Open City Documentary Festival

Curating Political Documentaries

Tuesday Evenings 7-9PM August 17th,24th, 31st and September 7th

Led by film curator and programmer Róisín Tapponi, this course is designed for everyone interested in curating and working with documentary cinema, including scholars who are interested in decolonial methodologies of curating in the art and film industries, across physical and digital geographies, and between institutional and grassroots spaces.

Over four intensive weeks, we will cover a number of practical and theoretical approaches to curating political material, and the politics of curating.

No prerequisites are required, the tutor will accommodate any specific access needs. If you would have specific access needs  please contact:

Session 1 

Searching Elsewhere: Procuring Films from South-West Asia and North Africa

Introduction to procuring films beyond the institutional realm of gallery representatives and distributors. Examples of programming in South-West Asia and North Africa are used throughout, with an emphasis on activist networks and working in zones of political conflict. We also explore the importance of community in programming, and how films can be brought back to the local communities they are made about.

Session 2

Curating the Institution: Choosing the Margins as a Space of Radical Openness

Taking bell hooks’ essay ‘Choosing the Margins as a Space of Radical Openness’ as a prompt, we begin by problematising the role of political cinema in the institution. This includes the role of queer and racialised bodies in its public programming, education and D&I sectors. How do we obtain our right to opacity within institutions? Secondly, a range of alternatives to institutional spaces are presented; drawing from a history of programming in factories (see The Hour of the Furnaces and Hito Steyerl’s ‘Is The Museum a Factory?’).

Session 3

Curating the Digital: Approaching Algorithms, Streaming and Silicone Valley 

This session addresses the recent surge in online programming, as a result of COVID-19. In reaction to political events last year, a surge of institutions screened political documentaries online… using Silicone Valley hosting services. We explore geo-blocking, and other modes of online censorship in film programming. Given extensive theorisation around ‘the politics of space’, why does this discourse not translate online? How can we reconsider digital infrastructures? How do streaming services facilitate algorithmic violence? Is it possible to curate politically, online?

Session 4 

Speculating an Archive: The Body as Counter-Archive

The session explores different case studies of decolonial film archives globally, and how they work to un-knot the colonial origins of archiving practice. We explore the political implications of programming from local archives and material culture, with an emphasis on oral histories and their translation. We also consider the absence of archives, how can we talk about film preservation in countries repeatedly under destruction? In reaction to this, we speculate the body as an archive, in the legacy of Antonio Gramsci and Julietta Singh.

Image credit: Still from Maryam Keshavarz’s The Colour of Love (2004).



Róisín Tapponi is a film curator, programmer and writer based in London. She is Founder of Habibi Collective, an open resource, digital archive and platform for women’s filmmaking from South-West Asia and North Africa (SWANA). She is Founder CEO of Shasha, the world’s first independent streaming service for SWANA cinema. Additionally, she is Founder Editor-in-Chief of ART WORK Magazine, a critical art publication for cultural workers operating outside institutional frameworks. She is also Co-Founder and Head Curator of Independent Iraqi Film Festival (IIFF).

Tapponi has most recently curated films at MoMA, Chisenhale Gallery and Sharjah Art Foundation, with a six-month moving-image exhibition currently at MAAT Lisbon. She has delivered masterclasses at Locarno Film Festival and CPH:DOX; and has lectured on cinema and archiving at Oxford University, UC Berkeley, Northwestern University and many more. Tapponi is a contributing writer at Frieze and is contributing to the catalogue for this year’s Venice Biennale. She has recently been awarded the World-Leading PhD Scholarship in Art History hosted by St Andrews.