Close Up

7 - 11 September 2023: 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 programme at Close-Up  features recent works by Ana Vaz, Annabelle Aventurin, Bani Khoshnoudi, Ja’Tovia Gary, Joyce Joumaa, Margaux Dauby, Miranda Pennell, Riar Rizaldi, Ruth Maclennan and Sanaz Sohrabi, as well as screenings from the retrospectives In Focus: Mary Helena Clark and The Invisible Self.


To Remain in the No Longer
Joyce Joumaa, 2023, 37 min

In 1962, Brazilian modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer was invited to design an international fairground in the city of Tripoli, Lebanon. Situated across 70 hectares, the Rachid Karami International Fair – Tripoli was a flagship project of Lebanon's modernisation policy and is now listed by UNESCO as being of Outstanding Universal Value. The site was never completed and exists today in partial ruin. Years of mismanagement and inflating costs suspended construction which ceased fully with the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. The centrepiece – a vast modernist dome – was used as a munitions storage facility by occupying Syrian armed forces until 1990. Joyce Joumaa’s To Remain in the No Longer examines the architectural, social and political significance of Niemeyer’s fairground. Through archival materials, interviews with local people, 16mm and digital images of the buildings as they stand today, the film reflects on both the fraught history of this site and its connection to the ongoing financial crisis in Lebanon today.

A Forest Tale
Ruth Maclennan, 2022, 33 min

Comprised of several distinct stories, A Forest Tale displays an interconnected world in the sub-arctic forests of Russia. The craftsmen and women, musicians and local population of are all linked through the customs and rituals of these glacial surroundings. Wildlife, trees and forests also constitute an area rich with myth, symbolism, food and song. Filmmaker Ruth Maclennan encounters people eager to tell stories of their ancestors, and those who are considering leaving the boreal forests behind. There are messages of sustainability, of concern for the environment amid flickers of hope and communal kind-heartedness. Filmed up to just a day before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a strong sense of foreboding hangs in the air.

Followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers


In Focus: Mary Helena Clark 2

American artist Mary Helena Clark makes enigmatic, associative, oneiric films that propose cinema as both a trance-like and transparent experience, one “that operates on dream logic until disrupted by a moment of self-reflexivity, like tripping on an extension cord.” Whether working with 16mm film, video or installation, with found footage or her own images, Clark uses the language of collage in order to bring together disparate sounds, images and texts that suggest an exterior logic or code, a puzzle to be solved, a mystery to be cracked. Her work explores dissociation and the limits of cinema as an embodied experience – it questions the relationship between bodies (both animate and inanimate) and sounds, between touching and hearing, whilst problematising the notion of the body as an instrument and that of the object as a fetish. As Hannah Bonner writes, “whether Clark’s collaging distances or attracts us, it indelibly touches us (aurally, haptically, sensorially, corporeally) to experience our own porous selves, and cinema, anew. The films’ affective properties bring us back to the animacy and excitement of our bodies.”

In Focus: Mary Helena Clark is the first UK survey of her work and includes all her short films as well as a screening curated by Mary Helena Clark.  

Delphi Falls
Mary Helena Clark, 2016, 19 min  

Testing the limits of identification with the camera’s point of view, Delphi Falls cycles through multiple subjectivities, misusing traditional narrative conventions – the suggestion of a story, the anchoring of actors as characters – inviting the viewer to constantly question who or what they are.

Mary Helena Clark, 2017, 8 min  

Palms, a film constructed in four parts, each moving further away from a human subjectivity. Alluding to a state of disembodiment, the film’s images arrive like thoughts. In this way, Palms skirts an expected relationship with its subjects, encountering them as both agents of and extractions from the real world. Here our vision is monocular, collapsing figure and ground.

The Glass Note
Mary Helena Clark, 2018, 9 min

The Glass Note re-contextualizes seemingly unconnected elements – fragmented bodies, statuary, a beach marred by a storm, a virtual ocean, the phenomena of lithophonic stones, empty bear cages at an abandoned zoo, a chair that served as a hearing aid – to understand the body’s permeability and to extend the sensorial beyond the corporeal. Playing with notions of ‘thrown voice’ and the untrustworthy image, sound and image commingle, animate, and touch each other, exploring cinema’s inherent ventriloquism.” – Mary Helena Clark

Figure Minus Fact
Mary Helena Clark, 2020, 13 min  

“Night, like mourning, remakes space through absence: forms at the threshold of perception heighten sound and touch. When someone dies there is a pull towards the concrete and tangible, but disbelief creates a world of unreliable objects. Figure Minus Fact draws and redraws coordinates between spaces, senses, and objects, groping in the dark, desiring to see something that’s not there. Spaces become evidentiary yet deceptive in a subject-less portrait of loss.” – Mary Helena Clark  

