Open City Documentary Festival

Observation Is Dead, Long Live Observation (Online)

, Thursday evenings, from 7-9pm
Jul 16 — Jul 30

<This course will  be delivered via online distance learning. Students will require their own computer or other internet connected device. If you have any questions or concerns about this, please get in contact with Ripley.

Observation is at the heart of most non-fiction films, yet it can take many varied forms. From staging ‘reality’ to animation, from provocation to filmmaker participation, this series of masterclasses with some of the world’s leading non-fiction filmmakers, will explore the limits of observation as well as the advantages.

Filmmaker Marc Isaacs will be in conversation with a range of filmmakers whose work offer a detailed insight into the potential of the documentary form.  Some filmmakers believe that a strict observational approach leads to a more truthful portrayal of the real, whilst others eschew the very notion of observation altogether. Join us for a lively discussion into how filmmakers think their way through this fundamental question.

The learning outcomes will be as follows:

  • Students will learn to differentiate between different modes of documentary
  • Students will learn how to think through how specific filmic approaches marry with the subject.
  • Students will understand how filmmakers construct scenes even when they appear to be purely observational
  • Students will be encouraged to think about the limits and freedoms of various approaches to the documentary form.

The conversations led by Isaacs will be participatory, and students are encouraged to engage with the questions raised and the ways that they relate to their own filmmaking practice.

Filmmaker Guests

Kim Longinotto: (Thursday July 16th)
In her masterclass, Kim will discuss in detail how her observational approach to filmmaking leads to powerful human insights. Through an analysis of some of films, such as Divorce Iranian Style and Sisters In Law, Kim will talk us through her process and reveal how she manages to maintain extraordinary intimacy through observation.

Pawel Lodzinski: (Thursday July 23rd)
Pawel has made work using ‘pure’ documentary observation as well as working with fiction, and he has even appeared as a character in front of his own camera. In this masterclass, Pawel will discuss his varied approach and explain why he deploys different methods to realise his films. When should one choose to observe, and when is it right to step in front of the camera or work with actors?

Brett Story: (Thursday July 30th)
Brett’s films take a conceptual approach to observation – embedding characters in a landscape or a formal framework to invite the audience to find meaning in what may at first glance seem like ordinary situations and, often, fleeting encounters. In this masterclass, Brett will discuss her approach to films such as The Prison in Twelve Landscapes and The Hottest August. How might we see what we are looking for in unexpected places, and through this provoke ideas and thematic associations in the audience beyond the surface of a person or place?

Image: Divorce Iranian Style (Kim Longinotto, 1996)



Marc Isaacs

Course 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.