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Open City Documentary Festival 2016

The Open City Documentary Festival, 21 – 26 June 2016, presents a truly global array of documentary films. This is a chance to explore the very best in contemporary, international documentary across six days in London. The festival was founded four years ago by Michael Stewart – Professor of Anthropology at University College London.


Meet the 2015 directors

With 10 to 15 percent of the world’s financial wealth being invested offshore, and therefore beyond the reach of national taxation systems, the redistributive nature of the state-corporation relationship is destined to end. Growing inequality is in fact becoming an outright expulsion from livelihoods.

Harold Crooks’ The Price We Pay (2014) explores how evolving national taxation systems favour bigger corporations.

Investing offshore, companies insert vast amounts of wealth in a cloud that moves in perpetuity, excluding citizens from the redistributive mechanism that came to exist in the inter-world war period.

The middle classes – existing within the framework of a structured welfare state – are destined for extinction. Crooks is an acclaimed director, with a background in economics and journalism. His previous film credits include co-writer, The Corporation (2003) and co-director, Surviving Progress (2011).


A daughter returns to her ill mother’s home to care for her. Her father unexpectedly returns to stand by their side. Karen Guthrie’s The Closer We Get (2015) offers a rare insight into her family’s story and the secret that her father kept hidden from the family for so long.

Encompassing years of familial archives and more recent footage shot after her mother’s devastating stroke, Guthrie manages to bring to life an extraordinarily powerful portrait of her family. While engaging with deeply intimate issues, the film’s emotional resonance is universal.

Guthrie’s previous works cover a large range of topics relating to modern British culture. Nina Pope is her longtime collaborator, and has co-produced The Closer We Get.


Rental prices in mainland China have been rising since 2000. Beijing holds the record, with the cost of renting having almost trebled. Ryuji Otsuka’s Beijing Ants (2014) explores the consequences of his family’s eviction from a Beijing apartment.

Navigating an unregulated world – where spoken agreements weigh as much as written contracts – Otsuka, his wife, and their one-year-old child set out in search of a new place to live, encountering a number of obstacles on their way.

Otsuka’s work deals with the universality of the human lived experience, especially in a pan-Asian perspective. Originally Japanese, he moved to China in 2005. His previous work analyses the themes of law, marriage, citizenship and belonging.


In 2024, the population of 80-year-olds in the Netherlands will quadruple. More than three-quarters of them will need some kind of care. The trend is a global one.

Sander Burger’s Alice Cares (2015) delves into the lives of three elderly women who participate in a pilot study with the 'care robot' Alice. Developed by Dutch scientists, Alice is 60cm tall and combines a characteristically human face with a robotic body. The film explores her ability to attentively converse and interact with the women.

Through the eyes of Alice, the audience is given an insight into the lived experiences of elderly women and their approach to loneliness, mobility and care. Burger’s earlier work deals with the increasingly important impact that technology has on the human condition.


Interviews produced by Donato Paolo Mancini and Dea Gjinovci.



A long-forgotten wall: the struggle of the Sahrawi people

Lost Land exposes the painful reality of the Sahrawi people, whose homeland is occupied by Morocco, while they crave independence. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 7th September 2017.

Memory Exercises

In his film Memory Exercises, Paz Encina hones in on the life of Doctor Agustín Goiburú, one of Paraguay's many 'desaparecidos', piecing together voice recordings – notes of memory – that begin to grapple with the past.

The folly of men

Pump, an absurdist take on the classic road movie, is a film of many questions and few answers. What can it tell us about our relationship with the built environment? At the Open City Documentary Festival on 9th September 2017.

95 and 6 To Go

Reading his granddaughter's screenplay seems to reignite embers of 95-year-old Tom’s creativity, nudging him into sharing candid glimpses of his past. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 7th September 2017. 

Democracy – a call to arms

David Bernet’s profoundly European film, Democracy, is that rare thing, a documentary about the complex system that is democracy, and a triumphant democratic law-making process at that.

The winds of change

Dieter Deswarte’s Saints transports us to a distant corner of the earth: telling a story of the global from the local. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 25 June 2016.

'What would I do?'

Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) documents the lives of family and friends over the course of the US invasion of Iraq. At the Open City Documentary Festival, 25 June 2016.

The Internet, our most mysterious colossus

In Limbo glides us through the Internet, as perceived from its insides, from the perspective of the evolving consciousness coming to life within. At the Open City Documentary Festival, 23 June 2016.

Torment in the clutter

Thy Father’s Chair explores the relationship between mental health and domestic disorder. At the Open City Documentary Festival, 23 June 2016.