Mary Helena Clark, 2022, 19 min  

Exhibition moves through gallery rooms and archives, compounding multiple biographies into a single imaginary subject. A woman marries the Berlin Wall, stabs a Velázquez painting as an act of protest and longing, declares herself a doorknob, and plumbs the erotics of the Klein bottle. Using citation, appropriation, and museological forms of display, the film is a mediation on the assertion and refusal of subjecthood.” – Mary Helena Clark

Followed by a Q&A with Mary Helena Clark


In Focus: Mary Helena Clark 3

The Eyelid Clicks considers the unsettled space between person and object, between separation and attachment. Jennifer Montgomery’s Transitional Objects quotes psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott: “The only real thing is the gap”. Such gaps structure the programme through the various ways each artist images, constructs, and plays with the affective and psychic marks on the material world. Eat captures vom Gröller removing her dentures, at the moment when her teeth stop being her and become a thing outside herself. Squeezing Sorrow, a wry ventriloquizing gesture, imagines an ashtray as the source of a symphony. In scenes of othering and projection – the face as canvas, the gendered microwave – distinctions of body, person, and thing blur.” – Mary Helena Clark

It Was a Lover and His Lass
Stephen Sutcliffe, 2020, 1 min

It Was a Lover and His Lass, a single-channel, video collage by Stephen Sutcliffe takes its title and soundtrack from a song in Act 5, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play As You like It (c.1599). A woman sings along to a recording of the song whilst sharpening a knife. Loaded with innuendo and celebrating the promise of spring, Shakespeare’s lyric is disrupted by the sinister scraping of steel. The soundtrack is accompanied by found footage (re-rendered by Sutcliffe through a digital e-reader) of a fish tank. What could initially seem to be playful courting is in fact a fight to the death performed by a pair of Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens). This work continues Sutcliffe’s interest in iconoclasm, collage, the incongruity of digital and analogue technologies and in the collision of literature and film.

Untitled Sequence of Gaps
Vika Kirchenbauer, 2020, 13 min

Composed of short vignettes in different techniques and materialities, Untitled Sequence of Gaps uses the form of an essay film to approach trauma-related memory loss via reflections on light outside the visible spectrum – on what is felt but never seen. Carefully shifting between planetary macro scales, physical phenomena and individual accounts of affective subject formation, the artist's voice considers violence and its workings, class and queerness not through representation but from within.

Game on Actress’s Face
Kwie Kulik, 1971, 3 min

One of nine sequences of a film realised by a group of students between 8th and 14th February 1971. This scene from Open Form, entitled Game on an Actress’s Face, presents a multi-layered reflection on processuality, participation, media and mediatisation. It uses the “public face” of an actress as if it was a neutral surface for a collective and collaborative artistic act. The camera shows a close-up of the actress’s face, the “players” remain outside the frame. The actress Ewa Lemańska became very popular in the early 1970s as Maryna, the fiancée of the main hero in the film series Janosik.

Transitional Objects
Jennifer Montgomery, 1999, 20 min

“Begun as a consideration of the upgrading from manual to digital film editing techniques, Transitional Objects explores the anxiety and loss inevitable in such a transition while also suggesting the consequences of other life transitions. The video takes its title from D.W. Winnicott's theory of children's use of transitional objects to negotiate the gaps between internal reality and the shared reality of people and things. Remarkably layered, Transitional Objects weaves together considerations of splicing, Winnicott, sewing, motherhood, new technology and loss of mastery.” – Carl Bogner

Squeezing Sorrow from an Ashtray
Steve Reinke, 1997, 5 min

“We’ve been working on ashtrays for a couple of months now. Basically, we put an ashtray in the chamber and subject it to a series of pulses of a specific frequency”. Part of The Hundred Videos, a project undertaken by prolific video artist Steve Reinke, including 100 video works made from 1989-1996. Discussing death, sex, the body, philosophy, and contemporary art, The Hundred Videos defines a unique style of video-essay for the end of the 20th Century.

Friedl vom Gröller, 1999, 3 min, 16mm

In Friedl Kubelka vom Gröller’s work, the moving image and still photography are always interrelated. For many of her film projects she first photographs her protagonists as a way of getting closer to them. Eat captures vom Gröller removing her dentures, at the moment when her teeth stop being her and become a thing outside herself.

