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.