Friday 3 April, 8.15, French Institute

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UK premiere of restored Moroccan essay film banned forty years ago

Film: About Some Meaningless Events (De quelques événements sans signification), Mostafa Derkaoui, Morocco, 1974, DCP, Arabic with English subtitles, 76 minutes, UK premiere

The screening will be preceded by a presentation by curator and independent researcher Léa Morin, whose work explores archives, history and film heritage from North Africa, seeking to trace possible historiographies based on the absent, disappeared or forgotten.

With the support of CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership and Institut Français London.

In 1974, in Morocco, Mostafa Derkaoui filmed About Some Meaningless Events (De quelques événements sans signification), an essayistic inquiry into the social role of an independent national cinema that is being born and the political aspirations of a new generation. The film was banned under the country’s censorship laws and remained practically invisible until this restoration made it available. Today the film retains an energy, a curiosity, and a sense of urgency that will surprise and challenge contemporary audiences.As curator Rasha Salti has written: ‘Around the port’s streets and popular bars of Casablanca, a group of filmmakers conduct discussions with people about their expectations of, and aspirations for, the emerging Moroccan national cinema. When a disgruntled worker kills his superior accidentally, their inquest shifts focus, and they begin to probe the context and motives of the killing. At the heart of About Some Meaningless Events (De quelques événements sans signification) is an interrogation on the role of cinema (and art) in society, documentary and the Real, and what constitutes an urgency for a national cinema that is being born. This unique filmic experience was conceived as an independent and collective effort of militant filmmakers, actors, musicians, poets and journalists at a time of heightened repression on freedom of expression in Morocco and was funded by the sale of paintings by several contemporary painters. The film was first screened in Paris in 1975 but was immediately taxed with censorship and forbidden from exhibition and export. It was forgotten until a negative print was found in the archives of the Filmoteca de Catalunya in 2016 and restored there. Forty-five years after its completion, the film will finally be released.’ (Rasha Salti, Courtisane Festival, 2019)


Friday 3 April, 14:00-17:00, Birkbeck Cinema

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A tribute to the work of Jocelyne Saab presented by Mathilde Rouxel

Films: Children of War (Les Enfants de la guerre), Lebanon, 1976, 16mm/digital, Arabic with English subtitles, 10 minutes

The Ship of Exile (Le Bateau de l’exil), Lebanon, 1982, 16mm/digital, Arabic with English subtitles, 12 minutes

Egypt, City of the Dead (Égypte: cité des morts), Egypt, 1977, 16mm/digital, Arabic with English subtitles, 37 minutes

The Ghosts of Alexandria (Les Fantômes d’Alexandrie), France, 1986, 16mm/digital, Arabic and French with English subtitles, 18 minutes

With the support of CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership and Open City Documentary Festival.

In 2017 the Essay Film Festival invited Jocelyne Saab to present her extraordinary trilogy of films about Beirut shot between 1976 and 1982. These are personal and political film essays in which the filmmaker tries to come to terms with her experience of the civil war in Lebanon. Initially a journalist and war reporter, Saab became a central figure in Arab cinema, documenting intrepidly the transformations brought over by the war and multiple social and political conflicts in the Middle East in the late 1970s and 1980s. Saab’s commitment to those mauled by the war and to those that resist, to the exiles, the dispossessed, and the poor, was manifested throughout her vast filmography of over thirty films. Her curiosity and relentless enthusiasm for the culture and the people of the countries where she filmed extended to the fiction films she directed after the 1980s, and to the photographic works she did as well as the installations she created in the later years, before her death in 2018. The Essay Film Festival celebrates Saab’s work once again with a selection of her films and a presentation by researcher Mathilde Rouxel, author of the first monograph dedicated to the filmmaker and the person responsible for the preservation and distribution of Saab’s films. 


Thursday 2 April, 21:00-23:00, ICA 

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Cauleen Smith: short film programme and conversation

Films: Sojourner, Cauleen Smith, USA, 2018, DCP, 22 minutes

Three Songs About Liberation, Cauleen Smith, USA, 2017, DCP, 10 minutes

Pilgrim, Cauleen Smith, USA, 2016, DCP, 11 minutes

Crow Requiem, Cauleen Smith, USA, 2015, DCP, 11 minutes

H-E-L-L-O, Cauleen Smith, USA, 2014, DCP, 11 minutes

Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band, Cauleen Smith, USA, 2011, DCP, 10 minutes

Following the screening, Cauleen Smith will be in conversation with Matthew Barrington, Essay Film Festival.

With the support of Arts Council England.

In this session, we present a programme of recent shorts by the artist and filmmaker Cauleen Smith. An interdisciplinary artist, Smith’s work has a strong connection to afro-futurist traditions in jazz music, Third Cinema and structuralist film, and since her debut feature film, Drylongso (recently restored by the Academy Film Archive), Smith has worked primarily within the spaces of the gallery and experimental film. This programme highlights Smith’s interpretations and re-imaginings of the music of Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra, her interests in science fiction interwoven with African-American history, and the ways in which the historical and contemporary can be brought into dialogue through artistic practice. Pilgrim, H-E-L-L-O and Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band all bring together musical performance with significant local sites. Three Songs About Liberation and Crow Requiem both continue Smith’s interest in local history through metaphor and staged performances. The programme concludes with Smith’s most recent film, Sojourner, which sees Smith repurpose the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum in Joshua Tree, California as a radical feminist utopia, incorporating a homage to the feminist abolitionist and human rights activist Sojourner Truth.


Thursday 2 April, 14:00-16:00, Birkbeck Cinema

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An illustrated lecture by Cauleen Smith

With the support of Arts Council England.

In this talk, Cauleen Smith will explore and reflect upon her career and her filmmaking process. Operating in multiple materials and arenas, Smith roots her work firmly within the discourse of mid-twentieth-century experimental film. Drawing from diverse artistic traditions, she makes things that deploy the tactics of these disciplines while offering a phenomenological experience for spectators and participants.


Wednesday 1 April, 21:00-23:00, ICA

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Films: America, Garrett Bradley, USA, 2019, DCP, 29 minutes, UK premiere

Following the screening, Garrett Bradley will be in conversation with curator Karen Alexander and sound designer Trevor Mathison.

With the support of Arts Council England.

America is a poetic reflection on marginalised figures and African-American cinematic history. In 2014 the Museum of Modern Art, New York screened Lime Kiln Club Field Day thought to be the oldest surviving film featuring African-American actors. Made in 1913, the film is a romantic comedy starring famed Bahamian-American singer Bert Williams and the existing version of the film whilst unfinished provides fleeting glimpses of middle-class African-American communities. Inspired by this historic rediscovery, Bradley’s film is both an elegiac response both to Lime Kiln Club Field Day and a meditation on the thousands of silent films made between 1912 and 1929 and thought forever lost. 

America is made up of several short sequences from Lime Kiln Club Field Day which are interspersed with twelve vignettes. Just as Lime Kiln Club Field Day was thought lost and its depictions of African-American culture unseen, each vignette focuses on a person or a moment in time the memory of which has also been lost to history. Bradley’s filmed sections are shot on 35mm and each story centralises on inserting an African-American presence into moments commonly thought of as unequivocally white.

Originally conceived as a silent film, America’s soundtrack is designed by Trevor Mathison, member of the seminal Black Audio Film Collective. The subtle, meditative composition evokes the silenced voices of the communities represented on screen, and his score is punctuated by reflections from New Orleans residents sharing their thoughts on what it means to be American.