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The Art of Non-Fiction

Open City Docs provide year-round academic and practical courses to teach, explore and facilitate forms of non-fiction filmmaking from the experimental to the established. Their annual film festival is a celebration of these forms, of emerging directors, global voices and bodies of work deservedly resurrected from archives. The eighth iteration can be found on screens across London Tuesday 4 – Sunday 9 September, with a pleasing 50% of the programme occupied by female-identifying filmmakers.

Within this year’s programme talks and events interrogate the ethics of ethnographic filmmaking, present new archive material and research, and debate contemporary issues surrounding documentary, history and the often ambiguously blurred lines of fiction and truth.

Juliana Antunes’ Baronesa follows conversations between neighbours Leidiane and Andreia, living in close quarters in the Belo Horizante favela. They care for their children, prepare food, dance to the radio, chat, argue, and wait. In the shadows the simmering threat of gang violence threatens to spill into frame, the languid days belie the desperation of their poverty. Antunes and her almost exclusively female crew spent 5 years immersed in the community to create this intimate, bodily portrait of female community and companionship.

Preceded by a screening Maya Deren’s At Land, artist filmmaker Aminatou Echard’s Jamilia traces the history of Kyrgyz-Soviet writer Chingiz Aitmatov’s eponymous, mysterious protagonist who fled an arranged marriage. Through the grain of a Super-8 lens, Echard’s ethnographic fieldwork examines the lives of generations of Kyrgyz women - the constraints placed upon them by a patriarchal society, familial ties, their dreams for the future. Through their stories of resistance, Jamilia’s bid for freedom is illuminated in the glow of the horizon beyond. Presented by Birds Eye View.

Nixon home movies, Carl Sagan’s intergalactic golden records, Craigslist personals - a retrospective of the works of independent filmmaker Penny Lane reaches into dark and unusual corners of the American psyche. Her films contain footage from archives, YouTube, found videos, reality TV and animation, considering the multitudes contained within a subjective consciousness all but erased by our presented online selves.

Normal Appearances, a supercut of female Bachelor contestants, is an eerie montage of hem-tugging, hair-adjusting and nervous fidgeting as an omniscient camera rolls. Her feature documentary The Pain of Others follows sufferers of the as-yet medically unexplained and unrecognised Morgellons disease; candid vlogs form the basis of a mostly female, self-diagnosed online community. Lane’s oeuvre is a fascinating, multi-layered look at looking, collective memory and illusion.

Acclaimed Colombian filmmaker Laura Huertas Millán presents three films from her Ethno-Fictions series, exploring the intersections of documentary, anthropology and fiction. Sol Negro follows Antonia, an opera singer battling with a ‘black sun’, the dichotomy of artistic endeavour and depression, mind and body. In La Libertad, Millán documents a group of Mexican matriarchal weavers as they continue indigenous traditions of labour and handicraft. The result of an accidental double exposure of 16mm film, jeny303 is a portrait of a young transsexual in rehab; his story layered over footage of Bogota’s Bauhaus-style building 303, a site of bloody student uprisings attended by Millán’s father.

For more on this years festival visit

Words by Charlotte Ashcroft

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