Open City Docs Fest are responsible for bringing some of the most interesting and challenging docs to big screens in London in June each year. With the announcement of their 2016 programme, which includes our upcoming film Author: The JT Leroy Story, Dogwoof's Patrick Hurley caught up with Open City Film Programmer, Ollie Wright, to find out what's in store:
Patrick Hurley: Super exciting to see your new programme for 2016! Would be great to hear a bit more from you about what’s in store. Let’s start with the filmmakers ‘IN-FOCUS’ strands. Can you start by telling us a bit more about the Ross Brothers, and why you’ve chosen their films for Open City in 2016?
Ollie Wright: Thanks Patrick. We’ve been following the Ross Brothers work for sometime and have found it really exciting to see their development as filmmakers, from 45365 through Tchoupitoulas and Western. It’s a really interesting time for American documentary right now and we feel they’re really at the forefront of that scene. Their work has had relatively little exposure here in the UK so we wanted to take the opportunity share the work with our audiences. Also as their first three films can be seen as a loose trilogy it seemed like a great moment for the focus as it gives us a chance to present them all together for the first time.
PH: Amazing. Yeah 45365 is a favourite of mine - can't wait to see it on the big screen! And very cool that you're bringing them over too. The other filmmaker 'In-Focus' for this year is Vincent Moon - can you tell us a bit more about him?
OW: Sure. Vincent Moon is also someone we've been interested in for a while now and are really pleased to have him here as one of our focus’s this year. Something that really excited us about Vincent is the way in which his work crosses so many different disciplines - from documentary to anthropology, performance and the music video. I came to his work through the Take Away Shows project which he started back in 2006 - I remember it feeling really revolutionary at the time so I’m particularly proud that we are able to present the 10 year anniversary retrospective screening here at the festival. In the past few years he has turned himself into a kind of nomad / explorer figure, travelling the world recording an extraordinary array of indigenous music, performance and rituals, which will form the basis for the live a/v performance he’s doing at regents street cinema on the Friday of Open City. It will be largely improvised so we’re really excited to see what he comes up with.
PH: Sounds very cool - looking forward to that. Can you take us through some of the programme highlights?
OW: It’s always tricky to pick out just a few things but… I think our opening and closing films this year are really strong this year. The Great Wall is a more slippery, enigmatic take on the refugee crises and it’s always good to see films tackling social and political issues in more creative ways. The closing film - Depth Two - is a quietly devastating film about a massacre that took place in Serbia in 1999. It’s based on taped testimony from the Hague tribunal - there are no talking heads or reconstructions and is all the more powerful for having the violence take place off screen.
The Prison in Twelve Landscapes is a film I’m really looking forward to screening - it’s an incredibly well crafted and intelligent examination of the US prison industrial complex and the human cost of it’s deeply rooted racial bias - which is of course very timely. It explores this in a very subtle and ambiguous way though, and a lot of it’s power comes from what is left unsaid.
The Lost Arcade is a really cool observational documentary about the last real arcade in New York and the small but fascinating world of competitive gaming that exists around it. It has a great cast of characters and really takes you inside this strange sub-culture that still - just about - exists.
I’m also really looking forward to Notes on Blindness which we’re screening in partnership with DocHouse. We’ve been screening the shorts over the past few years and I think it’s one of the most exciting British documentary’s of the past few years. The film is based on the diary’s of an academic who lost his sight whilst still a young man and is an absolutely stunning evocation of his experience of blindness.
PH: As a side question, you’ve no doubt looked a countless films over the past twelve months while compiling the programme – what themes or trends did you notice across all the submissions this year?
OW: Well I’m not sure if it is indicative of any wider trend but one thing I’ve noticed this year is a wealth of really strong ethnographic filmmaking and this is definitely reflected in the programme. Films like Another Year and The Dazzling Light of Sunset - both screening here in competition - are good examples of this. Another Year chronicles a turbulent year in the life of a Chinese migrant family through a series of closely observed vignettes, all centred around the 13 meals they share together. The Dazzling Light of Sunset is a beautifully composed portrait of small town life in contemporary Georgia.
Last year we screened Actress by Robert Greene which dealt quite explicitly with ideas around performance in documentary. This definitely seems to be an area that’s interesting a lot of filmmakers right now and is right at the centre of a film we’re showing this year, Helmut Berger, Actor. It’s an extraordinarily intimate portrait of an ageing European film star now living alone in a small flat in vienna. He appears in the film as a grotesque and pretty repellent figure and it’s almost unbelievable he allowed the film to be released, which in itself makes you wonder about the nature of his role in its making.
We acquired Robert Greene's newest film Kate Plays Christine which will be in cinemas in October of this year.
PH: These all sound great! And of course I want to ask about the masterclasses – I see you’ve got Lucien Castaing-Taylor confirmed – we’ll be there with bells on.
PH: Who else is presenting as part of the industry programme?
OW: I’m really happy with the line-up of masterclasses and workshops this year. As well as Lucian Castaing-Taylor, the Ross Bros and Vincent Moon, we also have the brilliant Czech filmmaker Helena Trestikova here. Helena is almost unique in that she follows her characters over the course of literally decades so it’s going to be really interesting to hear her discussing her process. We’re also presenting the UK Premiere of her latest film, Mallory. Other events in the industry programme to look our for are Marc Isaacs’ workshop on short form documentary ‘Making the Complex Simple’ and Elhum Shakerifar’s production case study of A Syrian Love Story.
We released A Syrian Love Story on demand earlier this year.
PH: As a festival programmer, do you have any tips for budding filmmakers in terms of approaching festivals and getting their work seen?
OW: In terms of tips for filmmakers I think the main piece of advice I would give is spend time researching festivals before submitting and try to identify the ones that would be the best fit for your film. There’s a few events at Open City this year which could be useful for any filmmakers wanting to gain more of an insight into festivals - Katie McCullough from Festival Formula will be presenting a workshop on festival strategy and we also have an event in which a panel of UK and international festival programmers will be discussing the current festival landscape and their particular approaches to programming documentary.
PH: Festivals are a terrific way to meet fellow doc-fans. You do daily mixers right?
OW: Great question - I’m glad you asked. There’ll be a daily happy hour in the festival hub at 5pm which is always a good place to meet other filmmakers and delegates.