Close Up

8 - 12 September 2022: Open City Documentary Festival: The Art of Non-Fiction


Open City Documentary Festival returns to nurture and champion the art of non-fiction cinema. Aiming to challenge and expand the idea of documentary in all its forms, the festival brings together filmmakers and other practitioners to explore and debate the current landscape of documentary. The festival presents at Close-Up programmes featuring recent films by Rhea Storr, Margaret Rorison, James Edmonds, Eva Giolo, Marcy Saude, Tiffany Sia, Maxime Jean-Baptiste, Wiame Haddad, Sherko Abbas, Oraib Toukan, Hope Strickland, Morgan Quantaince, Diego Acosta, Jessica Jonhson and Ryan Ermacora. Co-presented with Tate Modern and Cinenova, In Focus: Betzy Bromberg spans four decades of the American avant-garde filmmaker’s career and is the first in-depth survey of the artist’s work in the UK.


Under the Sky Shelter
Diego Acosta, 2021, 70 min

Don Cucho sets out for new pastures, his herd in tow, as he does each year, and as his Andean predecessors have done for centuries before him. Under Diego Acosta’s observation, this well-established journey is injected with a new vitality. What would otherwise be mundane images of a seasonal ritual – the massed heads of livestock, the flow of water – take on a new otherworldly luminosity when captured on Acosta’s black-and-white 16mm film. From the expanse of the sky down to the furrows on fireside brows, every facet of the journey is captured with equal parts languid observation and nervy flickers of anxiety. Under the Sky Shelter is a pastoral journey that is deeply grounded in the materiality of its environment but that is not without a touch of rural eerie. 

Followed by a Q&A with Diego Acosta


James Edmonds, 2021, 8 min

An abstract diary film, the camera in continuous movement – searching for motifs and patterns in the reflections of the light, the swirling waters, the shadows between the trees, in interior and exterior spaces, amongst humans and animals. “The little personal myths and structures we set up to aid the survival of the psyche in times of low harvest. Finding subtle points of reference in subject and camera movement, in the landscape, its details and the traditions of the season, I attempt to connect the outside with the embodied camera and the inward gesture of the brush.” – James Edmonds

Through a Shimmering Prism, We Made a Way 
Rhea Storr, 2021, 18 min

“Three sisters move through public/political space – a square, bridge, garden and hill – in this exploration of Black diaspora. (The title takes inspiration from Dionne Brand's “A Map to the Door of No Return”). Taking as its starting point empty carnival and parade routes in London, United Kingdom and Nassau, Bahamas, the film reflects on progress, the architectural histories of colonialism, and the female body in public space. Glass, mirror and stone are imaged in Super 8mm film, where texture and surface are used as a strategic way of moving through these four spaces. […] Gathering these disparate sources together is a worlding device which I have used to articulate the privileges as well as the difficulties of living in diaspora.” (Rhea Storr)

Margaret Rorison, 2021, 22 min

This personal observational study of the city of Baltimore allows the filmmaker Margaret Rorison to present an elegy to this post-industrial urban landscape. There is a richness of architectural styles documented here, with Rorison’s 16mm images focusing on specific typologies are set against an experimental score by musician Bonnie Jones. Filmed in the golden light, the cityscape is mainly devoid of people. Instead, the focus is upon the textures of abandoned warehouses – elegant tiling, peeling paint, rich red brick. Wider shots reveal the grandness of Baltimore’s past in this quiet and valuable act of cataloguing the city. Rorison began filming material for the project in 2016, and since then many of the buildings have been dismantled. This film stands to act as both tribute and memory to the city of Baltimore.

The Demands of Ordinary Devotion 
Eva Giolo, 2022, 12 min  

An associative montage, guided by shape, colour and sound, of images that suggest motherhood and making: a breast pump expressing milk, a wicker artisan, a pregnant belly, a young woman winding a Bolex camera. As often in Eva Giolo’s work, the tactility of working with 16mm film is emphasized by recurrent close-up shots of hands and manual labour. Luscious fruit, cooling fountains, and flagrant flowers contribute to construct a sensual universe of touch, taste and feel.  

Come on Pilgrim 
Marcy Saude, 2022, 27 min, 16mm  

English settler genocide and the British colonial project are revealed in this film from American filmmaker Marcy Saude. Part essay film, part experimental landscape film, Saude works with local artists and activists to challenge official histories as presented on the city's monuments and plaques. Saude found herself living in Plymouth in a flat overlooking the Mayflower Steps as preparations commenced for the 400-year commemoration of the founding fathers’ inaugural trip to the Americas, reframed here as the first step in an act of genocide. Plymouth is central to the film, as a key site implicated in the slave trade and other Imperialist projects, and the simmering background of the Brexit campaign allows these latent histories to emerge further. Brexit protestors, wizards, and Anglo-Saxon battle re-enactors present a series of staged interventions to introduce counter narratives and problematise the historical placemaking of Plymouth.

Followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers


What Rules the Invisible
Tiffany Sia, 2022, 10 min

Artist Tiffany Sia reworks a body of archival travelogue shot by amateurs in Hong Kong across the 20th century to create a portrait of a place as seen by outsiders. Patterns and tropes recur to reveal the idealised views seen by the tourist: the mountain, the dense urban skyline, junks sailing in the bay. This visual material is set against text intertitles in which the filmmakers mother describes an experience of life in Hong Kong that is absent from the images onscreen. The fragments of text reveal the mundane as well as moments of fear and squalor: colonial police, excrement, and hauntings in Kowloon in the post-war era. Sia combines image and text to explore the space between an idealised vision of Hong Kong and a lived reality.   

Maxime Jean-Baptiste, 2022, 17 min
French with English subtitles

Largely made using archival material shot on a VHS camcorder in 1990s French Guiana, this film allows for the reworking and reclaiming of a specific moment – a celebration after the screening of the film Jean Galmot, aventurier (Alain Maline, 1990). Maxime Jean-Baptiste’s father, and many other locals appeared in the film, co-opted into a narrative that served French discourse around their colonial presence in South America. The footage originates from a contemporaneous documentary as the director reflects on the context of the making of Maline’s film. Images are slowed down and the glitch in the pixelated VHS material becomes more visible, allowing for new questions to arise from the archival material. The original moment is reconsidered through a post-colonial lens.  

Wiame Haddad, 2021, 4 min

This silent 4-minute short film is filmed entirely on Super 8 stock and describes the details that build a life. All the shots take place within a quiet domestic setting that we are led to believe is an October evening in Paris, 1961. The clock and a crumpled newspaper reveal the context of this particular moment, a poster on the wall calls people to join a pacifist march for Algerian Independence. A man re-enacts his departure from the room, leaving the safe space of his attic to join the protest, a witness to history. The scene is revealed as a fabrication as the film shifts from colour to black and white, past and present, the imagined and the real. This is the reconstruction of a historical moment through carefully composed and observed details.  

Silence Along the River
Sherko Abbas, 2021, 7 min
Kurdish with English subtitles

This film consists of a single sequence drawn from the personal archives of the filmmaker’s father Abbas Abdulraza, a Kurdish freedom fighter and cameraman. In 1985, he accompanied a group of fellow soldiers to document an attack mission on a military camp in northern Iraq. Abdulraza gathered a vast quantity of material relating to this conflict, and here his son Sherko Abbas uses the material as found. The footage captures the men as they navigate a small raft along the Sirwan River, through a perilous region then controlled by the Iraqi army. Abdulraza records from the boat on a VHS camcorder as they row in silence, and when the soldiers arrive at the bank they break into song. The resulting film is a remarkable vignette of war and resistance, a quietly radical act in recontextualising found footage.

Oraib Toukan, 2021, 28 min
Arabic with English subtitles

“Sound is the biggest weapon”, says Palestinian artist and father Salman Nawati at the beginning of Oraib Toukan’s short film Offing. Recorded online in the aftermath of the 2021 war in Gaza, Nawati’s testimony describes his attempts to protect his daughters from seeing the war unfolding around them. He turns off the television and encourages them into a virtual world of video games, yet it’s impossible to remove the sonic violence that enters their apartment as Israeli missiles detonate outside. Against Nawati’s words, Toukan places diaristic images collected outside of Gaza over the same period; these range from the mundane to the sublime, and from the domestic to the overtly political. Voice and image act in dialogue with each other telling two experiences of the war interwoven through the film.

I'll Be Back!
Hope Strickland, 2022, 10 min

This film begins and ends with the story of the rebel slave François Mackandal. In 1758, Mackandal was condemned to be burned at the stake, not only for his crimes but also for his radical powers of metamorphosis. Filmed in archives and museums across the UK, I’ll Be Back! explores a series of collections containing objects of colonial violence. Amongst these is a book containing a diagram of a slave ship, a key document in the abolitionist movement widely published for its shocking nature, and a collection of insects gathered in Sierra Leone by a colonial topographer mapping borders and defining British and French territory in West Africa. Shifting across digital, 16mm and archival formats, the film interrogates institutional collecting practices and reconsiders the artifacts of a colonial past.

Morgan Quaintance, 2022

The “Miniatures” are an ongoing series of compact films Morgan Quaintance is continually producing. These short shorts are all under four minutes long and allow Quaintance to explore a single formal or conceptual idea. The process of realisation can either be loose and improvisatory or time intensive and heavily edited. Each of the films uses either archival material, or footage Quaintance has shot using a DV of High 8 video camera. Using these mediums, instead of 16mm, allows for quicker production and a more intuitive approach.

Followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers


Jessica Johnson & Ryan Ermacora, 2022, 87 min
English & Croatian with English subtitles

Strikingly composed of 35mm and 65mm large format cinematography, Anyox tells the story of the small Canadian company town of the same name, abandoned by the Granby Consolidated Mining Company in 1935. The town was built to house a largely immigrant workforce from Eastern Europe who came to mine the rich nodes of copper discovered in the nearby forests and surrounding mountainscape. Save for two residents, the town of Anyox is now a desolate and uninhabited ghost town. The film shows us a landscape that has been ravaged by exploitation. Machines stand within huge, excavated spaces against a backdrop of slag heaps, and abandoned buildings have been taken over by wilderness. Scenes from the town today are interwoven with a range of diverse archival materials: newspapers, company reports on microfiche, audio, film footage, and letters voiced by actors are combined to reveal a bitter struggle between workforce and company management – a conflict between the capitalist and socialist ideologies of the 1930s. 

Followed by a Q&A with Jessica Johnson and Ryan Ermacora


In Focus: Betzy Bromberg 3

American avant-garde filmmaker Betzy Bromberg has been making experimental 16mm films since 1976. Prior to becoming the Director of the Program in Film and Video at California Institute of the Arts in 2002, Bromberg spent many years as a camerawoman and supervisor for the production of optical effects in the Hollywood special effects industry, utilising skills honed in her astonishing kaleidoscopic experimental films. Her early work often explores women’s psychic interiors and threats to an autonomous body through performance and raw collage techniques, provocative imagery, and humour, tautly woven together by evocative soundtracks. These deeply personal films touch on repressive social structures, American landscapes, ritual and intimacy, “play[ing] on multiple levels, merging politics and poetry, and revelling in the resultant tensions” (Holly Willis). Her most recent feature-length films are formally abstract, light, and sonic explorations, which are nonetheless profoundly emotional meditations on the human condition.

In Focus: Betzy Bromberg spans five decades of filmmaking and is the first in-depth survey of the artist’s work in the UK.

Curated by Charlotte Procter (LUX), with Valentine Umansky & Carly Whitefield (Tate Film).

Ciao Bella or Fuck Me Dead
Betzy Bromberg, 1978, 9 min, 16mm

“In Ciao Bella (1978), Bromberg shows us a world of crowded New York streets and hauntingly empty interior spaces, graced briefly by wisps of childish energy and the provocation of nearly naked women. She deftly contrasts such vibrant exuberance with a sense of devastating loss, and the effect is at once brazenly personal (if elliptical) and incredibly powerful. Unfolding desire merges with the ever-present reality of the threat of losing what you love…. In Ciao Bella, one of the final shots is of a jubilant topless dancer caught in a reddish flare and sprocket holes; the picture merges the woman’s vivacious energy with film as a medium, and this is a perfect emblem for Bromberg’s work. She somehow lets her filmmaking and ideas become embodied in the film itself; they are folded together in a remarkable synergy that could almost be construed as some sort of philosophical system for being in the world.” (Holly Willis)

Az Iz
Betzy Bromberg, 1983, 37 min, 16mm

A descent into a desert underworld. A macabre tale of life and lifelessness.

“In Az Iz, Bromberg builds what might be considered a jazz opera – it’s all saxophone riffs, repetition and fragments, but swells to epic proportions, essaying notions of origins and archetypes. The deepest blues highlight the sky behind three people in the mountains, and later, black-and-white images of twisted and torqued trees resonate with all the mystical glory of Being. Az Iz , with its sense of grandeur and beauty, is downright breath-taking, and the effect is sublime.” – Holly Willis  

Body Politic (God Melts Bad Meat)
Betzy Bromberg, 1988, 40 min, 16mm

"The body, culture and nature are also at stake in Body Politic, a film that goes to a hospital operating room, research laboratories and a family picnic to outline the issues raised by genetic experimentation. With her typical serious humour, Bromberg explores both the claims of science (we can improve human life) and the claims of religion (God made perfect beings) and implicitly asks the question, 'How do we know when we've gone too far?' ... There's no voice-over and the argument is made by an athletic juxtaposition and testimony." – Helen Knode

Followed by a Q&A with Betzy Bromberg


In Focus: Betzy Bromberg 4

Voluptuous Sleep
Betzy Bromberg, 2011, 95 min, 16mm

Betzy Bromberg’s Voluptuous Sleep is a mesmerising two-part 16mm meditation on the nuances of light, sound and feeling as evoked through the poetic artifices of cinema. Bromberg’s close-up lens becomes a tool of infinite discovery that reveals as much about our bodily sensations as it does the natural world. Combined with intricate and perfectly matched soundtracks, Voluptuous Sleep is a rapturous, re-centring antidote to the fragmentation of modern life and offers a new experience of cinematic time and memory. It is also an emotional tour de force.” – Steve Anker

Followed by a Q&A with Betzy Bromberg

Open City Documentary Festival from 7 – 13 September. For more information about other screenings and events visit: