Essay Film Festival 2018: Thomas Elsaesser

We are happy to present a recording of a discussion between Thomas Elsaesser and Erica Carter (King’s College London) following our screening of his film The Sun Island on 28th March 2018.

In his first film, The Sun Island, Thomas Elsaesser, eminent film theorist and film historian, documents the life and professional career of his grandfather, Martin Elsaesser (1884-1957), who was architect and chief city planner in Frankfurt from 1925 to 1932. The recent and controversial acquisition of the latter’s landmark building, the Frankfurt Central Market, by the European Central Bank as the site of their new headquarters, allows the film to draw attention to the importance of Martin Elsaesser’s place in the city’s architectural history, and to the neglect of his legacy.

But the film also revolves around Martin’s private life, and notably his wife Liesel’s long-standing liaison with landscape architect Leberecht Migge. Home movies and photographs are combined with personal letters and contemporary interviews to create an intimate portrait of these relationships, and of the protagonists’ collective attempt to create a self-sufficient utopia on Sun Island during the crucial years between the Weimar Republic and World War Two.


Further Information:

1. Martin Elsaesser Stiftung PDF

2. Review of The Sun Island

3. Thomas Elsaesser website

Session One: Laura Rascaroli Lecture With Screening Of La Bocca Del Lupo

Essay film specialist Laura Rascaroli will give a talk on lyricism and poetry in the essay film, and introduce Pietro Marcello’s La bocca del lupo [The Mouth of the Wolf] (2009).

Wednesday 21 March 2018, 18:00 

Birkbeck Cinema: FREE event [book here]

Opening Lecture: ‘Compounding the Lyric Essay Film: Towards a Theory of Poetic Counter-Narrative’, by Professor Laura Rascaroli, University College Cork; followed by a screening of Pietro Marcello’s film La bocca del lupo [The Mouth of the Wolf] (2009)

La bocca del lupo [The Mouth of the Wolf], Pietro Marcello, Italy, 2009, DVD, 68 minutes, Italian with English subtitles

Continue reading “Session One: Laura Rascaroli Lecture With Screening Of La Bocca Del Lupo”


Image credit: Rebecca E Marshall


1st April 2017, 10am1pm

Room G10, School of Arts
Birkbeck, University of London
43 Gordon Square
London WC1H 0PD

Organised by The Derek Jarman Lab in collaboration with Rebecca E Marshall.

A roundtable discussion, workshop and performance hosted by the Derek Jarman Lab for essay film practitioners and enthusiasts to exchange ideas about working with/against cinematic time.

During the session we will introduce approaches to editing outside conventional formats and discuss how to tailor them to the participants’ own essay-film projects. The focus will be on how the filmmaker’s voice can emerge through both sound and image, and can generate a sense of cinematic time. We will look at the process of montage and how it can make use of both carefully planned sequences and accidental moments.

Participants in the workshop should bring up to 3 clips from their own footage (not more than 5 minutes in total duration) . In the second part of the session we will discuss and paper-edit those excerpts with a view to constructing a narrative about time. The workshop will finish off with a collaborative VJ performance during which we will live-edit the footage with an accompanying commentary and a pre-recorded music track.

If you are interested in participating, please send us an email before 25th March. We will be collecting clips prior to the session on Friday, 31st March in our office at 36 Gordon Square. Quicktime Prores format is preferred; if necessary we can help extract clips from file, DVDs, or Blu-rays.


10am – welcome and opening presentation

10.30am – roundtable discussion

11.30am – looking at clips and paper-edit

12.30pm – VJ-ing performance

Email to reserve your place.

Session #16: Screenings and discussion with filmmaker Jocelyne Saab followed by wine reception

Photo © 2015 Jocelyne Saab

Saturday 1 April 2017

Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD

1:00–6:00 | [Book here]

Filmmaker Jocelyne Saab will be in conversation with Tim Markham (Birkbeck) and Stefanie Van de Peer (Exeter). Following the event we invite all our guests to join us for wine reception and Negotiating Dissidence: The Pioneering Women of Arab Documentary by Stefanie Van de Peer book launch:

An extraordinary opportunity to see Jocelyne Saab’s Beirut trilogy of essay films made during the civil war in Lebanon in the 1970s and 80s. Having started her professional life as essentially a television journalist, Saab turned to a more personal and essayistic mode of filmmaking as her native city and country were torn apart by civil war. These beautiful and moving films infuse their powerful documentary footage of daily life amid destruction and displacement with a poetic intensity that transcends the conflict and reaches beyond despair. After the civil war, Saab went on to make numerous films, including documentary and fiction, both in Lebanon and around the Middle East and the Arab world, and more recently she has worked in gallery settings as well as creating her own cultural festival in Beirut.

