Open City Documentary Festival

April 2024
across London
Event has passed

Combined Programme: Fire Spells


Patxi Burillo | 2022 | Spain | 15’ | Digital | Basque spoken with English subtitles

Argileak (“Those who make light”) proposes cinema as a mystical experience. A nocturnal pilgrimage through the woods near Ezkio in Northern Spain revisits the history of the apparitions of the Virgin in the 1930s that drew thousands from all over Spain to this small Guipuzcoan village. Apparitions happened night after night in a perfectly choreographed liturgy that started with a procession through the fields and continued with the visions in front of altars filled with flowers and candles. Cinema is never explicitly alluded to, but film’s apparitional power is reflected in the illuminated faces of spectators in rapture in a sequence that pays tribute to Victor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive (1973).

Supported by a grant from Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) 



Judith Noble | 1982 | UK | 7’ | 16mm | silent

Mysteries is a photomontage film, shot at Penmon, Anglesey and Whiteknights Farm, Hampshire. Beginning with a quotation from a dream, it becomes the filmmaker’s interpretation of the harvest and the old mystic theme of the Mysteries: “The women are celebrating the Mysteries on the beach at Penmon… No-one is watching… The sound of the general waves crashing against the bank of pebbles; the sound of the barley waving… Someone holds out her hand, holds it open against the sea. Perhaps it is my hand, the hand holds three ears of barley…”.


Fire Spells

Tom Chick | 2022 | UK | 9’ | digital | English spoken

Fire Spells follows the artist, filmmaker, academic and writer, Judith Noble, as she makes protection fire spells for the filmmaker. The film is both a portrait of Judith and her views on magical practice, and a ritual film itself.


Red Sea

Judith Noble | 1982 | UK | 6’ | 16mm | silent

Spring tides at Ynys Llanddwyn at the full and new moon are compared to the filmmaker’s own “body tides” from dark to light and back again. Like other films by Judith Noble (formerly Higginbottom), Red Sea is concerned with the menstrual cycle, and its relationship to lunar cycle. Higginbottom and other feminist artists such as Catherine Elwes, Carolee Schneemann and Judy Clark were trying to reclaim menstruation from its negative image and assert it as a source of creative energy. Red Sea is made of 16mm film and 35mm still images, re-worked and over-printed. Higginbottom was also a member of Circles – the first women artists’ film and video distribution organisation in Britain. Circles was founded in 1979 by a group of filmmakers including Lis Rhodes, Jo Davis, Felicity Sparrow and Annabel Nicolson, many of whom had worked at London Film-Makers Co-operative. Their work continues today through Cinenova, formed in 1991 from the merger of Circles and another feminist distributor, Cinema of Women.



Maddi Barber, Marina Lameiro | 2021 | Spain | 22’ | digital | Basque & Spanish spoken, with English subtitles

Paraíso is the first collaboration between two young Navarre filmmakers, Maddi Barber and Marina Lameiro. Adding a new chapter to Barber’s long-term project of documenting the environment around her native village of Lakabe, on the slopes of the Navarrese Pyrenees (which includes films previously shown at Open City such a Gorria and Urpean Lurra), Paraíso brings together Barber’s careful observational cinema with Lameiro’s embodied, corporeal filmmaking. Both Barber and Lameiro have engaged with collective and participative processes before, but more than an exchange between their two artistic practices, Paraíso proposes one with and between the inhabitants of the woods around Lakabe, both human and non-human; a film told by the trees who are about to be cut to make way for pasture fields.

Supported by a grant from Acción Cultural Española (AC/E) 



Ben Rivers | 2022 | UK | 7’ | digital | English spoken

A post-apocalyptic landscape of rocks and toxic fumes; devoid of human presence but not of life. On the soundtrack, we hear Herbert Read’s reading of his poem The Autumn of the World which contemplates a devastated world of chaos and decay, “blood-flecked clouds” and “vermilioned vastness”. A contemporary of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, Read served in the western front during the First World War – an experience that would shape and haunt his writing. Ben Rivers’ 16mm films often blend speculative fiction and documentary, imagining alternative narratives, ways of worldmaking and our relationship to the wilderness.