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Helen De Witt

  • Overview



    Helen is an associate lecturer in Film and Media. With John Airlie, she has led the Gender and Sexuality in the Cinema module for many years. More recently, she became a lecturer on the MA in Film Programming and Curating, leading Artists' Film: the museum, the gallery and beyond; Programming and Curating-History Theory Methods; and Curation in Practice modules; as well as managing the MA's professional projects.

    Holding wide ranging interests across all forms of cinema and her main research activity is in the avant garde and artists’ film, political cinema and documentary, and women’s filmmaking. 

    Helen's previous roles were Head of Cinemas at the BFI, leading programme development for BFI Southbank, and she has programmed the Experimenta section artists’ moving image for the BFI London Film Festival for many years. Prior to this, she was festivals producer at the BFI, delivering the London Film Festival and the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (now BFI Flare).

    After working at the Tate Gallery, she started her film career in independent cinema exhibition and specialised distribution, programming the Scala and Electric cinemas and heading Acquisitions at Cinenova Women’s’ Film Distribution. She became the first Head of Cinema at the Lux Centre for Film Video and Digital Arts in London. From there she was appointed Head of the BFI’s Programme Unit that delivered UK-wide cinema programming and national exhibition projects.

     She has curated over 30 national and international film projects for festivals, cinemas and galleries including Barbican London, Belarus International Women's Film Festival, Cinema de Balie Amsterdam, Contemporary Arts Centre Warsaw, Helsinki Museum of Contemporary Art, ICA London, MediaWave Festival Hungary, Moscow International Film Festival, Tranz<>Tech Toronto, Tate Modern and Up Front Gallery Tokyo.

    Helen served as vice-chair of LUX Artists’ Moving Image Distribution from its inception in 2002 to 2007 and was chair of Four Corners Film in East London from 2008 to 2013. From 2017 to 2020 she was director of partnerships for The Service Co-op, an independent production company dedicated to producing films that promote social impact, the arts and creative collaboration.

    She has been a guest lecturer at many universities and cultural institutions including Central St Martins School of Art, De Montford University Film and Television Summer School, Serpentine Gallery, Tate Britain and the University of Westminster.

    Helen has published nearly 40 articles and papers on film for various journals and websites including Animate Projects, Arts Council England, BFI online, Black Dog Books, Intellect Journals, International Film Guide, Little Joe, Sight & Sound, Spanish Film Academy and Vertigo.

    She has interviewed many significant filmmakers and artists including: Fatih Akin, John Akomfrah, Andrea Arnold, Lizzie Borden, Nick Broomfield, Sophie Fiennes, Mike Figgis, William Greaves, Johan Grimonprez, Agnieszka Holland, Ken Jacobs, Asif Kapdia, Fred Kelemen, William Klein, Andrew Kotting, Peter Kosminsky, Kim Longinotto, Guy Maddin, Hana Makhmalbaf, Jonas Mekas, Nina Menkes, Bill Morrison, Ken McMullen, Shirin Neshat, Stephen Poliakoff, John Sayles, Jurgen Teller, James Toback, Agnes Varda, Gillian Wearing and Frederick Wiseman.

    She has served on many film festival juries and awards panels including: Animate Projects Awards, Athens International Film Festival, British Animation Awards, CPH DOX, Film London FLAMIN Production Awards, London Turkish Film Festival, Open City Docs, Split Film Festival of New Cinema, Women in Film and TV Awards. She has carried out consultancy projects for Arts Council England, Barbican, FACT Liverpool and Film London, and she has been a Creative Skillset Guiding Lights mentor.


    • Recent publishing:

      •       Radical Transmissions, BFI online 2020

      •       We Will See: Women’s Eyes on the World, Club Des Femmes online 2020

      •       Dissecting the image of the image: Programming experimental and artists’ film across the exhibition spectrum FIAF Winter School Cinematheque francaise 2020

      •       Indian Shakespeare on Screen in Familiar Strangers: Recontextualising Indian Shakespeare Cinema in the West, Arden's Global Shakespeare Inverted 2020

      •       The Work of the Day, Animate Projects 2020

      •       Going Out and Staying In, Split Festival of New Cinema, Croatia 2019

      •       Reframing the Archives, Cinema Rediscovered, Bristol, 2019

      •       Doozy: queer life, laughter and cartoon villainy, Sight & Sound Digital Apr 2019

      •       Beyond Herself: Yvonne Rainer and New Directions in Feminist Film  IMMA Dublin 2018

      •       Tonsler Park: Kevin Jerome Everson Captures Democracy in Close-up, Sight & Sound online Oct 2017

