Open City Documentary Festival

across London
We do not have any future dates for this course set.

Politics and Poetics of Archival Filmmaking (In-person)

A course for artists, filmmakers and scholars who are interested in how we engage with archives, cultural memory, and history through film, and in the creative strategies that can be used to produce ethical reworkings of materials associated with our troubled pasts.

The practice of making new films from recycled fragments opens exciting opportunities for exploring past events. And, crucially, it allows audiences to also reflect critically on the histories of image-making from which those fragments emerge.

This in-person course will look at how we engage with archives, cultural memory, and history, through film. Whether looking at films and videos whose source materials are drawn from state archives, ‘unofficial’ collections, or family albums, that harvest material from the internet, or that steal from the history of fiction cinema production, certain questions pertain.

The topics we will address include the ethical questions that confront makers and audiences alike when image and sound recordings are ripped from their original context and re-appropriated to new ends. We will consider the dehumanising or exclusionary gaze in the archive, as well as some of the creative strategies artists and filmmakers have used to produce ethical reworkings of materials associated with our troubled pasts.

All sessions will combine lectures, screenings, and group discussions. Optional readings will be shared at the end of each session.

1.Compilation, found-footage and other remix practices

Taking a historical perspective, we’ll look at uses of archival material in film and video production to reveal divergent attitudes to audio-visual media, to audience reception, and to history itself.

2.Towards an ethics of appropriation

We consider the radically shifting meanings of the recycled image fragment, from internet meme to archival film. What sort of ethical frameworks do we use when it comes to evaluating the creative use and misuse of film fragments?

3.The perpetrator’s gaze: film as repair and resistance

What creative strategies have filmmakers and artists used to disrupt or reverse the cinematic gaze when working with materials that dehumanise and erase certain groups, while elevating and sanitising others?

4.I am an actor in history

How do our personal histories affect the stories we research? What happens when the archive marks us?  How do we, whether as artists, researchers or historians, negotiate our place within the archive and within history, while also approaching our work with rigour?

5.Listening to images 

Unlike written documents, image and sound recordings tend to contain unfiltered, uncensored information or ‘noise’ which exceeds the intention of the original filmmaker, and which resists full comprehension or interpretation. How have artists used the ambiguous or disruptive qualities of recordings to enrich perceptions of historical meaning?

6.Fiction’s unconscious 

Some artists and filmmakers have raided the history of fiction cinema, transforming fragments of fiction film into documents that speak to us of the social relations embedded in the experience of cinema. How does this work complicate our understanding of documentary and fiction?

7.Questions of practice

Students are invited to present an image or image sequence for discussion. We will think about the stories, opportunities and challenges that this material evokes.

At the end of the session, the course leader will share a handout with links to practical guides to legality and copyright when using third-party materials.


If you have any questions about this course, please get in touch with

(Image: Still from Home Stories, Matthias Muller, Germany, 1990)



Miranda Pennell


Miranda Pennell is an artist, filmmaker and lecturer living in London. Her moving image work explores ways of engaging with repressed histories. She uses materials sourced from visual archives as a starting point for reflecting on Britain's colonial legacies. She often combines archival images with those from her immediate environment to create slippages between past and present, between personal and collective history.
Miranda received a Masters in visual anthropology from Goldsmiths Colledge London, and her doctoral research at the Centre for Research Education in Arts and Media (CREAM) University of Westminster, explored the visual archive of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now BP) and personal, family photographs from Iran.
Miranda’s latest film, Trouble (2023) a film about haunting and the history of bombing, is screening as part of this years Open City Documentary Festival in September. Recent festival screenings include FID Marseille, Viennale, Berlinale, New York Film Festival, and the European Media Art Festival, Osnabrück.
In 2023, Miranda’s one person screenings included ‘Strange Objects: Reflections on British Colonial Legacies’ at Close-Up Film Centre, London; ‘Evil Eye: films by Miranda Pennell’ at Tabakalera Cinematheque, San Sebastian. Ggroup exhibitions include ‘Evil Eye: the parallel history of optics and ballistics’, at Tabakalera Centre for Contemporary Culture, San Sebastian, and Intersectional Geographies Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol. Some of Miranda’s films are available via the streaming platform Doc Alliance Films.