Open City Documentary Festival

across London
Apr 19 — May 10

A Daoist Approach to Cinema & Filmmaking (In-Person)

Wednesday evenings across 4 weeks, 6:30 to 8:30pm UK time

Challenging an anthropocentric and Western-centric perspective, this course will apply key Daoist concepts to fiction and nonfiction films in order to develop a sustainable approach to cinema.

Price £160 / £140 Students

This course challenges our canonical Western-centred understanding of cinema by introducing Daoism to approach cinema and filmmaking. As a naturalist thought, Daoism concerns the onto-cosmological realm, challenging an anthropocentric view and inviting us to consider the ubiquitous interconnectedness between human and nonhuman things. Daoist thoughts are based on and developed from two classic Daoist texts, Daodejing and Zhuangzi. We will discuss key Daoist concepts that are relevant and lend themselves to a cinema of sustainability, including Oneness, qi (vital energy), transformation of things, the oppositional pairs of yin yang and ‘effortless action’. We will explore aesthetics informed by Daoism, such as multifocal perspectives, ‘observing things through things’, correlations of mutual opposites, such as fullness and blankness, tranquillity and agitation, the virtual and the actual, through a range of examples in global cinema across fiction and nonfiction. Reflecting on these examples as well as on our own filmmaking practice, we will also discuss how Daoist aesthetic and ethical dimensions can be constructed through moving images.


Weekly sessions

1. Introduction and the aesthetic of correlations of mutual opposites

2. ‘Observing things through things’ and the concept of transformation of things

3. The ethics and aesthetics of Oneness

4. ‘Effortless action’ in filmmaking


Films discussed (indicative list):

Homo Sapiens (2016) – nonfiction

James Benning’s experimental films

Yangtze Landscape (2017) – nonfiction

The Mourning Forest (2007) – fiction

Zarina Bhimji’s moving image works

All that Breathes (2022) – nonfiction


Learning outcomes:

By the end of the course, students will have a good understanding of how we can approach filmmaking through a Daoist perspective, especially sustainable filmmaking that enhances the interconnectedness of human and nonhuman things.

Students will also have the ability to examine how certain films lend themselves to a Daoist reading through the key concepts we have learned, and how cinema itself can further our understanding of Daoism. And this can be practised through a film curatorial project.

Students who are film practitioners will have a basic ‘tool kit’ to make films through aesthetics and ethics informed by Daoism.


Course work (optional):

Make a short nonfiction film informed by Daoist aesthetics and ethics.

Curate a film programme of 4-5 nonfiction films based on one or two Daoist key concepts discussed in the course.


Course location: Open City Docs, 40 Bernard Street, 4th Floor, WC1N 1LE, London

This course takes place across 4 Wednesday evenings (18:30 to 20:30) from 19th April to 10th May.

Booking closes on Tuesday 18th April at 12pm.

We reserve the right to postpone or cancel the course if we don’t receive enough bookings.

If you’d like to be notified about this course’s future running dates, please fill in this quick form. If you have any questions about the course, get in touch with

Still from Homo Sapiens (Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Switzerland/Germany/Austria, 2016).



Dr. Kiki Tianqi Yu


Kiki Tianqi Yu is a filmmaker, theorist, and curator, committed to advancing dewesternised film theories and research-led practice. She is Senior Lecturer in Film at Queen Mary University of London. Examining how philosophies in non-western cultures and approaches in other disciplines enhance our understanding of global cinema, her research, in theory and practice, are often interdisciplinary and echo the ethos of decolonising film studies. Kiki’s current research includes theorising cinema through Daoism; documentary, essayistic nonfiction and artist moving images in/on the global south; women’s cinema and localised feminism in East Asia, contemporary Chinese cinema. Kiki received international recognition and praise through awards, invited keynote and talks. She is the author of ‘My’ Self on Camera: First Person Documentary Practice in an Individualising China (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), the co-editor of China’s iGeneration: Cinema and Moving Image Culture for the 21 Century (2014) and a special issue of Studies in Documentary Film (2020 vol 14) on Feminist Approaches in Women’s First Person Documentaries from East Asia (with Alisa Lebow). Kiki’s award-winning films, including Photographing Shenzhen (2006), Memory of Home (2009), China’s van Goghs (2016), and The Two Lives of Li Ermao (2019), were shown at IDFA, Vision Du Reel, Helsinki DocPoint, Thessaloniki Film Festival, Beijing International Film Festival, New Zealand International Film Festival, the Royal Anthropological Institute Film Festival, Festival de Cinema i Fotografia, British Film Institute, London V&A Museum, etc. and have been collected by Harvard University, Yale University, DSLCollection, etc. Her curatorial projects include ‘Polyphonic China: Chinese independent documentary’ (London 2009) and ‘Memory Talks: Personal Cinema” (Shanghai 2017).