Miss Jesus Fries on Grill
Dorothy Wiley, 1973, 12 min, 16mm

Miss Jesus Fries on Grill is a mysterious striking evocation of pain and the short-circuiting sensations of living in this predicament of death. It is a short film and again the colour is fine and sharp as a good paring knife. Beginning with a newspaper clipping, written in a remarkably detailed manner of a bizarre accident in which a Miss Jesus was killed when a car smashed into the cafe where she was eating. The impact threw her on the grill, heated to 500 degrees. (…) It is impossible to convey the combination of counterpointing feelings this film arouses. Like all great art, it is mysterious in its working. Dorothy Wiley has such a clear but tender eye for life. Tender, not sentimental. Miss Jesus is a simply constructed, highly poetical film.” –Mike Reynolds

Followed by a Q&A with Mary Helena Clark


Riar Rizaldi, 2023, 115 min

The still active volcano of Mount Merapi acts as the site of investigation in this new experimental documentary from Indonesian artist/researcher Riar Rizaldi. Small eruptions occur every couple of years with larger explosions likely every decade, yet the area remains heavily populated. Monisme sets out to engage with the communities of people who live and work in the land around Mount Merapi. Written in collaboration with a volcanologist, a sand miner and a mystic, Rizaldi has created a poly-vocal study of this significant site in Indonesia. The film moves through a range of cinematic modes and strategies mixing observational documentary with the aesthetics of Indonesian horror cinema. Conceptually rigorous and rooted in careful research, Rizaldi positions this genre as a form of vernacular culture or critical public art that can be used to symbolise the existence of local ghosts and deities. The supernatural remains embedded in Indonesian culture and everyday life, Monisme emerges from this backdrop as Rizaldi sets out to develop the notion of cinematic “elsewheres”.

Followed by a Q&A with Riar Rizaldi.


The Invisible Self 2: Eyes of Stone

Rooted in the social and political struggles of the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s, this programme of feminist films made between 1985-1991 journeys through the lives of women who challenged traditional patriarchal structures in India. The complexities of women’s invisible labour as reproductive machines, sexual objects, home makers, and keepers of tradition, morality and cultural history are made starkly visible. By highlighting the interconnectedness of the individual and social self, these films offer an encounter with diverse forms of feminisms.

Eyes of Stone
Nilita Vachani, 1990, 90 min, 16mm

Introduced by Shai Heredia  

Shot in the interiors of Rajasthan, India, Eyes of Stone is a film about possession and healing as it documents expressions of faith, ritual and rebellion that thrive within the confines of a stringent patriarchal order. A deep and unsettling exploration of one case of possession becomes an eloquent testimony to the strengths and sadness of women's lives, and the subversions through which they must empower themselves.


Miranda Pennell, 2023, 33 min

Trouble is part of a wider investigation by Pennell into the use of photography by British colonial forces in Egypt and Iraq. Now housed in academic archives, these images are catalogued, labelled and watermarked, continuing the attempt to rationalise, capture and control the region they depict. The cruelty of imperialism and the resistance to it take on a supernatural presence, being unsettlingly felt but, within these official documents at least, never clearly seen. Systemic acts of imperial violence become indistinguishable from stories of ancient curses favoured by inter-war tabloid. Confined indoors during the pandemic, Pennell began to notice cracks whilst researching these images – in her walls, in online messages – through which the violent spectres of the early twentieth century have bled into the conflicts of the early twenty-first.

Scenes of Extraction
Sanaz Sohrabi, 2023, 43 min

Iranian filmmaker and researcher Sanaz Sohrabi reclaims still and moving images from the British Petroleum archives as a way to trace the extractive processes of British government oil operations in Iran during the early 20th century. Scenes of Extraction is the second in a trilogy of essay films through which Sohrabi considers the problematic relationships between the camera and image as a colonial tool, archival systems, and resource extraction in Iran.

An overarching spoken narrative interweaves visual material including official film surveys made by BP and new CGI maps generated from early geological aerial survey photographs. Materials are reworked through processes of layering and collage as a form of critical archival practice. The resulting film not only develops a careful critique of a British energy complex that spanned across Iran and extended as far as South-East Asia, but also considers how colonial archives might be repurposed to allow new discourses to emerge.

Followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers.


Extended Presences
Margaux Dauby, 2023, 12 min, 16mm

Titled “Ashes and Clouds” in Portuguese, Extended Presences follows several women in their seasonal work as fire watchers in Portugal. Dauby’s 16mm camera scans the landscape, just like the women do from their observational towers – the dry hills and blazing sun serving as a reminder of the wildfires that ravage the Portuguese countryside every summer. Watching the watchers, the emphasis is on their quiet wait, their careful observation. In the filmmaker’s words, the film attempts to come “close to their breathing, to the passing of time and to solitude, from within.”

There Is Gold Everywhere
Rita Morais, 2023, 12 min

A sonic and visual exploration of the landscape surrounding the ruins of a gold mine excavated during the Roman Empire in El Bierzo in the Iberian Peninsula. Ruina montium (to ruin or destroy mountains in Latin) was an ancient Roman mining technique that consisted in flooding tunnels in order to blow up mountains – a hydraulic process that points towards “the beginning of an industrial gaze towards nature” Rita Morais. There Is Gold Everywhere is anchored by the retelling of the founding myth of Rome, with two local children performing Romulus and Remus. The haptic tactility of 16mm film is emphasized by frequent close-up of the children’s hands as well as by Morais’s use superimposition, zoom and hand-held camera.  

