Open City Documentary Festival

7 – 13 September 2022
in London

Documentary as Encounter (Online)

Price £150

Location Online Distance Learning, Duration Monday evenings across 6 weeks 7-9pm BST, Dates  Nov 14 — Dec 19

This six-week short course will explore the notion of “documentary as encounter”. It will pursue a rich and diverse journey through the work of historical and contemporary filmmakers who use the camera as a tool for encounter. We will explore the uncertainties inherent to working processes that rely on an openness to the people and situations filmed, and to the unpredictable course these may take. We will also engage in a series of readings of key works of literature engaging with the encounter. From interventionist approaches of Cinéma Vérité to diaristic, essayistic and personal films we will look at works in which specific bonds between filmmaker and filmed are created, leaving us wondering: Can filmmaking be as much to do with life as with film? Could it redefine how we relate to the unknown other in film as much as in reality? 

1. Cinema Verité and Encounters through Intervention 

This week will look at the camera as an accomplice to create new forms of encounters. It will explore the idea that the filmic tool opens up a space for a type of interaction which wouldn’t be possible in everyday life. It will look into Jean Rouch’s suggestion that “It – the camera – becomes a kind of psychoanalytic stimulant, which lets people do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.” We will visit key works of cinema verité and explore the ethical implications of these forms of encounter.  

Chronicle Of A Summer by Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin

2. Documentary as Diary: Encounters in Everyday Life 

 This week will look at films in which the filmmaker “re-encounters” the everyday behind the lens. In these works the filmmaker’s gaze on the everyday turns the mundane into poetry. The camera becomes a tool which separates and connects the maker from/to her own world and holds an important role in this alteration of the everyday.  

Diary by David Perlov; Irene by Alain Cavalier; Walden by Jonas Mekas; Katatsumori by Naomi Kawase; and The Filmmaker’s House by Marc Isaacs.

3. A Journey of Encounters: Structure or Adrift 

We focus on films that employ the camera as a premise for an existential journey, crossing the border between life and film. Whether through a preconceived framework or taking shape through the filmmaker’s chance encounters the journey will thus be analysed as both a direction or a lack of direction in the films, leading to the question: Can one embark on a film with no clear intention?  

People I Could Have Been and Maybe Am by Boris Gerrets; Those Who Go Those Who Stay by Ruth Beckermann; Addicted To Solitude by Jon Bang Carlsen; Et La Vie by Denis Gheerbrant; Guest by José Luis Guerin, Gallivant by Andrew Kötting; Sherman’s March by Ross McElvee.

4. Strangers Within: Encounters with Self through the Other 

We will focus on films which question commonly held assumptions around the division between director and subject in the documentary encounter. We look at processes of making where the filmmaker’s search opens up to a mirroring effect between those she films and herself. Finally, we will explore the idea that such films allow for the autobiographical to meet the to-be-shared biography of the subject. 

L’année Prochaine on Partira by Juliette Joffé; Khalik Allah IWOW I Walk On Water; Far and Near by Xiaolu Guo; Déjà Vu by Jon Bang Carlsen; Les Glaneurs et Glaneuses by Agnes Varda.

5. Encounters with Women 

We look at films made by and with women encountering strangers and drifting in public space. Traversing fiction and documentary we will explore both the risks and possibilities specific to women when venturing into uncertain territories and pursuing encounters without knowing the outcome. We will look at it from a historical, political and experiential perspective.  

Cleo from 5 to 7 by Agnes Varda; Wanda by Barbara Loden; Je Tu Il Elle by Chantal Akerman; Places in Cities by Angela Schanelec; Le Vertige des Possibles (Uncertain Times) by Vivianne Perelmuter; Slow Delay by Therese Henningsen

6. Encounter as Collaboration and Working Process 

We explore collaborative ways of working where the production processes may be seen as an encounter between groups of people and consider frameworks that allow for the imaginative input of the people involved. We look at different kinds of collaborative processes and consider how these may expand our conceptions of filmmaking methods and expressions. 

Here for Life by Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Adrian Jackson; In Vanda’s Room by Pedro Costa; Mysterious Object at Noon by Apichatpong Weerasethakul; Ogawa Productions; Medvedkine Group, Karrabing Film Collective

(Image: Wanda, Barbara Loden, 1970) 

This course will be delivered via online distance learning, and students will require a computer or other internet connected device.

1x Universal Credit bursary place is available for this course. Please see our bursary policy here.

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



Juliette Joffé

Course Tutor

Juliette Joffé is a filmmaker based in Brussels. Her films have been shown in festivals such as Visions Du Réel Nyon , FIDMarseille, Open City Documentary Film Festival, Astra Film Festival among others. Her first film Maybe Darkness was awarded a Wildcard For Best Documentary by The Flemish Film Board allowing her to direct The Hero With A Thousand Faces which won Best Short Film Film at Mostra Internazionale Di Cinema Di Genova. She has recently finished the mid-length essay film Next year, we will leave. She runs the documentary course in Brussels- based art school Preparts. As part of her programming practice, she was invited to introduce the work of Belgian filmmaker Olivier Smolders at Open City Documentary Film Festival 2017.


Therese Henningsen

Course Tutor

Therese Henningsen is an artist, filmmaker and programmer based in London. Her films have been shown at Whitechapel Gallery, Chisenhale Gallery, Whitstable Biennale, Close-Up Cinema, SMK Statens Museum for Kunst, among others. She is a member of the two film collectives Sharna Pax and Terrassen, both engaging with the social life of film. She collaborates on ongoing film and research projects with artists and filmmakers Andrea Luka Zimmerman, Sidsel Meineche Hansen and Juliette Joffé. She is currently working on a practice-led PhD in Media Arts at Royal Holloway University and teaches on the MA Documentary and Ethnographic Film at UCL and BA Media Arts at Royal Holloway University.