Documentaries - Open City Documentary Festival

Open City Documentary Festival has announced the full programme for its twelfth edition, taking place in person in venues across London from 7th to 13th September... 

Press Release

The festival’s first fully in person festival since 2019 welcomes audiences to venues Bertha DocHouse, Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image, Close-Up Cinema, Curzon Soho, Genesis Cinema, Institute of Contemporary Arts, LUX, Tate Modern and the Festival Hub.

Open City Documentary Festival 2022 will celebrate the art of non-fiction through 93 new and retrospective non-fiction films and 7 cross-media projects. The new film programme includes 5 World Premieres, 2 International Premieres, 3 European premieres, and 27 UK Premieres, and films from 25 different countries. Of the directors presenting new work in the film programme, 59% are women or non-binary filmmakers

The Festival Hub in Chinatown will host the free Expanded Realities exhibition and a programme of talks and workshops, as well as daily happy hour events. At LUX in Highgate, The Revolution Will Not Be Air-conditioned, a new exhibition by Chinese artist Bo Wang, will open on Sunday 4th September and run until Saturday 15th October.


This year’s edition opens with É Noite na América (It Is Night In America, Ana Vaz, 2022), a reverse ethnography that foregrounds the non-human perspective of animals filmed in the zoo of Brasília. The animals are not only the subjects of our gaze; they too are watching us in this film, in which blue is the dominant colour.

Once more, the festival celebrates the work of women filmmakers with two “In Focus” programmes on Alexandra Cuesta and Betzy Bromberg, which constitute the first in-depth surveys of both artists’ work in the UK. Portraits of public places, urban landscapes, and the people in them are the focal point of Alexandra Cuesta’s work. In Focus: Alexandra Cuesta includes all her completed films as well as other films selected by Cuesta, with an emphasis on recent productions by Ecuadorian filmmakers and artists. Co-presented with Tate Modern, In Focus: Betzy Bromberg showcases her 16mm films made as early as 1977. It also includes recent feature-length films which are formally abstract, light, and sonic explorations, which are nonetheless profoundly emotional meditations on the human condition.

Tsuchimoto Noriaki (1928-2008) occupies a central place in the history of documentary filmmaking in postwar Japan. Tsuchimoto developed a very personal and independent method of working based on a continued engagement with the social issues of his time, making films based on mutual trust and empathy with the communities he filmed. Organised by Open City Documentary Festival, the retrospective Tsuchimoto Noriaki: Film is a work of living beings will take place throughout September in various venues across London (ICA, Birkbeck Cinema and Close-Up Cinema), with a series of central screenings coinciding with the festival dates.

The festival will close with The Shiranui Sea (1975), Tsuchimoto’s masterpiece and the culmination of many years working with Minamata disease patients. The film establishes a comprehensive report about the Minamata situation throughout the years and is a lyrical tribute to the people’s resilience.


The wider film programme features documentary storytelling and artists’ moving image from around the world. There are in-depth and extraordinary character studies like Raphaël Grisey & Bouba Touré’s Xaraasi Xanne (Crossing Voices, 2022) which focuses on the life of activist and photographer Bouba Touré. Elsewhere in the festival programme, archives are a recurrent motif. Léa Morin and Annabelle Aventurin from Non-Aligned Archives have curated a screening of recent restorations of Ali au pays des merveilles (Ali in Wonderland, Djouhra Abouda and Alain Bonnamy 1976) and Mes Voisins (My Neighbours, Med Hondo, 1971). Collaborations with Another Gaze and UnionDocs give light to the films of Helga Reidemeister, William Greaves and James N. Kienitz Wilkins. Tiffany Sia’s What Rules the Invisible (2022) from the combined programme of the same name incorporates archival travelogue shot by amateurs in Hong Kong across the 20th century, revealing patterns and tropes through the idealised view seen by the tourist: the mountain, the dense urban skyline, junks sailing in the bay. Based between London and Shiraz, Maryam Tafakory is an artist filmmaker making textual and filmic collages which interweave poetry, archival, and found material to explore depictions of erasure, secrecy and censorship. An evening with Maryam Tafakory centres around her ongoing body of research into representations of women, and the lack thereof, in post-revolution Iranian cinema. Extending on from the film programme, “Counter-archives” is a series of discussions and presentations happening throughout the festival’s “Talks programme”.

Other films tie storytelling, people and place together. Jumana Manna’s Foragers (2022) focuses on the Palestinian resilience to Israeli legislation preventing the foraging of wild edible plants –akkoub and za’atar. Jessica Johnson and Ryan Ermacora’s Anyox (2022) is a portrait of the Canadian town of the same name; built to house a largely immigrant workforce from Eastern Europe, it now has just two sole remaining residents. Similarly, isolation is a familiar subject matter in Zheng Lu Xinyuan’s JETLAG (2022), an enigmatic essay film made in the context of the recent global pandemic which is also a personal story around family relationships and the filmmaker’s journey back to China.

