“For it is the critical faculty that invents fresh forms” (Oscar Wilde)


The full programme details coming soon.

The essay film is doubly an act of criticism. It engages critically with the forms of cinema and at the same time casts a critical eye on the world that cinema inhabits.

The selection of films for this year’s edition of the Essay Film Festival showcases a striking, inspirational diversity of cutting-edge practice and charged political critique from around the globe, encompassing video-essay activism, documents of war’s impact, historical reconstruction, poetry as anti-colonial gesture, self-portraiture, the diary form, found footage historiography, and meditations on landscape and the often bloody histories layered and rooted therein.

Coursing through the entire programme is a keenly felt apprehension of how the present connects with the past, how the individual connects with the social body, and how seeing is inflected by power and ideology – preoccupations that seem especially urgent and pertinent at this troubled juncture. 

We are particularly delighted and honoured to welcome the celebrated director and cinematographer Babette Mangolte to the festival for two special screenings of her essay work. Born in France but resident in the USA for many years, Mangolte’s unique body of work stretches back to the mid-1970s and incorporates reflections on her own processes in relation to capturing human subjects and landscapes on film.

We are also thrilled to welcome another veteran filmmaker, Jocelyne Saab, who will screen her fabled Beirut trilogy, shot in the 1970s and 80s, which documents not only the destruction wrought by war on the city where she was born, but also the resilience and spirit of its citizens. The poet Etel Adnan sums up the trilogy thus: “Jocelyne has instinctively grasped the essence of this conflict. This is a rare body of work, of prime importance for the history of Lebanon and beyond.”

Other filmmaker guests who will present and discuss their work in detail include Deborah Stratman, Zoe Beloff, Andrés di Tella, Ehsan Khoshbakht, and George Clark – all artists for whom the essayistic form enables a unique reflection on the social and political context in which film and reality intertwine and interact.

There will also be two UK premieres of great significance: Tongpan is a hugely important film in Thai cinema history, a collective endeavour that restages the debates between peasants and intellectuals about the controversial building of a dam in 1970s Thailand; and the recent festival hit Le Moulin, directed by Huang Ya-Li, which looks at the cultural and political history of Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule from the 1930s to the 1950s through the prism of a group of dissenting artists and poets.

Rounding things off are three special-focus curated events. Perfidious Albion is curated by Catherine Grant and Sarah Wood (two of whose films will be screened) and assesses Britain’s historical reputation for treachery; Kevin B. Lee screens and presents, alongside his own work, a variety of recent video-essay works that explore the dynamics of film criticism and political activism; and students and staff from the Bartlett School of Architecture showcase essayistic film works integrated into architectural research and practice.

Finally, in collaboration with the Goethe Institute, film scholar Volker Pantenburg will host three sessions devoted to the rich vein of essay films made in the context of West German television in the 1970s, including films by Harun Farocki and Ingemo Engström, and a discussion with Werner Dütsch.

We look forward to welcoming you to this year’s Essay Film Festival – please read on to discover more information about the sessions at the ICA, Birkbeck Cinema, and the Goethe Institute.

On behalf of the Essay Film Festival,

Michael Temple, Matthew Barrington, Azmina Abdulla, Kieron Corless, Catherine Grant, Janet McCabe, Ricardo Matos Cabo, Laura Mulvey, and Treasa O’Brien.

Preludes 2017

Preludes 2017

video-letters-robert-kramer-and-stephen-dwoskin-1024x576Prelude #1: Video Letters

Friday 20th January 2016, 6pm-9pm


Introduced by film historian and Kramer expert Bernard Eisenschitz

Prelude #2: Bette Gordon

Saturday 18th February 2016, 1pm-4pm


Selection of shorts by the American director curated by Dr. Erika Balsom

Prelude #3: HOMO SAPIENS

Saturday 3rd March 2016, 6pm-9pm


A screening and discussion of the recent documentary by Nikolaus Geyrhalter



The essay film is a hybrid form that brings together elements of documentary and experimental filmmaking into a highly personal and often politically engaged mode of expression. Some classic exponents of the essay film are Chris Marker, Harun Farocki, Patrick Keiller, and Agnès Varda. But more recently the essay has flourished in the new era of digital filmmaking, and one of the aims of the festival is to provide a focus for the current global expansion of the form.

The inaugural edition of Birkbeck’s Essay Film Festival took place in 2015, featuring a varied programme of screenings, discussions and special guests, and held at Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image and the ICA, and featured artists included Thom Andersen, Esfir Shub, The Otolith Group, Peter von Bagh, and Constanze Ruhm.

The 2016 Festival featured a retrospective of the wide-ranging career of Kidlat Tahimik, the Filipino filmmaker and artist, including the UK premiere of Balikbayan #1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III,  a showing of his rarely screened masterpiece Why Is Yellow the Middle of the Rainbow? as well as the cult classic Perfumed Nightmare. Kidlat Tahimik was present at the festival, participating in discussions and a one-day workshop.

Full 2016 programme information can be found here.

On behalf of the Essay Film Festival: Matthew Barrington, Kieron Corless, Sarah Joshi, Ricardo Matos Cabo, Laura Mulvey, Treasa O’Brien, Dorota Ostrowska, Michael Temple, Catherine Grant, and Janet McCabe.