Barbarians at the gate

Activist and filmmaker Chloe Ruthven’s The Occupiers stitches together a compelling insider’s account of the 136-day Occupy London. At the Open City Documentary Festival, 22 June 2016.

Why they built the great wall

In Tadhg O’Sullivan’s beautifuly filmed documentary The Great Wall, the rationale behind ‘fortress Europe’ is interrogated through Kafka’s fable of nation-building, “The Building of the Great Wall of China”. At the Open City Documentary Festival, 21 June 2016.

What ‘the Occupiers’ knew

At the height of the 2011 Occupy protests in London, filmmaker Chloe Ruthven started documenting a world where the normal rules of capitalist individualism had been suspended. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 22 June 2016.

Havens of the one percent: a video interview with Harold Crooks

Harold Crooks’ film The Price We Pay (2014) explores how tax havens are changing the nature of the modern state. From the Open City Documentary Festival. Archive: July 7, 2015.

Family secrets: a video interview with Karen Guthrie

Karen Guthrie’s film The Closer We Get (2015) offers a rare insight into her family’s story and the secret that her father kept hidden from the family for so long. Part of our partnership with the Unorthodocs programme of screenings and events.

Love in the age of robots: a video interview with Sander Burger

Sander Burger’s film Alice Cares (2015) delves into the lives of three elderly women who participate in a pilot study with a ‘care-droid’, called Alice. From the Open City Documentary Festival.

“This used to be a cherry orchard”: a video interview with Ryuji Otsuka

Ryuji Otsuka’s film Beijing Ants (2014) explores the consequences of his family’s eviction from a Beijing apartment. From the Open City Documentary Festival.

There they must no further go

Andrew Kötting’s film By Our Selves retraces a four-day walk made by the poet John Clare: “start moving and the path reveals itself”. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 20 June 2015.

Scenes from a bullying

Anna Odell's film The Reunion is an original approach to the well-worn ‘victim takes revenge on bully’ narrative.

There is nothing left, only ruins

Maša Drndić’s film The Waiting Point traverses destruction and stagnation in Croatia. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 20 June 2015.

Exiled in Senegal

Damien Froidevaux’s Death of the Serpent God is not about politics, and yet it is a deeply political film. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 18 June 2015.

Trauma in the frame

Laurent Bécue-Renard’s film Of Men and War is a painstaking documentation of PTSD afflicting those returned from Iraq. At the Open Documentary Festival on 17 June 2015.

Chasing dreams in Guangzhou

Måns Månsson’s film Stranded in Canton straddles false promises and Sino-African culture clash. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 17 June 2015.

Far from Tahrir

Anna Roussillon’s I am the People intimately documents the Egyptian revolution’s effect on a rural family. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 20 June 2015.

Here come the caredroids

Sander Burger’s film Alice Cares delves into the politics of care, and the swiftly unfolding prospect of human-robot relationships. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 18 June 2015.

From the city to the villages!

Xu Hongjie’s achingly beautiful film On the Rim of the Sky traces the texture of China’s everyday life, at the borders of modernization. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 21 June 2015.

Relationship remembered

Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s film Estate, a Reverie, is an unruly celebration of extraordinary everyday humanity. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 21 June 2015.

The sea is full of bodies

Morgan Knibbe’s film Those Who Feel the Fire Burning offers up a powerful meditation on migrant deaths, the Mediterranean, and powerlessness. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 17 June 2015.

Estate of mind

Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s film Estate, a Reverie is a moving documentation of what gentrification really means to those affected by it. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 21 June 2015.

The market is a cruel taskmaster

Chloe Ruthven’s film Jungle Sisters hurtles through the complexity of industrial development in south India. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 18 June 2015.

Hunted, hooded and sold

Maziyar Moshtagh Gohari’s film Cechanok sweeps through the world of Middle Eastern falconry. At the Open City Documentary Festival on 18 June 2015.

Documenting Ukraine

As we end four days devoted to documentary cinema, theatre and debate in London, never have documentary forms had such an important role to play.

Iboga Nights: the last chance saloon

Only one conclusion from this film: iboga should obviously be made safe and available to those who are undergoing treatment for the terrible disease that is drug addiction.

Avi Mograbi making sure we don’t see something that isn’t there

The motivation becomes artistic. You want to tell a story like a good storyteller and then you become political again and then you become artistic again. At least if you are hated, maybe, you are doing something right.  Interview with the filmmaker.

Five stories from Ukraine

'Open Access', a new revealing documentary from Ukraine, will have its UK premiere on 21 June 2014 as part of the Open City Docs in London (17-22 June 2014).

Manifesto for documentary filmmakers

Don’t demand a taster tape early in the process. Trust the filmmakers.

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