Open City Documentary Festival 2018

One of the many characters seen in portrait in RaMell Ross’ Hale County This Morning This Evening (2018).

Open City Documentary Film Festival: 4-9 September

by Alexa Dalby

The Open City Documentary Festival celebratescreative documentary and non-fiction filmmakers with a dynamic new programme for 2018. With 30 features and 48 shorts, 2 world premieres, 3 European premieres and 26 UK premieres across shorts and features from more than 30 countries, the festival will take place from the 4th – 9th September in a host of great venues across central London.

This year – through films, audio and immersive (VR/AR) projects, across screenings, special events, parties, panels, workshops and masterclasses – Open City Documentary Festival will be celebrating the art of non-fiction

This includes astonishing debut Baronesa from Brazilian film maker Juliana Antunes, which will be opening the festival and the inspirational H Is For Harry from British filmmaker Jaime Taylor, the producer of the BAFTA-nominated, double Grierson winning The Secret History of Our Streets (BBC2) and will be celebrating its World Premiere.



Opening Night is the UK Premiere of Baronesa (2017, Brazil, 71’), directed by Juliana Antunes, an exciting new voice in Brazilian cinema,and in partnership with MUBI. Her astonishing debut follows friends Andreia and Leid as they navigate the perilous reality of daily life in the favelas of Belo Horizonte. At first glance, their days seem calm and untroubled, but the threat of violence is never far away and Andreia dreams of moving to the safer neighbourhood of nearby Baronesa. Antunes spent five years in Belo Horizonte, working with a non-professional cast, to create a work of rare intimacy and authenticity which—despite its simple structure—emerges as a complex, multilayered and moving portrait of contemporary life in the favelas. 

The Closing Night will be the UK Premiere of The Swing (2018, Lebanon, 74’) directed by Cyril Aris. An assured, emotionally rich film about the lies a family tells to keep their patriarch happy and the unattended costs of their falsehood. After sixty years of marriage, Antoine and Vivi have lost their most beloved daughter; but no one has dared to tell the bedridden nonagenarian Antoine, lest his heart crack. A simple solution, though everyone else in this densely interconnected family has then to live the same lie, giving no expression to their grief. A deeply affecting, beautifully shot cinematic novella; like all the best stories The Swing is a simple tale, but one that never short-changes its viewers.

   Flight of a Bullet + Director Q&A


 Get sucked in by Beata Bubenec’s incredible single-take documentary exploring Ukraine’s heavily contested Donbass region. The doc follows a local man, who after taking exception to being filmed—is bundled into a car by armed forces and driven off for interrogation. But despite the intensity of the action unfolding in front of the camera, attention and scrutiny quickly turns to goings-on behind the lens as Bubanec’s allegiances (and motivations) are called into question.

   This is Home 

What happens to Syrian refugees given haven in a western country? This striking suburban Baltimore set film paints a fascinating picture of the USA through the eyes of four families going through the country’s refugee self-sufficiency resettlement programme. This Is Home gives a novel portrait of America, whilst conveying the resilience of its shipwrecked subjects in a moving and compelling fashion. This is Home is screening at the Open City Documentary Film Festival in Partnership with the London Migration Film Festival

This year the festival hosts an outstanding Jury panel for each of its competitive Awards. For the Open City Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Baronesa, dir. Juliana Antunes (Brazil); Casanova Gene, dir. Luise Donschen (Germany); Flight of a Bullet, dir. Beata Bubenec (Russia); and The Swing, dir. Cyril Aris (Lebanon). The Jury will be chaired by esteemed director Sophie Fiennes (Grace Jones: Bloodlight, Bami), and features Beatrice Gibson, Nelly Ben Hayoun, May Adadol Ingawanij and Mehelli Modi.

For the Emerging International Filmmaker Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Angkar, dir. Neary Adeline Hay (France); Those Who Come, Will Hear, dir. Simon Plouffe (Canada); Home of the Resistance, dir. Ivan Ramljak (Croatia) and The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life, dir. Zita Erffa (Germany, Mexico). The award will be Chaired by independent Dutch documentary programme cultural advisor and filmmaker Tessa Boerman (Zwart Belicht), Luciano Barisone, Cecile Emeke, Chiara Marañón and Tadhg O’Sullivan.

