Open City Documentary Festival

7 – 13 September 2022
in London

Open City Documentary Festival 2019 – Focus: Shorts, Moving Backwards Into The Future


This year, we are running articles on each new film in the 2019 programme. In this piece, Laura Davis selects some of the films screening in our 3 shorts programmes, finding treasures in trash.

“It feels like the future is something we have established and the present is being modulated in its image” muses the narrator of Tulapop Saenjaroen’s A Room With A Coconut View at the end of his digital tour of the Thai holiday resort Bangsaen. Alex is being led around Bangsaen by Kanya, an algorithm that takes him from hotel lobby to laundry room. The virtual tour of the holiday resort pastes graphics on graphics, placing frames within frames.

Alex, a computerised voice himself, asks to step outside of the frame. The attempt to scrape back the stock photo patina results in total image-machine bug out. When Kanya accidentally falls asleep, images crossfade into arbitrarily connected clips of chimpanzees, aquaria, a hell-garden. The algorithm short-circuits; the image bleeds. This glitchiness reminds us internal operating systems are not as advanced as we might believe. We are heading into the future but the journey there feels directionless, decelerated: backwards.

This essayistic entry-point into Open City Documentary Festival 2019’s first shorts programme leads on to Yoshiki Nishimura’s On The Border, in which photogrammetric techniques render scanned images of washed-up beach debris three-dimensionally. The scent and bloat of abandoned trainers, twisted pieces of rope, and non-biodegradable plastics reaches for the senses. Where the images lose granular detail, their computerised layers grow uncanny depth and dimension. Nishimura’s flotsam and jetsam edge out of the frame. What are we to make of that which is discarded? The trash bag is growing at an exponential rate; we can’t look away.

It’s 2019! The conflict in Syria continues to result in the mass loss of innocent civilian life (as in Yaser Kassab’s I Have Seen Nothing, I Have Seen All), the oceans are still being drained of marine life (Isabelle Carbonell’s The Blessed Assurance), migrant workers across the Americas are still denied basic human rights (Ryan Ermacora, Jessica Johnson’s Labour/Leisure), the UK still suffers from deeply engrained racism (Lanre Malaolu’s The Circle), and David Cameron will always be a twat (Stuart Pound’s Trotters).

Is it all so unequivocally terrible? Buried within this trash is a creative interrogation of the archive. The use of found-footage material is a form of protest, be it Jessica Bardsley’s recycling of clips from Thelma and Louise in her Goodbye Thelma to illustrate the perils of travelling alone as a woman, Maryam Tafakory’s superimposition of Persian poetry onto videos of Islamic clergies advising women to moderate their lusts by eating lettuce in I Have Sinned a Rapturous Sin, or Simon Liu’s use of flickering Muybridge-inspired projection to document the 2005 riots against the World Trade Centre in E-Ticket.

At a time when it feels like everything is heading in the wrong direction – when it feels like can only move two steps forwards by taking one step back – through watching these shorts programmes we learn the power of recuperating, repurposing and reappropriating the trash. In a world with so many toxins, both chemical and ideological, toxins that do not seem to disintegrate, that seem to remain in our system for eternity, is this not the best approach? ‘It feels like the future is something we have established and the present is being modulated in its image”. Saenjaroen could be speaking for the festival’s selection of upcoming filmmakers, young, impassioned artists; exactly who we need right now.

Laura Davis is a writer and programmer living in London.

Shorts: Labour/Leisure screens on Thursday 5th September at the Prince Charles Cinema

Shorts: I Have Seen Nothing, I Have Seen All screens on Saturday 7th September at the Regent Street Cinema

Shorts: On The Border screens on Monday 9th September at Bertha DocHouse