Mati Manas [Minds of Clay], Mani Kaul (1985)

What we do:

The essay film has become one of the key focal points of Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image’s activities since the first Essay Film Festival in 2015. Although the main festival takes place over a week at the end of March each year, BIMI in fact organises essay-related screenings and events as part of its general programme.

In the run-up to the annual festival, we also schedule a series of “prelude” essay film events, which form a very significant part of our broad research interests concerning the historical as well as contemporary manifestations of the essay form.

What is an essay film?

Our programming reflects an open and inclusive idea of the essay film, which we think of as 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 Humphrey Jennings, 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.

Past festivals:

The inaugural edition of Birkbeck’s Essay Film Festival took place in 2015, featuring a varied programme of screenings, discussions and special guests, and showcasing works by Thom Andersen, Esfir Shub, The Otolith Group, Peter von Bagh, and Constanze Ruhm, among others.

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, along with films by Miranda Pennell, Manoel de Oliveira, Bani Khoshnoudi, and Mark Rappaport.

For our 2017 edition, we welcomed filmmakers Babette Mangolte, Andrés di Tella, Jocelyne Saab, Sarah Wood, Zoe Beloff, George Clark, Deborah Stratman, Kevin B. Lee, Ehsan Khoshbakht, and Huang Ya-Li, and we curated a special series of events around German TV essays made in the 1970s.

Our 2018 edition featured focused sessions on Mani Kaul and Jef Cornelis as well as welcoming Vivienne Dick, Johnn Lurf, The Otolith Group, Vivienne Dick and Susana De Sousa Dias.

The 2019 Festival included the first UK screening of radical short films by Austrian film director and historian Günter Peter Straschek, as well as work by Bo Wang and Pan Lu, Onyeka Igwe, Sarah Jessica Rinland, Donal Foreman, Dora García, Mary Jirmanus Saba, Christopher Harris, Andrea Bussmann, Mania Akbari and Douglas White, and London-based film collective Cinenova. 

Due to Covid-19, the 2020 Festival was sadly cancelled, with a view to reschedule the events. It was set to showcase work by The Yugantar Film Collective, The Otolith Group, Ruchir Joshi, Jocelyne Saab, Garrett Bradley, Cauleen Smith and more – some of which will instead be screened this year, for the 2023 edition.

The 2021 Festival instead enabled our screenings dedicated to India’s first feminist film collective: The Yugantar Film Collective. Other screenings included Monographs, a series of works by Asian filmmakers responding to the pandemic, as well as works by Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich, Cauleen Smith, Kevin Jerome Everson, John Gianvito, Nuria Giménez, Jenny Brady, Med Hondo, Sidney Sokhona, Assia Djebar, and Eduardo Countinho. 

Our most recent iteration, the 2022 Festival, included focused programmes from feminist film collective Cinenova, as well as works from Giovanni Cioni, Paige Taul, Rosine Mbakham, and more.

Come and join us!

On behalf of the Essay Film Festival: Matthew Barrington, Lauren Collee, Kieron Corless, Catherine Grant, Ricardo Matos Cabo, Janet McCabe, Raquel Morais, Laura Mulvey, Michael Temple