El Chinero, a Phantom Hill
Bani Khoshnoudi, 2023, 11 min  

A remote hill in the Mexican countryside is said to be a site where at least one group of Chinese and other Asian migrants died whilst fleeing a wave of violence following the Mexican Revolution. Over a century later, there appears to be nothing left on the site by way of commemoration and historical records are scant. Khoshnoudi’s film is a project to document the hill in question and in doing so, to turn the landscape into a monument of sorts to the violence it has witnessed. Shot on 16mm film that was hand-developed with plants, salt and earth taken from the site, the film becomes a material, as well as cinematic, trace of this spectral tragedy that has left none of its own.

What Humans See as Blood, Jaguars See as Chicha
Luciana Decker, 2023, 30 min

An experimental ethnographic study of a region in the artist’s native Bolivia that was once the centre of the Tiwanaku civilization. The film operates across temporalities and explores the balance between human, animal, and natural worlds in this rural area close to La Paz. Decker’s film operates across a variety of modes and registers. Her embodied 16mm camera describes details of the hands of women at work, as they tend to the land and prepare celebratory food and votive objects. Ceramics and archaeological remains are filmed in a series of abstracted fragments whilst a musical performance on the city street is documented in an extended single take. New ecological frameworks are proposed as the work investigates the lived experience of communities now, alongside storytelling about deities, sacred objects, and spaces in the Andes.  

Followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers

With the support of Wallonia-Brussels International


The King Is Not My Cousin
Annabelle Aventurin, 2022, 30 min  

Bringing together poignant interview clips, excerpts of text and symbolic imagery, The King Is Not My Cousin is a familial documentary essay centred around resilience, history, and sacrifice. Filmmaker Annabelle Aventurin chronicles her grandmother’s experience from Guadeloupe, a journey of resilience and sacrifice across the Atlantic. The pair revisit anecdotes and historical experiences whilst exploring the meaning of Caribbean identity on colonial impact. Passages of Karukera ensoleillée, Guadeloupe échouée (“Sunny Karukera, Stranded Guadeloupe”), a book written in 1980 by Aventurin’s grandmother, point to the harrowing reality and repercussions of slavery. The mixture of the fond yet wounding first-person narrative creates an authentic composition of sound and moving image.

The Tree
Ana Vaz, 2022, 21 min

“In October of 2018, a year of overwhelming political, personal, and existential transformations, I decided to start filming a diary. I wanted to free myself from cinematographic practice as a constant exercise of projection and representation, and find a living cinema that would reflect the extraordinary quotidian side of life, with everything that usually remains on the sidelines, on the edges of a film. (…) A árvore is a ritual-film about my father – the artist, musician, and mystic of the forest – Guilherme Vaz, a man who lived and reflected on the frontier, on the fatal advance of modernity over the peoples of the earth, a man who wrote music instinctively, who thought of cinema as his ‘spiritual father’ and, above all, whose lived life was his greatest work.” – Ana Vaz

Quiet as It's Kept
Ja’Tovia Gary, 2023, 25 min  

Quiet as It’s Kept is a contemporary cinematic response to The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison’s first novel, published in 1970. Set in Ohio in 1941, the book is an evocative illustration of the everyday particulars of colourism and its ravaging effects on the intramural. Themes of embodiment, psychoanalysis, and beauty are explored in both the source text and the answering film. Instinctual and eviscerating, the film encourages viewers to make meaning that is rooted in the subjective and examine their position within looking relations. The film is an intimate collage of vintage Hollywood, direct animation, original super 8 and 16mm film footage, and documentary conventions. Meditating on the gaze and Black women’s particular embodied realities, Gary also re-contextualizes contemporary social media footage. Creating conceptual links for each viral clip to a character, event, or thematic element from Morrison’s story, the film emphasises questions around the book’s themes of internalised and externalised anti-blackness in contemporary culture.” – Ja’Tovia Gary

Followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers


The Invisible Self 4: India Cabaret

India Cabaret
Mira Nair, 1985, 60 min

Introduced by Shai Heredia

This film examines the line separating “good” and “bad” women in Indian society, specifically by focusing on the dancers at a Bombay strip club, a frequent patron, and his stay-at-home wife.

Open City Documentary Festival creates an open space in London to nurture and champion the art of non-fiction cinema. We aim to challenge and expand the idea of documentary in all its forms. Alongside our screening programme, we bring together filmmakers and other practitioners to explore and debate the current landscape of documentary.

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