Open City Documentary Festival

Limitations As Strength: Embracing Restrictions When Making Non-Fiction Films (Online)

Tue 26 May, 10.00AM
Thu 28 May, 10.00AM
Fri 29 May, 10.00AM
May 26 — May 29

Since the invention of cinema, non-fiction filmmakers have worked with ‘limitations’. Learn how to overcome restrictions and make the complex become simple.

This course will be delivered via online distance learning, and has been created with this situation in mind. Students will require their own computer or other internet connected device to take part. 

Join Katharine Round, Marc Isaacs and leading international filmmakers, including Avi Mograbi, Chantal Akerman’s longstanding editor Claire Atherton, editor and producer Yael Perlov and artist-filmmaker John Smith to discover how to refine and simplify your non-fiction film ideas. 

Since the invention of cinema, non-fiction filmmakers have worked with ‘limitations’.

Whether these bars and blocks have been self-imposed for specific creative reasons or enforced from outside through budgetary constraints, problems of access or conflict, there is a rich history of films that offer us valuable insight into thinking positively about limitations when making non-fiction films. Over the course of three days, students will be exposed to a range of works designed to inspire them to think about their own personal projects in new ways

Through a series of workshops, including practical exercises, students will learn how to focus their ideas so they are not only realisable but formally inventive, bold and unique. If you want to discover how to make the complex simple this course is for you.

Morning sessions run 10-1pm with breaks, and afternoon sessions run 2-5pm. Students are required to have access to a laptop and smartphone. A watch list of films is provided in advance.

Day One 

Session 1  – Morning

Introduction to the course, tutors & the idea of limitations

Claire Atherton – The Long Take. Atherton collaborated with Chantal Akerman for 31 years as editor on her non-fiction works, including La Bas, From the Other Side and No Home Movie. 

Session 2 –  Afternoon

John Smith – Conceptual Cinema. Smith’s films inventively document and probe his immediate surroundings, often not moving much beyond the front door, yet transform these realities to provoke philosophical and practical questions about our everyday world.

Practical exercise set for completion before day two.

Day Two

Session 1 – Morning. Review of students work

Session 2 – Afternoon

Avi Mograbi – Performing the Self. One of Israel’s most distinguished filmmakers, Mograbi’s non-fiction films use provocative and self-reflexive methods to examine the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Day Three

Session 1 – Morning

Discussion and analysis of techniques and approaches from a range of films in the watch list.

Session 2 – Afternoon

Yael Perlov – The poetic documentary. Perlov worked alongside her father, David Perlov, as editor on Diary, a film that is intensely personal as well as political, born of free-thinking and independence.


“The course inspired me to be the filmmaker I want to be” – Cleanthia Aristodemou

“The course is great and inspires me a lot… the films we watched together are fantastic and gave me new ideas about documentary” – May Jiang

“An insightful introduction to many great filmmakers… creative and inspiring” – Lucia Wang



Katherine Round

Course Tutor

Katharine Round makes creative documentaries for broadcast & cinema exploring the essence of being human with warmth and humour. Her work is variously described as "tender and evocative" and “poignant and viscerally enraging”.


Marc Isaacs

Guest Tutor

Since his debut film, Lift (2001), Isaacs has made more than fifteen creative documentaries. His films include Calais - The Last Border, All White In Barking and Men of the City made for broadcasters such as the BBC, Arte and channel 4. His works have won Grierson, Royal Television Society and BAFTA awards as well as numerous international film festival prizes. In 2006, Marc had a retrospective at the prestigious Lussas Documentary film festival in France and his work has been included in numerous documentary books and academic studies. In 2008, Marc received an honorary doctorate from the University of East London for his documentary work. Marc is a guest tutor at numerous universities and film schools in the UK and overseas. In 2017, he produced his first video installation work, Out of Time, and in 2018 his complete film works was released by Second Run DVD along with an accompanying book.