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RAI Film Festival 2021 Digest

Friday 5 March, 2021

RAI Film Festival's first online edition will be hitting a laptop or home projector (we can dream!) near you from 19th to 28th March. It's a jam-packed ten days of films, live discussions, Q&As and the festival's conference running alongside. 

From this full and intriguing programme, we've picked out a selection of docs and events that we're particularly looking forward to, choosing titles from across the festival's main strands; a programme digest to start off your explorations.

We're partnering with RAI Film Festival to give DocHouse followers a 20% discount on festival passes and individual tickets, just use the code RAI2021 at checkout.



The best in contemporary ethnographic cinema competing for the festival's most prestigious honours - The RAI Film Prize and the Basil Wright Prize.

Just two of the films we're particularly looking forward to from the fascinating selection of titles in the festival's Main Competition strand.
In Search... / Beryl Magoko / 2018 / 90min 

In this first-person documentary journey, Beryl Magoko talks to other women who, like her, went through Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), as she explores the possibilities and risks - emotional as well as physical - of a new reconstructive surgery that promises to give back what was once lost.

I Am Belmaya / Sue Carpenter & Belmaya Nepali / 2021 / 80min 
Born a dalit in Nepal, orphaned aged 9, barely educated, and trapped in an abusive marriage with a baby daughter, Belmaya, 21, has given up hope of finding happiness. When a chance to train in documentary filmmaking arises, she grasps it. This film follows Belmaya over five years as she grows in confidence and ability, and she turns from subject to co-director of her story.


A curated strand about the material effects and shared histories of race/racism across geographies. 

There's a great mix of new and older titles, feature-length and short-form, in this strand curated by Ethiraj Gabriel Dattatreyan and Yasmin Fedda, whose latest doc Ayouni is also screening as part of the festival's Main Competition strand. 

Mahdi Fleifel Trilogy 
We first got to know the distinctive observational voice of Mahdi Fleifel when we screened his feature documentary A World Not Ours in 2013 - which tells a story of Palestinians living in the Ain el-Helweh refugee camp in Lebanon.
Fleifel's shorter documentaries in this programme - Xenos (2013), A Man Returned (2016), Logical Exits (2020) -  continue to follow people who are living in, departing from or returning to Ain el-Helweh, told with the particular sensitivity of someone who is both an insider and an outsider themselves. 
We're looking forward to watching these three films as a trilogy, followed by a pre-recorded conversation between the curators and filmmakers of the Global Racialisations strand. 

Beats of the Antonov / Hajooj Kuka / 2014 / 68mins
It's great to see 2014's Beats of the Antonov brought back to audiences in this year's RAI Film Festival.
On the relatively recently formed border between Sudan and South Sudan, Russian-made Antonov planes indiscrminately drop bombs on settlements in the Nuba Mountains below. Yet, incredibly, the people of the Blue Nile respond to adversity with music, singing and dancing to celebrate their survival. 

Celebrating Andrè Singer’s work and career.

Andre Singer in Conversation
We're more than looking forward to listening to this conversation with director, producer, exec producer and comissioning editor Andre Singer OBE!

The Two Lives of Li Ermao / Jia Yuchuan / 2019 / 87min
Celebrating his work, the festival is screening three of Singer's films: his 1988 co-directed The Water Goddess and the Computer; the latest of the many Werner Herzog docs he has produced, Fireball (2020); and from 2019, The Two Lives of Li Ermao, directed by Jia Yuchuan.

Filmed over 17 years across Southern China, this remarkable film is an intimate and heart-wrenching portrait of Li Ermao, a transgender migrant worker, who performs in clubs looking for love and acceptance.


Rethinking how collections are made and remembered.

Addressing the politics of historical media collections and how they are mobilised in the present, there should be much discussion and ongoing debate coming from this strand of features and shorts. 

VHS Diaries / Niyaz Saghari / 2020 / 72min
The filmmaker revisits the diaries she kept during the years when video was banned in Iran, using her personal VHS archive of films as a point of reference. This is the story of an underground subculture of cinephiles hiding amongst the first Iranian post-revolution generation, who pursued their love for cinema despite strict government restrictions and the threat of imprisonment.

Decolonising the Archive shorts #1 & #2
This year's festival has a fantastic number of shorts programmes, which you can explore here, including two particularly interesting and varied programmes forming part of the Decolonising the Archive strand.


Feature-length films by professional anthropologists based on extensive fieldwork.

Suspension - Simón Uribe / 2019 / 73min
This film documents the building of a modern road through the imposing geography of southern Colombia. It brilliantly captures some of the absurdities and contradictions of a construction project that has struggled for decades in an effort which one engineer calls “political madness.” 

Chasing Shadows / Roger Canals / 2019 / 70min
Chasing Shadows delves into the creative and poetic world of the Kyangyang prophetic movement in Guinea-Bissau, by giving voice to its members, young and old, men and women. It explores the relations between the Kyangyang movement and the cosmology of the Balanta people, and Islam and Christianity.


Films that celebrate rich heritage of music and sound.

Elders Corner / Siji Awoyinka / 2020 / 96min
For over a decade, musician and producer Siji Awoyinka tracked down and recorded the stories of Nigeria’s long-forgotten music pioneers. In interviews and intimate studio sessions, film-maker and musicians retrace the collective journeys that mirror that of the nation through its triumphs and upheavals.

In Search of Bidesia / Simit Bhagat / 2019 / 65min
This film is a journey to find the last musical expressions of Bidesia - a genre of Bhojpuri folk music - still present in contemporary artists, whose songs tell the story of millions of forgotten Indian slaves who laboured on plantations and construction sites throughout the British colonies.