Essay Film Festival 2021

The Essay Film Festival returns 25 March to 3 April for its 2021 edition, which this year will be held entirely online.

How will the festival work online?

All the films will be free and open to anyone in the UK. To watch the films, visit our online screening room, where you will be able to view all the films at a time that suits you. The screening room does not require any sign-ups or downloads. While most of this material will be made available for the entire festival window (25 March to 3 April), one or two items will be up for a more limited period, so you should check the window of availability for each film. 

Link to the screening room: check closer to the festival for the link to the screening room.

What about live events?

Our programme of live events – open to audiences globally – includes artists’ and curators’ talks, conversations with filmmakers and discussions with critics and researchers. These will take place online, via a platform called Collaborate, which is very simple to use. Book your place on our website (http://www.essayfilmfestival.com), and we will send you a link to join us on the day: again, you do not need to create an account or download any software.

What is in the programme this year?

For us the essay film is a critical intervention in the world, combining a passion for investigating reality and for asking tough questions about society with an open, inventive and even playful approach to film language and forms of representation.

This year’s programme reflects that dynamic ambition for the essay film, with a wide range of contemporary and archival works from different parts of the world, accompanied by live talks and conversations featuring artists and researchers.

Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich will give a talk about her forthcoming project on Suzanne Césaire, alongside a selection of her short films exploring alternative voices and narratives from African-American history.

Cauleen Smith will be joining us to discuss a programme of her experimental works reflecting her longstanding interest in Afro-futurism and jazz, especially Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra.

Two programmes of short films by Kevin Jerome Everson focus on themes of labour and place, which the artist will further develop in an illustrated talk and conversation.

From the Asian Film Archive we share Monographs, a series of video essays responding to the uncertainties of the pandemic from ten contemporary Asian artists, some of whom will be speaking at the festival with critic and essayist Kevin B. Lee.

John Gianvito will be in conversation about his latest film, Her Socialist Smile, an historical essay about Helen Keller that foregrounds her radical politics and commitment to social justice.

Nuria Giménez’s My Mexican Bretzel uses found footage and literary invention to play with the conventions of film portraiture and highlight the invisibility of women’s histories – themes that the artist will discuss in a live conversation.

An extended programme around the work of Jenny Brady features three of her own films and three films curated by the artist, alongside a talk about her new project about musical performance and the sonic practice of Alvin Lucier.

Our archival section showcases films by Med Hondo and Sidney Sokhona, both representing critically the lives of African workers in France in the 1970s; writer Assia Djebar’s filmic reinterpretation of colonial travel and newsreels shot in Algeria; and the collaborative films of Yugantar, India’s first feminist film collective.

This year’s programme closes with a study day devoted to Brazilian filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho, specifically his films Man Marked for Death, Last Conversations and the unfinished A Day in Life.

Come and join us!

On behalf of the Essay Film Festival: Matthew Barrington, Lauren Collee, Kieron Corless, Catherine Grant, Ricardo Matos Cabo, Janet McCabe, Raquel Morais, Laura Mulvey, Michael Temple

Full programme and practical information: http://www.essayfilmfestival.com

The Essay Film Festival is supported by CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership

Session 1: Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich

In her work to date, Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich has developed a range of projects exploring narratives relating to the African diaspora, using a range of experimental techniques to create narratives of those whose voices had been marginalised due to the legacies of colonialism. This programme of recent shorts, reflecting the artist’s interactions with archives, lays the ground for Hunt-Ehrlich’s live presentation of her current project on Suzanne Césaire.

Click here for more information.

Watch the films: the films in this programme can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.

Live event: join us for a live presentation by Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich, who will be in conversation with Nzingha Kendall. 25 March, 18.00 – 19.00. Book here.

Session 2: Cauleen Smith with Languid Hands

This programme of shorts brings together recent work by the artist and filmmaker Cauleen Smith. The selected films highlight the artist’s interpretations and re-imaginings of the music of Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra, interwoven with her interest in African-American history and the ways in which the historical and contemporary can be brought into dialogue through artistic practice.

Click here for more information.

Watch the films: this programme of films by Cauleen Smith can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.

Live event: join us for a live discussion with Cauleen Smith, who will be in conversation with Languid Hands. 26 March 2021, 18.00 – 19.30. Book here.

Session 3: Kevin Jerome Everson

A prolific filmmaker, Kevin Jerome Everson has amassed a large body of work over the last decade. Within his oeuvre Everson has regularly returned to questions of labour, particularly the legacy of America’s closed factories and the effects of these changes on the communities who had relied on the automobile industry. Split across two programmes, we present a series of films reflecting elements of Everson’s engagement with labour and place.

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Watch the films: the films in this programme can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room. 27 March 2021, 19:00 — 20:30. Book here.

Live event: join us at 19:00 UK time Saturday 27 March for a live illustrated talk by Kevin Jerome Everson, discussing his recent work and reflecting on his formal approach. The talk will be followed by questions from the audience, chaired by Matthew Barrington.

Session 4: Monographs

Commissioned by the Asian Film Archive, Monographs is a series of video essays, conceived as a platform to discourse upon the moving image within the context of Asia. Originating as a response to the uncertainties of the pandemic, these diverse works draw upon histories and archives, revealing new vistas of inquiry; ruminations that evince the filmmakers’ deep connections with cinema, society and the self.

Click here for more information.

Watch the films: the films in this programme can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.

Live event: join us for a live discussion with Kevin B. Lee who will be in conversation with Pam Virada, Riar Rizaldi and Maryam Tafakory. 28 March 2021, 19.00 GMT. Book here.