      •       Meeting Ruby Rich, Being Ruby Rich Club Des Femmes/Birkbeck conference publication 2017

      •       Creativity and Activism: Artists in the Community, Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival 2016

      •       Curating Marilyn Monroe by Lucy Bolton, Queen Mary University of London, contributor 2016

    • Recent curatorial projects:

      •       BFI London Film Festival Experimenta 2020

      •       Club Des Femmes/Edinburgh International Film Festival and Fringe! Queer Arts and Film Festival VALIE EXPORT 2020 cancelled due to Covid-19 

      •       Club Des Femmes/ICO UK Touring programme Revolt, She Said: Women’s Film After ‘68 2018

      •       BFI Southbank, Deviant Beauty: The Films of Tina Keane, 2017

      •       BFI Southbank, Divine Transformations: The Experimental Ethnography of Maya Deren and Jean Rouch 2016

      •       Up Link Gallery Tokyo, Friends of Julia Dogra-Brazell, 2016


    • BA Philosophy and Art History, University of Essex
    • MA Art History, University of Essex
    • Diploma in Media Studies, Birkbeck University of London

    Visiting posts

    • Associate lecturer, University of the Arts London,
    • Visiting tutor, National Film and Television School,
    • Visiting lecturer, UCL,
    • Faculty member, Boston University in London,

    Professional activities

    BFI London Film Festival Programme Advisor for Experimenta 

    Professional memberships

    • • Open City Documentary Festival Advisory Board 2018-present
      • The Service Co-op, Director of Film and Partnerships 2017-2020
      • Four Corners Film and Photography Chair of Board of Trustees 2008-2013
      • LUX Artists' Moving Image Distribution Vice-chair of Board of Trustees 2002-2007
      • Vertigo Magazine editorial board 1999-2000

    Honours and awards

    • Distinguished Sessional Lecturer Award, Birkbeck University of London,
  • Supervision and teaching

    Supervision and teaching


    Helen is an associate lecturer in Film and Media. With John Airlie, she has led the Gender and Sexuality in the Cinema module for many years. More recently, she became a lecturer on the MA in Film Programming and Curating, leading Artists' Film: the museum, the gallery and beyond; Programming and Curating-History Theory Methods; and Curation in Practice modules; as well as managing the MA's professional projects.

    Teaching modules

    • Screen Media: History, Technology and Culture (AHVM031S7)
    • Shaping Contemporary Film Culture B: Themes in Film Festivals (ARMC198H7)
    • Shaping Contemporary Film Culture B: Themes in Film Festivals (ARMC198H7)
    • Artists' Film: the museum, the gallery and beyond (ARMC199H7)
    • Artists' Film: the museum, the gallery and beyond (ARMC199H7)
    • History, Theory, Methods: Great Collections, and Practices in Curation (ARMC272S7)
  • Business and community

    Business and community


    I am happy to receive enquiries from the media on the following topics:

    • Film festivals and film exhibition
    • Women's filmmaking


      •       Jarman Award, Film London's Artist Filmmaker Prize nominator 2008-present

      •       Split Festival of New Cinema, Croatia, Competition jury 2019

      •       Athens International Film Festival Competition jury 2018

      •       100 Feet High East End Film Festival/Four Corners filmmaking competition judge 2018

      •       London East Asian Film Festival jury chair 2017

      •       British Animation Awards jury 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2017

      •       BFI Poll: Best LGBT Films of all time, contributor 2016

      •       London Turkish Film Festival Golden Wings Digiturk Digital Distribution Award jury 2011, 2015

      •       Open City Documentary Festival, Best Film jury 2014

      •       Sight & Sound Ten Greatest Films poll nominator, 2012

      •       Women in Film and TV, Creative Skillset Inspirational Woman Award jury 2012

      •       Birds Eye View Film Festival jury member 2011

      •       Copenhagen International Documentary Festival New Vision Award jury member 2010 


      • Consultancies and expert advice

        BFI Lottery Film Fund assessor 2017, 2020

      • Consultancies and expert advice

        FLAMIN Production Award assessor, Film London 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020

      • Consultancies and expert advice

        Helsinki International Film Festival Nordic Flair mentor 2020

      • Consultancies and expert advice

        Film London A&E advisor and New Approaches scheme mentor 2017 - 2019

      • Consultancies and expert advice

        The Barbican Centre, recruitment consultant 2018

      • Consultancies and expert advice

        Nasty Woman Festival advisor 2017

      • Consultancies and expert advice

        Wellcome Trust arts funding assessor 2017