To transform us? To transform the world? We believe that it does – but it can’t exist in a vacuum.
The values that guide Open City – a commitment to film’s radical potential and transformational power, an endeavour to be sustainable, fair, caring and more inclusive – remain the same. A festival is a labour of love, but the confusion of love and labour is complicated and can lead to exploitation. A number of structural changes to the 2022 edition underline our desire for greater horizontality – for all films and film spectators to be treated equally, without the hierarchies imposed by competitive programmes, “industry accreditations” and any other distinctions between “delegates” and the general audience members. Our programme is for everyone and open to all. It is also important for us that our festival be more widely accessible for all, which is why we have worked with Matchbox Cine to offer a significant number of cinema screenings with descriptive subtitles.
We reaffirm our aspiration to showcase the expanded field of non-fiction cinema, from artists’ moving image to documentary to expanded reality, and to do so independently of criteria such as running time and year of production. Whilst a majority of the film programme continues to be devoted to recent productions – albeit those which would not find distribution in the UK and for which screening opportunities remain limited – there is an increased number of historical works in this year’s festival. We are featuring a comprehensive, if not complete, retrospective of the work of Tsuchimoto Noriaki, a central figure in Japan’s post-war documentary movement; as well as In Focus programmes with filmmakers Betzy Bromberg and Alexandra Cuesta, special screenings of work by Maryam Tafakory, Onyeka Igwe and Robert Beavers, and collaborations with Another Gaze, the Non-Aligned Archives and UnionDocs that give light to the films of Helga Reidemeister, Med Hondo, Djouhra Abouda & Alain Bonnamy, William Greaves and James N. Kienitz Wilkins. Taking cue from the work of the Non-Aligned Archives, our Talk & Workshops programme will present the work of alternative initiatives, or “counter-archives”, that rethink the “archive” in expansive ways. We conceive of the festival as a discursive space, a gathering place for the non-fiction community in London and beyond – to reflect on the state of documentary today but even more importantly, to re-imagine together what it could and should be.
We look forward to welcoming you all at the festival.
Open City Documentary Festival creates an open space in London to nurture and champion the art of non-fiction cinema. Based at the UCL Anthropology’s Section for Public Anthropology, we deliver training programmes, an annual documentary festival, the bi-annual Non-Fiction journal, and events throughout the year that aim to challenge and expand the idea of documentary in all its forms.