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6 Picks From Open City Documentary Festival 2020

Friday 4 September, 2020

Since the Bertha DocHouse screen opened its doors, we've hosted Open City Documentary Festival screenings every year and we’ve loved seeing full houses for Q&As, masterclasses, and all kinds of fascinating films. 

So we're seeing the festival set to make its virtual debut this year with mixed feelings. There's sadness at the great changes and missed opportunities of 2020, but we're also genuinely excited to see the vibrant and innovative programme that the team have created online. 

Here's just a few picks of docs we're looking forward to watching or re-watching at this year's online festival.


Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another

We can't wait to see artist filmmaker Jessica Sarah Rinland's first feature-length work. Her short films, shot on 16mm, have a singular sensibility - precise, lyrical and beautifully realised. Her shorts have been celebrated at festivals and institutions around the world, and we've been looking forward to watching Those That, at a Distance, Resemble Another since it won the 'Moving Ahead Award' at Locarno 2019.

Screening includes a Q&A with director Jessica Sarah Rinland, hosted by Matthew Barrington. Book here.


Sunless Shadows

We'll be re-watching Mehrdad Oskouei's Sunless Shadows at Open City in September. A companion piece to 2016's Starless Dreams, Oskouei is again filming in a Tehran detention centre, this time with young women who are all serving sentences for the murder of abusive male relatives. Moments of lightness, love and camaraderie shine through in this deeply compassionate portrait, drawing the desperate and harrowing circumstances of the girls' lives into even sharper focus.

Screening includes a Q&A with director Mehrdad Oskouei, hosted by Aisha Jamal, book here.

You can book on to a masterclass with the Director Mehrdad here.


The American Sector

We're always interested to see the work of Pacho Velez, who co-directed 2013's slow but luminous cable-car wonder Manakamana and the brilliant all-archive doc The Reagan Show, which DocHouse showed in 2017. We're looking forward to seeing where Velez, again co-directing, takes us in The American Sector, which had its world premiere at Berlinale earlier this year.

Screening includes a Q&A with directors Courtney Stephens and Pacho Velez, hosted by Marcus Jack, book here.


Songs of Repression

Focusing on the traumatic history of an apparently idyllic German colony in the Chilean Andes, Songs of Repression won the top prize at this year's CPH:Dox festival. Co-director Estephan Wagner co-directed 2016's brilliant Those Who Jump - which also becomes immersed in something of a dislocated community, albeit under different circumstances and using different filmmaking techniques.

Screening includes a Q&A with directors Estephan Wagner and Marianne Hougen-Moraga, hosted by Chloe Trayner, book here.



It's been nine months since we saw Valentina Pedicini's mesmerising study of the 'Warriors of Light' sect, Faith, and this strange, beautiful and distinctly troubling world is still haunting us. In long, beautifully textured shots, Pedicini places us into the closed society of this Italian, kung-fu practising sect, observing their world of ritual, extreme physical exertion and devotion.

Screening includes a Q&A with director Valentina Pedicini, hosted by Chloe Trayner, book here.


Purple Sea

Sometimes the description of a film just stops you in your tracks, and we can't wait to see Purple Sea "assembled from the extraordinary images captured during the period [Syrian artist Amel Alzakout] and the other passengers spent trapped in the water."

Screening includes a Q&A with directors Amel Alzakout & Khaled Abdulwahed, hosted by Kevin B. Lee, book here.


You Cannot Close Your Eyes to New Horizons: A Storytelling Session & The Congress of Idling Persons: A Performance Lecture by Bassem Saad

We've kept this list to feature-length films, but the festival is full of other events and industry sessions - this storytelling sessionand this performance lecture by Bassem Saad sound so wonderful we had to give them a nod at the end here.


See you (online) there!