Essay Film Festival 2017



“For it is the critical faculty that invents fresh forms” (Oscar Wilde)


Full programme details can be found here.

The essay film is doubly an act of criticism. It engages critically with the forms of cinema and at the same time casts a critical eye on the world that cinema inhabits.

The selection of films for this year’s edition of the Essay Film Festival showcases a striking, inspirational diversity of cutting-edge practice and charged political critique from around the globe, encompassing video-essay activism, documents of war’s impact, historical reconstruction, poetry as anti-colonial gesture, self-portraiture, the diary form, found footage historiography, and meditations on landscape and the often bloody histories layered and rooted therein.

Coursing through the entire programme is a keenly felt apprehension of how the present connects with the past, how the individual connects with the social body, and how seeing is inflected by power and ideology – preoccupations that seem especially urgent and pertinent at this troubled juncture. 

We are particularly delighted and honoured to welcome the celebrated director and cinematographer Babette Mangolte to the festival for two special screenings of her essay work. Born in France but resident in the USA for many years, Mangolte’s unique body of work stretches back to the mid-1970s and incorporates reflections on her own processes in relation to capturing human subjects and landscapes on film.

We are also thrilled to welcome another veteran filmmaker, Jocelyne Saab, who will screen her fabled Beirut trilogy, shot in the 1970s and 80s, which documents not only the destruction wrought by war on the city where she was born, but also the resilience and spirit of its citizens. The poet Etel Adnan sums up the trilogy thus: “Jocelyne has instinctively grasped the essence of this conflict. This is a rare body of work, of prime importance for the history of Lebanon and beyond.”

Other filmmaker guests who will present and discuss their work in detail include Deborah Stratman, Zoe Beloff, Andrés di Tella, Ehsan Khoshbakht, and George Clark – all artists for whom the essayistic form enables a unique reflection on the social and political context in which film and reality intertwine and interact.

There will also be two UK premieres of great significance: Tongpan is a hugely important film in Thai cinema history, a collective endeavour that restages the debates between peasants and intellectuals about the controversial building of a dam in 1970s Thailand; and the recent festival hit Le Moulin, directed by Huang Ya-Li, which looks at the cultural and political history of Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule from the 1930s to the 1950s through the prism of a group of dissenting artists and poets.

Rounding things off are three special-focus curated events. Perfidious Albion is curated by Catherine Grant and Sarah Wood (two of whose films will be screened) and assesses Britain’s historical reputation for treachery; Kevin B. Lee screens and presents, alongside his own work, a variety of recent video-essay works that explore the dynamics of film criticism and political activism; and students and staff from the Bartlett School of Architecture showcase essayistic film works integrated into architectural research and practice.

Finally, in collaboration with the Goethe Institute, film scholar Volker Pantenburg will host three sessions devoted to the rich vein of essay films made in the context of West German television in the 1970s, including films by Harun Farocki and Ingemo Engström, and a discussion with Werner Dütsch.

We look forward to welcoming you to this year’s Essay Film Festival – please read on to discover more information about the sessions at the ICA, Birkbeck Cinema, and the Goethe Institute.

On behalf of the Essay Film Festival,

Michael Temple, Matthew Barrington, Azmina Abdulla, Kieron Corless, Catherine Grant, Janet McCabe, Ricardo Matos Cabo, Laura Mulvey, and Treasa O’Brien.