Open City Documentary Festival

7 – 13 September 2022
in London

Programme 1, The Barlett Screening Room (2021)

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Location Online, Zoom, Director Various, Country Various,

The Bartlett Screening Room is a series of events addressing questions around critical urbanism through the screening of short films and moving image, curated by Henrietta Williams and Open City Documentary Festival.

International short films and moving image artworks are screened for collective viewing online and followed by a conversation with the artists and/or filmmakers. Sessions are open to the public as well as students and staff across UCL. The screenings may be especially interesting to those studying architecture, anthropology and related arts and social sciences.

ACTIVATING THE ARCHIVE 1.1 – Tues 12 Jan – 12.00-13.00

Uppland, 2018

Killian Doherty & Edward Lawrenson

A collaboration between Killian Doherty (from the Bartlett PhD program) and Edward Lawrenson, ‘Uppland’ traces the journey of a European architect and filmmaker to the site of a now dis-used Liberian mine and the town built to serve it. Yekepa, once an iron ore extraction site of Swedish mining company (LAMCO), is now almost entirely abandoned.

Archival images, depicting thriving industry and a polished modernist settlement built for Swedish mining families, are set against contemporary images shot by Lawrenson – abandoned machinery, overgrown ruins, the trope of a waterless swimming pool – traces of absence of a misplaced colonial past. In its wake, New Yekepa emerges alongside. This second settlement is built by the displaced Mano community, the people who lived this place before and operate now in a land stripped of natural wealth.

The resulting short film is a knowing interrogation of the processes of place-making and the voids that the architectures of international development can leave behind.

ACTIVATING THE ARCHIVE 1.2 – Tues 26 Jan – 13.00-14.00

Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings, 2017

Bo Wang & Pan Lu

Originally created as a two-channel video installation, the short film ‘Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings’ presents, disrupts, and spatialises concerns around the British Imperialist project in China. The project is a collaboration between artist/filmmaker, Bo Wang, and Pan Lu, researcher and writer.

The narrative charts the story of John Reeves, a tea officer in the East India Company, focusing on his interest in paintings and the documentation and exportation of plants from Canton. These seductive botanicals are interwoven with a European fear of the concept of miasma – the notion of airborne disease borne out of the humidity of the exotic East. Contemporary footage shot in darkened greenhouses, the fluorescent lighting reminiscent of the lurid early coloration of botanical watercolours commissioned by Reeves, is woven together with stories of a Chinese plague.

A wide array of archival material is presented and skillfully subverted: Pathé newsreels, pop culture 1960s British films, the V&A, the British Library, and of course, the living archive of Kew Gardens. Kew is presented here as an assemblage of exotic botanical species – the narrative of the film segueing to an analysis of colonial systems of human classification. Core to the film is an unravelling of the conflicting nature of the colonial gaze, a desire for the exotic interwoven with fear of the natural world and the people that come from this distant land.

ACTIVATING THE ARCHIVE 1.3 – Tues 9 Feb – 13.00-14.00

No Archive Can Restore You, 2020

No Dance, No Palaver (trilogy), 2017-18

Onyeka Igwe

with Dr Thandi Loewenson acting as respondent.

The short film ‘No Archive Can Restore You’ and trilogy of shorts ‘No Dance, No Palaver’ present a series of carefully crafted narratives to reveal a slice of the problematic history of the British Empire in Nigeria. London-based artist Onyeka Igwe focuses closely on the role of the Colonial Film Unit as a way to rework and reconsider the specific role of filmmaking in discourses of Empire.

Across Africa the British authorities had a policy of utilising cinema as a tool of propaganda. In 1939 this technique was formalised through establishment of The Colonial Film Unit with the primary aim of producing so-called education films to be screened free of charge via a series of mobile film projection vans across the country – later this would morph into the Nigerian Film Unit.

In ‘No Archive Can Restore You’ Igwe returns us to the former site of the Nigerian Film Unit as it lies abandoned on Ikoyi Road in Lagos. Humidity and the passing of time have warped the surfaces of discarded wooden desks still littered with microphones, rusty canisters spill open as dusty film unspools across the floor. The site acts as an artefact of British operations in West Africa. The building is now without use, it’s filmic history no longer wanted and a residue of a colonial past.

In the trilogy ‘No Dance, No Palaver’ Igwe takes as her starting point material that would have been filmed across Nigeria by Colonial Information officers. These men were encouraged to shoot their own films with 16mm cameras and raw stock film provided by the British administration. The resulting archive material is radically transformed and reworked with the simple technique of layering drawings and text slides over original footage. Igwe leads us to a new understanding of this problematic material and the resulting art works speaks to the complexities of a British Colonial past whilst also asking broader questions related to the ethics of filmmaking practice.

Credit: Image from Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings (Bo Wang & Pan Lu, 2017)

Booking for this event has now closed.