This year, two retrospective programmes that look back on feminist documentary practices from the 1970s to the 1990s anchor the festival, providing a framework for dialogues that every individual film, work and event will contribute towards.

Festivals like Open City offer a bridge between the filmmakers and audiences of the past, the present and the future. Being based at University College London, we conceive of the festival almost as an alternative “film school”, a space where we come together to watch, share, discuss non-fiction cinema in all its forms. A film festival should be an intense, out of the ordinary, experience of plenitude. Maintaining the accessible size and scope of Open City is a difficult balancing act: we want to remain small, privileging safety, intimacy, friendliness and respect, whilst allowing a space for abundance. To care for each and every single work presented at the festival and yet to know that opportunities to see these works remain unfortunately far too rare.  

Abundance was also one of the curatorial arguments for the exhibition No Master Territories: Feminist Worldmaking and the Moving Image which took place at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin in 2022, in which over 100 works by 89 individuals or collectives were presented. We are thrilled to be able to bring a selection of these works to London audiences. As Erika Balsom, one of the exhibition co-curators writes, “these films [reject] the authority of received frameworks of intelligibility. They embrace the moving image as a wellspring of feminist imaginationa way of not only relating to the world but remaking it.”

Other filmmakers and artists featured in No Master Territories, such as Haneda Sumiko, Deepa Dhanraj and Mira Nair, make appearances in special programmes curated by Ricardo Matos Cabo and Shai Heredia. Rooted in the social and political struggles of the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s, The Invisible Self is a programme of feminist films made between 1985 and 1991 that journey through the lives of women who challenged traditional patriarchal structures in India. In her essay, Arshia Sattar recalls watching these films in India when they were made: “Every film was immediate, every conversation that came out of it was urgent. We gathered not just to watch a film, we came together to participate in a movement. In two movements, perhaps – one political and the other artistic.” We are reminded that watching these films in the present is important. The battles of the past have not been won and may never be but “every act of resistance, every finger raised in defiance, every film watched, every solidarity reached across gender, caste, class, race, religion and culture, every community formed, however tentative, will add to our strength.” 

Elsewhere in the programme we will encounter “Focuses” on the work of contemporary artists Mary Helena Clark and Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, remember Anne Charlotte Robertson’s unique engagement with the diary form and celebrate the spirit of one of Britain’s original independent filmmakers, Margaret Tait, whilst a collaboration with Tate Modern provides an opportunity to see a rare work by Hungarian artist Dóra Maurer.

Once again, the festival programme not only celebrates collaborative practices but is also the result of collaborations with many of the institutions, individuals and organisations that keep film culture alive and kicking in London. We are proud to present I Heard It Through the Grapevine by Dick Fontaine (recently restored by Harvard Film Archive) at the Barbican and to continue our year-long screening series conceived with Annabelle Aventurin and Léa Morin from the Non-Aligned Film Archives, with a screening at the ICA and a performative lecture at Bertha DocHouse. Our Talks & Workshops programme features events developed in partnership with Elhum Shakerifar, Erika Balsom, T A P E Collective, The New Black Film Collective, the Essay Film Festival, Alchemy Film & Arts, Other Cinemas, Another Gaze, Filmmaker Meetups of London and Only Voice Remains. For a second time, we have partnered with LUX to co-present an exhibition to coincide with the festival: ‘And still, it remains’ by Arwa Aburawa and Turab Shah.

The Rich Mix is a new festival venue this year, and a partnership which we hope will grow in 2024 when our festival dates move to the spring. This is the last Open City Documentary Festival to take place in the interstices between summer and autumn that we have inhabited since 2017. We will return in just a few months, at the end of April, for our 14th edition.

See you then, and in the meantime – enjoy!

About us

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.