Beyrouth, jamais plus, Jocelyne Saab, Lebanon 1976, 16mm (transferred to digital), 36 mins, English-language version
Lettre de Beyrouth, Jocelyne Saab, Lebanon 1978, 16mm (transferred to digital), 52 mins, English-language version
Beyrouth, ma ville, Jocelyne Saab, Lebanon 1982, 16mm (transferred to digital), 52 mins, English-language version


Beyrouth, jamais plus, Jocelyne Saab, Lebanon 1976, 16mm (transferred to digital), 36 mins, English-language version

The film is an elegy for the city of Beirut and was shot during a period when the war hostilities had ceased momentarily and people were attempting to reconstruct their lives amongst the rubble and destruction of war. Shot over six months, the first half of the film shows us images of a destroyed city, of empty streets, bombarded buildings, random objects, of children playing, accompanied by a voice over written by poet and artist Etel Adnan, telling us how they ”the unusual has destroyed the order of things”. People relate their experiences of desolation and the suffering from the battles. This city portrait is Saab’s first attempt to articulate in personal terms her experience of the war and to rework in essayistic form her previous filmic and journalistic coverage of the history of her country and its conflicts. The essay film is infused with the uncertainty and violence caused by the destruction of a place she had known and that she felt was lost forever.

Lettre de Beyrouth, Jocelyne Saab, Lebanon 1978, 16mm (transferred to digital), 52 mins, English-language version

This highly personal and original film is an attempt by the filmmaker to come to terms with her experience of war and current events in Lebanon. Saab is like a character in her own story, returning to a country and a city that she no longer recognises. The film works through subtle transitions between fiction and documentary, and a series of letters with a text written by Etel Adnan, whose novel Sitt Marie Rose, published one year earlier in 1977, Saab considered to be the best novel about the Lebanese conflict. While traveling around Beirut and to South Lebanon, the filmmaker muses about the country, its politics, censorship, listening to people who speak openly about their lives and what they hope for the future. The film was described as a panorama of Lebanese society and its problems, revisiting the history of Lebanon and the wages of occupation, while showing people’s everyday life during a time of conflict.

Beyrouth, ma ville, Jocelyne Saab, Lebanon 1982, 16mm (transferred to digital), 52 mins, English-language version

Shot seven years into the war in July 1982 while Beirut was under siege by the Israeli army, the film is another heartfelt tribute to an almost deserted city reduced to rubble after years of conflict. Saab, acting like a reporter of her own history, tells us about the destruction of her house, a 150-year-old building. The film is haunted by the history and memory of places and names and by the stark reality and unbearable violence of the war. The voice over of the film was written by Roger Assaf, a playwright, director and actor, whose work has been profoundly marked by the collective experience of war.

Special thanks to Jocelyne Saab, Miriam Heard, and Nicole Brenez.

We would also like to thank Edinburgh University Press (

Session #15: Screening of Filmfarsi (work in progress) with filmmaker Ehsan Khoshbakht in conversation

Photo © 2015 Ehsan Khoshbakht

Friday 31 March 2017

Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PD

6:00–9:00 | [Book here]

Filmfarsi, (work in progress), Ehsan Khoshbakht, UK/Iran 2017, digital, 108 mins, English and Farsi with English subtitles

Filmmaker Ehsan Khoshbakht will be in conversation with Treasa O’Brien (Westminster)

“Filmfarsi was the cinema of a nation with a split personality”, says filmmaker Ehsan Khoshbakht in this film-critical history of Iran under the Shah.

Khoshbakht’s found-footage essay film Filmfarsi salvages low budget thrillers and melodramas suppressed following the 1979 Islamic revolution. These films defined Iranian cinema in the 1960s and 70s, when the industry shared an equal percentage of the market with the USA. Little more than VHS rips remain.

Khoshbakht here uncovers that which was thought destroyed. A cinema of titillation, action and big emotions, which also presented a troubling mirror for the country, as Iran struggled to reconcile its religious traditions with the turbulence of modernity, and the influences of the West. There are remakes and rip-offs, even a Persian Vertigo. The often cheap, sleazy and derivative films offer an insight into Iran’s psyche.

Exploring the possibilities for the essay film, cinephilia, and the documentary today, Filmfarsi presents a cinematic and social history of a nation, with a keen critical eye. Khoshbakht identifies not only the formal and thematic throughlines in the movies; he also shows us the ways in which Iran has performed specific images of itself.

Among the scratched reels, some keystones of Iran’s extraordinary film culture emerge too: Gheysar, whose title design was done by a young Abbas Kiarostami; the work of director Samuel Khachikian, a progenitor of Iranian noir; and The Deer, a film which more than any other symbolises the historic violent turns in Iran’s recent past.

Filmfarsi presaged a revolution, and it became one of its first victims.