Why the Open City Docs Fest is so important

I am still filled with wonder and admiration by how many good documentary films are being made around the world today, often very hard to find. 

Mick Csáky
5 June 2014

Never has there been a time when a documentary film festival like the Open City Docs Fest was more to be welcomed and appreciated, especially when so many of us are exposed to such a vast quantity of incoming data from all around the world, across such a wide range of platforms (computer, tablet, mobile phone, press, radio, TV and movies, etc).

Never was there such a time when so few trusted and reliable sources of information exist. With a few honourable exceptions, most of what we consume comes from unmediated and unreliable sources, often with explicit or covert commercial, political and also religious agendas in spite of masquerading as the objective truth. 

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Never has there been a time when documentary films have been so important, by which I mean documentary films that have been well-researched and well-made with attention to conveying an objective truth.

Never has there been a time when so many television channels are scheduling so little in the way of high quality documentary films. Instead, they are showing all manner of low-cost, fast turnaround, ‘factual’ programming under such headings as ‘Lifestyle’, ‘Reality’ and ‘constructed factual’ - programming that does so very little to illuminate or explain the complex world in which we all live.

Never has there been a time when the majority of the UK’s media have chosen to concentrate on such a limited number of international stories, favouring celebrity-led domestic stories.

This year’s Open City Docs Fest during 17-22 June 2014 will be presenting visitors with a truly global array of high quality documentary films.

London’s Global Documentary Film Festival, this year’s Open City Docs Fest will be showcasing more than 70 documentary films from around the world, with films from Iran, Russia, Israel, Egypt, the USA, the UK, Hungary, Ghana, Poland, Italy, Spain, France and Germany.

There will be 30 London premieres at the festival, of which 21 are UK premieres.

After every film screening there will be a Q&A session enabling the audience to have a dialogue with the director.

This year’s festival will play out over 6 days and nights at 10 different venues - on the UCL campus, in the heart of Central London’s Bloomsbury district, plus additional venues including the ICA and the Hackney Picture House.

Unlike so many of today’s film festivals, the Open City Docs Fest is not a commercial event bringing buyers and sellers together for what amounts to little more than a trade fair. The Open City Docs Fest is strictly for film makers and film lovers keen to participate in a global celebration of the very best documentary films being made today.

A short history of the Open City Docs Fest

The festival was founded only three years ago by Michael Stewart - Professor of Anthropology at UCL, with a strong background in documentary film production gained at both ITV and the BBC.

From the outset, the executive director of the festival has been Treasa O’Brien – a film making graduate of Goldsmiths College with a keen editorial eye for spotting the new and the different.

Year-on-year attendance figures have increased exponentially – from 1,500 tickets sold in 2011 to 7,500 upwards in 2013, and with more than 10,000 anticipated this year. From the outset, the audience has been made up of documentary film makers and documentary film lovers, plus students from a wide range of disciplines – many from UCL (where 40% of the students come from outside the UK).

Importantly, ticket prices have been kept remarkably low – thanks to the enormous number of volunteers giving their time to the festival.

This year’s highlights include

After more than forty years of making documentary films, I am still filled with wonder and admiration by how many good documentary films are being made around the world today, in spite of the fact that it is often very hard to find them on television or in our cinemas. Consequently, it is thrilling to have the chance to see so many good films at this year’s Open City Docs Fest. Below are just six of the ones I would urge anyone and everyone to see.

Edward Owles / 2014 / UK, India / 85’
Tues 17 June / 19:00 / Bloomsbury Theatre / European Premiere

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From The Auction House: a tale of two brothers

Boris Gerrets / 2013 / Netherlands, France / 87’
Wed 18 June / 20:30 / ICA / UK Premiere


From Shado'man

Eszter Hajdú / 2013 / Hungary, Germany / 107’
Wed 18 June / 20:30 / Clapham Picturehouse

Georgia & Sophia Scott / 2014 / UK / 88’
Sat 21 June / 14:30 / Bloomsbury Theatre

Dan Shadur, Barak Heymann / 2013 / Israel / 60’
Sat 21 June / 16:00 / Studio 1

Pavel Loparev, Askold Kurov / 2014 / Russia / 70’
Sun 22 June / 19:00 / Bloomsbury Theatre / UK Premiere


From Children 404

openDemocracy is an Open City Docs Fest media partner.

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