The Best UK Short Award supported by the British Council has nominated The Mess, dir. Dorothy Allen-Pickard (UK); Some of These Days, dir. Vincent Förster (UK, Germany); Absent Wound, dir. Maryam Tafakory (UK, Iran); Missed Call, dir. Victoria Mapplebeck (UK); Season of Goodbyes, dir. Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann (UK, Kenya); Plastic Man, dir. Yulia Kovanova (UK); Then a Hero Comes Along, dir. Marlon Rouse Tavares (UK); Landline, dir. Matet Houghton (UK). The Award is Chaired by Stephanie Spray, non-fiction filmmaker (Manakamana) and professor of Critical Media Practices at the University of Colorado Boulder along with jurors Laure Bonville, Amar Ediriwira, Julia Nottingham and Lynn Nwokorie.

 Penny Lane Retrospective + Director Q&A


The award-winning nonfiction filmmaker Penny Lane who was named one of Filmmaker Magazine‘s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” will be taking part in a number of Q&A screenings! Her award winning films The Pain of Other & Our Nixon will be screened as well as an afternoon of her short films all paired with the opportunity to talk them through with the great lady herself.

The festival will hold selected retrospectives of two unique voices in non-fiction filmmaking: The innovative found footage documentarian Penny Lane and Japanese pioneer of ‘action documentary’, Kazuo Hara. Both filmmakers will be at the festival to present their work.

Self Portrait: Sphinx in 47 KM + Director Q&A 


  The 7th film in Zhang Mengqi’s extraordinary survey of life in 47km, a rural village in Hubei Province. Self-Portrait: Sphinx In 47Km explores the terrible legacy of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ through the contrasting perspectives of two generations of women. An elderly woman tells the harrowing story of her son’s death; whilst a teenager paints murals imagining a brighter future. The screening will include a special Q&A with director Zhang Mengqi, hosted by Hiu Man Chan, a researcher, translator and columnist who is involved with the Centre for Chinese Visual Arts at Birmingham City School of Art.

 The festivals’ expansive special events programme includes a focus on the short form with programmes celebrating the Ethno-Fictions of Columbian filmmaker Laura Huertas Milan and the groundbreaking hybrid experiments of Polish maverick, Bogdan Dziworksi. The festival will also host launches of new projects from Radio Atlas and NANG Magazine, and a live Audio Visual performative lecture from speculative architecture think thank Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today.

For the first time the festival has invited artists to present films that have informed their own practice, with special selections from DJ and producer Nabihah Iqbal and filmmaker Marc Isaacs as well as short films chosen by a number of the filmmakers with new work at the festival, screening before their own features.

This year’s Industry Programme has more breadth of programmes and sessions than ever before covering everything from the business of documentary filmmaking, funding, marketing, distribution, production and data. Industry sessions will cover themes such as VR/AR, the challenges of biopic documentaries, the short form, ethics, memory, cinematography, sound, editing, architecture, the future of journalism and the self. The festival is honoured to welcome esteemed filmmakers to share their expert knowledge and experience, including: Tadhg O’Sullivan, Steven Eastwood, Elhum Shakerifar, Rebecca Day, Emma Davie, Edward Lawrenson, Simon Ball, Chloe White, Rose Palmer, Sierra Pettengill and David Charap.

The festival will also be hosting an Industry Bootcamp aimed at students and recent graduates. These sessions will be about preparing for the next steps in your career and getting ready to enter the industry. Each event is £5, or free with student accreditation.

Nabihah Iqbal Presents: Winter Soldier + Discussion & Party


o   In February 1971, one month after the notorious My Lai massacre, over one hundred Vietnam War veterans gathered to testify in an unprecedented public inquiry into the atrocities committed by American forces in combat. Their unflinching testimony was captured by a filmmaking collective and turned into this raw, angry and radical documentary, Winter Soldier, that remains essential viewing today. The film will be followed by a discussion and an evening of music from DJs Nabihah Iqbal and Haseeb Iqbal inspired by the film, featuring protest songs and music from the anti-war movement from 1950-1975.

Open City Documentary Festival is looking forward to hosting a number of exciting festival parties this year including the Opening and Closing Night Receptions at the Regent Street Cinema as well as the Nabihah Iqbal after-party at the ICA, where the DJ, Producer & NTS Radio presenter presents an evening of music inspired by 1972 documentary Winter Soldier, featuring protest songs and music from the anti-war movement from 1950-1975. Other various festival parties will be listed in the festival programme.


For the full programme and tickets visit the Festival website:

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