Session 5: Med Hondo – My Neighbours

My Neighbours is a restored fragment of Med Hondo’s much longer work, Les Bicots-Nègres: Vos Voisins (1974), a wide-ranging, multi-faceted critique of the relationship between France and its former colonies. My Neighbours focuses on the existential situation of immigrant workers in France, their economic exploitation, their poor living conditions, and their lack of social status and even visibility in the eyes of their French ‘neighbours’.

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Watch the film: My Neighbours can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.

Live event: as a complement to the screening of My Neighbours, Aboubakar Sanogo (Carleton University, Ottawa) will give a live illustrated lecture on the work of Med Hondo. 29 March 2021, 18.00 – 19.30. Book here.

Session 6: John Gianvito – Her Socialist Smile

Her Socialist Smile is a tribute to the political thinking and imagination of Helen Keller (1880-1968), to her life-long engagement with socialist and progressive ideas and practice, as well as to her anti-capitalist activism. Using a vast array of documents, archival images, onscreen text and narration, as well as other elements, such as images of nature, the film is a meditation about the inspiring power of radical ideas and the need for greater political solidarity.

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Watch the film: Her Socialist Smile can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 30 March via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.

Live event: join us for a live discussion with filmmaker John Gianvito, who will be in conversation with poet, teacher and activist Carolyn Forché (who provides the voiceover narration to the film), and writer and curator, Gareth Evans. 29 March 2021, 20.00 – 21.30. Book here.

Session 7: Nuria Giménez – My Mexican Bretzel

Written and directed by Nuria Giménez Lorang, My Mexican Bretzel combines found footage editing and literary invention to tell the intimate story of Vivian Barrett, a woman living comfortably in Switzerland in the post-war decades. Her life unfolds in home movies filmed by husband Léon, and through her journal entries, where happiness caught on camera diverges from what is expressed in the diaries, to reveal that nothing as it seems.

Click here for more information.

Watch the film: My Mexican Bretzel can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.

Live event: join us for a live discussion with filmmaker Nuria Giménez Lorang, who will be in conversation with Julia Martos Ramirez, chaired by Janet McCabe. 30 March 2021, 17:00 — 18:00. Book here.

Session 8: The Yugantar Collective

This programme features three recently restored prints of films made in the 1980s by the India’s first feminist film collective, founded in Bangalore in 1980 by Deepa Dhanraj, Abha Bhaiya, Navroze Contractor and Meera Rao. Between 1980 and 1983, during a time of radical political transformation in India, Yugantar created four pioneering films together with existing or emerging women’s groups.

Click here for more information

Watch the films: the films in this programme can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.

Session 9: Assia Djebar – The Zerda and the Songs of Forgetting

The Zerda and the Songs of Forgetting is one of only two films made by the Algerian novelist Assia Djebar, widely considered one of the most important figures in North African literature. From travelogue and newsreel footage filmed in the Maghreb by French colonialists in the first half of the twentieth century, including scenes of Zerda ceremonies, Djebar constructs an alternative vision of Maghrebi history; one which speaks to the complexities of remembering through and against the colonial archive.

Click here for more information.

Watch the film: The Zerda and the Songs of Forgetting can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.

Live event: join us for a live conversation with about Assia Djebar’s work as a filmmaker and writer, between Maya Boutaghou (University of Virginia) and Wen-chin Ouyang (SOAS, London). 1 April 2021, 17.30 – 19.00. Book here.

Session 10: Jenny Brady (‘A-Weighted Response’)

Jenny Brady’s work as an artist and researcher reflects the impossible ideal of ‘pure’ communication by foregrounding the politics at play in language, sound, and communicative gestures. “A-Weighted Response” is a four-part event comprising three recent films by Jenny Brady, a programme of films curated by the artist, as well as a live conversation exploring Brady’s research into performance, care and access work, and the sonic practice of experimental musician Alvin Lucier.

Click here for more information.

Watch the films: The films in this programme can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.

Live event: join us for a live conversation with artist Jenny Brady, chaired by Lauren Collee. 2 April 2021, 19:00 — 20:30. Book here.

Session 11: Eduardo Coutinho

This programme brings together two films by Brazillian filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho – Man Marked for Death (1984) and Last Conversations (2015). The films will be accompanied by a study day devoted to his work, with a talk by Fábio Andrade, and contributions from Cecilia Sayad, Victor Guimarães, Lúcia Nagib, Jordana Berg, and Consuelo Lins.

Click here for more information.

Watch the films: Man Marked for Death and Last Conversations can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.

Live event: Join us on Saturday 3 April for a study day devoted to the work of Eduardo Coutinho, with a talk by Fábio Andrade, and contributions from Cecilia Sayad, Victor Guimarães, Lúcia Nagib, Jordana Berg, and Consuelo Lins. 3 April 2021, 14.00 – 19.00. Book here.

Session 12: Sidney Sokhona – Nationality: Immigrant

Sidney Sokhona’s Nationality: Immigrant is a powerful and persuasive essay about what it meant to be an immigrant worker in France in the 1970s. Combining caustic humour and on the street reportage with angry denunciation of the living conditions of immigrants from France’s former African colonies, Sokhona’s debut work, made when the artist was in his early twenties, remains a stunning example of politically urgent and formally inventive filmmaking at its best.

Click here for more information.

Watch the film: Nationality: Immigrant can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room, alongside a recorded conversation between Sidney Sokhona and Michael Temple. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.