Other films link climate, resistance and protest. Onyeka Igwe’s The Miracle Miracle on George Green (2022) revisits the campaign to save an old Chestnut tree in Wanstead under threat due to the construction of the M11 link road in the early 1990s. The protests received national attention as environmental activists travelled from around the UK to join local groups. Dora Garcia’s Si Pudiera Desear Algo (If I Could Wish for Something, 2022) traces recent mass-participation feminist actions in Mexico City which have sought to dismantle the patriarchal violence of the state and imagine a radical future in its place whilst Teresa A Braggs’ Sab Changa Si (2021) tracks the grassroots protests against the government’s controversial introduction of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in India. Niki Kohandel’s ... - then love is the name (2022) uses 16mm footage from the 2021 anti-racist occupation of the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Ruth Beckermann grapples with male sexuality in Mutzenbacher (2022). Men of all ages audition for roles in a film based on the anonymously published novel Josefine Mutzenbacher or The Story of a Viennese Whore which has been described as a “salacious and abusive portrayal of child sexuality.” Elisabeth Subrin’s Maria Schneider, 1983 (2022) takes as its starting point a 1980s TV interview with the French actress. Re-enacted by actresses Manal Issa, Aïssa Maïga and Isabel Sandoval (also an acclaimed director), each performance adds new layers to the original conversation, bringing it to the present moment.

The influential avant-garde filmmaker Robert Beavers will present a screening of recent works including The Sparrow Dream (2022), which will premiere at Open City, and forms (with Pitcher of Colored Light, 2007 and Listening to the Space in my Room, 2013) a loose trilogy of studies of the filmmaker’s domestic spaces. Turner prize nominee Rosalind Nashashibi’s new feature Denim Sky (2022) is a dreamy exploration of alternative community structures, the non-nuclear family and non-linear time, shot over a period of four years in locations in Scotland, Lithuania and London.

Artist and filmmaker Judith Noble is the subject of a new short portrait film by Tom Chick, Fire Spells (2022) and will be present at the festival to introduce her 1980s films Mysteries and Red Sea, which like other feminist works from the time was concerned with menstruation, and its relationship to the lunar cycle. Other UK filmmakers premiering new films at the festival include Maeve Brennan, James Edmonds, Sasha Litvintseva & Beny Wagner, Morgan Quaintance, Ben Rivers, Marcy Saude, Rhea Storr and Hope Strickland.


A varied talks and workshops programme includes the aforementioned Counter-archives, a series of talks which propose expansive ways of thinking about the “archive”, considering not just the films themselves but also questions of labour, reparation and imagination. Key contributors will include Annabelle Aventurin & Léa Morin (Non-Aligned Archives), George Clark & An Viêt Foundation, the Cinenova Working Group, Onyeka Igwe, Pablo La Parra, the Sam the Wheels project, Tiffany Sia, the Temenos Archive and Bo Wang, amongst others. SPEAKING NEARBY: PLAYING THE ARCHIVE also aims to explore experimental ways of work and play with artists and archives. Rooted in an expanded idea of “archives”, Speaking Nearby draws on Trinh T. Minh-Ha’s concept in order to explore the means of articulating memories from the personal to collective and proposing new ways to care for history.

Returning in 2022, the Critics Workshop is a six-day programme developed with the Another Gaze editorial team that will provide an introduction to the ethics and methodologies of a politically engaged film criticism for 10 selected participants. The Keynote talk From the ground up: a new infrastructure for the UK documentary film industry with Dr Steve Presence draws on the work that led to Keeping It Real (published in 2022), the largest survey ever conducted of UK feature-doc producers and directors.

Matchbox Cineclub will discuss and demonstrate in real time how access materials for films are created. Starting with an unsubtitled short, the workshop The Lifecycle of a Subtitle will provide a live demonstration of how to create effective descriptive subtitles that balance the demands of accessibility against the intentions of the filmmaker and the integrity of their work. If I Could Wish for Cinema, hosted by Melanie Iredale and co-presented with Birds Eye View will question whether we truly can be in a “golden age” for non-fiction film while the types of documentaries we readily have access to are so limited. For the launch of the anthology Strangers Within (eds. Therese Henningsen and Juliette Joffe), contributors will respond to a recording of Toni Morrison reading her text “Strangers” (1988) to explore the idea of “documentary as encounter”.

Open City is pleased to co-present with LUX, the third Ian White Lecture, given by Canadian artist, photographer and writer Moyra Davey. This ongoing series celebrates the provocative and enquiring spirit of artist, performer, curator, educator and writer Ian White (1971–2013).Masterclasses by Alexandra Cuesta and Jonathan Perel (director of Camuflaje) will give insight into their filmmaking practices. Artists from our Expanded Realties programme will discuss their projects, how they were drawn to their subject matter, and the ethics and accessibility issues that arise when working with frontier technologies. Doc Society, LUX and Birds Eye View will host one-to-one surgeries at the Festival Hub, whilst Film in Mind will offer facilitator training for people working in documentary. The newly launched Student Programme is a daily programme of free screenings and in-depth conversations with festival filmmakers, hosted by tutors from the Documentary & Ethnographic Film MA (UCL).


Expanded Realities, the festival’s cross media (AR/VR/XR+) exhibition showcases storytelling at the intersection of art and technology. Interactive projects Gondwana, The Subterranean Imprint Archive and Infomorph immerse participants in virtual ecosystems, trace the legacy of technopolitics in Central and Southern Africa and explore the relationship between human, machines and nature in a post-human future. The 360 cinema project Handwritten uses artificially generated images to create a synaesthetic essay film about loneliness, insecurity and the increasing shift of our everyday life into the digital realm. Surfacing (AFFIORARE) is an immersive fairy tale set amongst mother and children whilst Tearless moves through the haunting spaces of Monkey House, a deadly medical prison established in South Korea in the 1970s to isolate comfort women with STDs. Our interactive documentary piece, A Colônia Luxemburguesa tells a screen-based story in a non-traditional format traveling across time, place and memory. Returning is the UCL Showcase from students, staff and alumni implementing XR in fields including computer science, arts, and medicine.

Images & info - Open City Documentary Festival

Tickets are on sale 27th July, with all events taking place in venues across London between 7th - 13th September - find out more at

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