Essay Film Festival returns

Birkbeck-led festival to showcase dynamic and inventive forms of documentary filmmaking

Balikbayan #1 still

UK premiere screenings from Filipino filmmaker and performance artist, Kidlat Tahimik, and the late Portuguese film director, Manoel de Oliviera, will headline an arresting line-up of cinematic arts at the ESSAY FILM FESTIVAL 2016 in London next month. The programme will also feature new work by acclaimed video essayist Mark Rappaport.

Running from 17 to 24 March, the annual festival brings together the most striking, innovative examples of this dynamic documentary form – both contemporary and historical – from around the world, framed by a series of masterclasses and in-depth discussions with invited special guests.

The ESSAY FILM FESTIVAL, now in its second year, was launched in 2015 as a partnership between Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image (BIMI) and the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA). During the eight-day festival, events will be held at the ICA, Birkbeck Cinema and Goethe-Institut.


  • Kidlat Tahimik will attend the UK premiere of his most recent film Balikbayan #1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III, on Thursday 24 March. The film – which tells the story of Enrique of Malacca, the slave of famous navigator Magellan – will be the climax of a Kidlat Tahimik retrospective running throughout the festival, during which he will give a masterclass and participate in discussions with critics, scholars and filmmakers about his work.
  • On Friday 18 March, the festival will present the UK premiere of Manoel de Oliveira's posthumously released 1982 essay film Visit, or Memories and Confessions, a highly personal meditation on the intersection of life and cinema in the guise of a tour of what was then the director's home in Porto. The Portuguese filmmaker, who died last year at the age of 106, is widely held as one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema.
  • Kicking off the festival on Thursday 17 March, several recent short works from highly regarded essay filmmaker Mark Rappaport will be screened for the first time in the UK, including The Vanity Tables of Douglas Sirk (2014), Our Stars (2015), and I, Dalio, or The Rules of the Game (2015). The American underground film director will attend the special event to participate in a discussion about his career with film scholar Michael Witt.
  • The festival will also feature a UK premiere of Bani Khoshnoudi's The Silent Majority Speaks, a vibrant political essay film about the Iranian "Green Movement" of 2009. The filmmaker will be present at the screening to discuss this important political documentary with the audience.


  • The ESSAY FILM FESTIVAL will present the work of two outstanding contemporary essay filmmakers from the UK, Miranda Pennell and Sarah Wood.
  • Drawing extensively on previously unseen archive footage and various other materials, Miranda Pennell (Why Colonel Bunny Was Killed, 2010) will present an in-depth exploration of the genesis of her latest essay film The Host, on Wednesday 23 March. An extraordinary interweaving of personal memories and familial and colonial histories, The Host has been constructed from archive images of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (BP).
  • On Saturday 19 March, Sarah Wood will discuss her career to date with film scholar Catherine Grant, and screen several of her recent films, including I Am a Spy (2014), a stunning essay on the themes of freedom of movement and freedom of thought in the age of mass technological surveillance.


  • The festival will also host screenings and workshops devoted to:
  • Exploring the recent explosion of video essays online and their impact on the practice of film criticism and academic teaching of film
  • The latest in experimental found footage films from the "Festival of (in)Appropriation"
  • Richard Misek's Rohmer in Paris (2013), a profoundly engaging exploration of the pleasures of cinephilia
  • A selection of the remarkable series of groundbreaking essayistic documentaries made in the UK under the aegis of the Arts Council, including A Sign Is a Fine Investment (1984), directed by Judith Williamson.


  • As an introduction to the main festival, a series of 'Preludes' are taking place at Birkbeck Cinema throughout February and March, including films by Sue Clayton and Jonathan Curling, Vincent Dieutre, Basil Wright & Harun Farocki, and Filippos Koutsaftis.

Speaking about the programme of the ESSAY FILM FESTIVAL 2016, BIMI Director Michael Temple said: "This 2016 programme is full of wit, invention, energy and surprises. It proves that the essay film is the liveliest form of contemporary filmmaking."

The ESSAY FILM FESTIVAL 2016 runs from Thursday March 17 to Thursday March 26 2016. Screenings run at the ICA (The Mall, SW1Y 5AH), Birkbeck Cinema (School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PD) and the Goethe Institute (50 Princes Gate, Exhibition Road, SW7 2PH)

The full programme can be seen online at

(Image caption: Still from Balikbayan #1 - Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III, by Kidlat Tahimik, 2015)

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