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, 24-29 March 2015.
Featured artists included Thom Andersen, Esfir Shub, The Otolith Group, Peter von Bagh, and Constanze Ruhm.
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.
For the first edition, there was a strong emphasis on found footage and the compilation film, as well as recent essay films from around the world.
As part of the Essay Film Festival, the ICA screened a series of works by major practitioners of the essay film. These included a tribute to Peter von Bagh, with a programme featuring Helsinki, Forever (2008) and Remembrance (2014); an evening devoted to The Otolith Group including In the Year of the Quiet Sun (2013); a rare screening of the Iranian collective film Profession Documentarist (2014); and several works by Thom Andersen, including a new version of Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003), and the UK premiere of his latest film, The Thoughts That Once We Had (2015).
Daytime screenings and discussion events took place at Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image, including a conference on “Why the Essay Film Now?”; a day of screenings devoted to Esfir Shub; master-classes by Constanze Ruhm and Thom Andersen; and a closing programme of contemporary films featuring work from Portugal, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the USA.
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