NOW BOOKING: Essay Film Festival (25 MAR to 03 APR)

The Essay Film Festival from Birkbeck Institute Of The Moving Image (BIMI) returns from 25 MAR to 03 APR with a special online edition. All the films are FREE for the entire event.

By RADIANT CIRCUS // Twitter @radiantcircus | Instagram @radiantcircus

The Essay Film Festival has been running since 2015 and takes place at the end of March with related events throughout the year. The festival is normally split between Birkbeck’s own cinema and the ICA, but this year moves online for a special edition (the 2020 event was cancelled for obvious reasons…).

Now, you might be asking yourself what an ‘essay film’ actually is…? BIMI describes essay films as:

“a hybrid form that brings together elements of documentary and experimental filmmaking into a highly personal and often politically engaged mode of expression.”

If that leaves you still scratching your head, but you have seen and adored the autobiographical films of Agnès Varda, then you’re in the right ball park! A RADIANT CIRCUS favourite is THE BEACHES OF AGNÈS (2008), but feel free to take your own pick…

How will this year’s festival work?

In a wonderful innovation, all the films will be FREE for anyone in the UK to watch and almost all of the titles are available throughout the festival. No rental fees, no time-limited 4hr watch windows (our personal bugbear…): just an opportunity to gorge on outstanding film content.

To watch the films, visit BIMI’s online screening room where you can view all the films at a time that suits you. Helpfully, the screening room does not require any sign-ups or downloads. While most of the material is available for the entire festival (25 MAR to 03 APR), one or two items will be up for a more limited period, so check the availability for each film you’re interested in.

What about live events?

The programme of live events includes artists’ and curators’ talks, conversations with filmmakers and discussions with critics and researchers. These will take place on an online platform called Collaborate and are also FREE. Book your place online and BIMI will send you a link to join the event on the day: again, you don’t need to create an account or download any software. It really couldn’t be easier!

> Scroll down for our look at some programme highlights.

> The ESSAY FILM FESTIVAL streams online from 25 MAR to 03 APR 2021.


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A quick look at this year’s film programme.

BIMI says this year’s programme reflects their dynamic ambition for the essay film itself:

For us the essay film is a critical intervention in the world, combining a passion for investigating reality and for asking tough questions about society with an open, inventive and even playful approach to film language and forms of representation.

Essay Film Festival
Session 1: Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich at Essay Film Festival 2021 (online 25 MAR to 03 APR).

Highlights programme include:

  • Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich will give a talk about her forthcoming project on Suzanne Césaire, alongside a selection of her short films exploring alternative voices and narratives from African-American history.
  • Cauleen Smith will be presenting a programme of her experimental works reflecting her longstanding interest in Afro-futurism and jazz, especially Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra.
  • Two programmes of short films by Kevin Jerome Everson focus on themes of labour and place, which the artist will further develop in an illustrated talk and conversation.
  • Monographs from the Asian Film Archive is a series of video essays responding to the uncertainties of the pandemic from ten contemporary Asian artists, some of whom will be speaking at the festival with critic and essayist Kevin B. Lee.
  • Nuria Giménez’s MY MEXICAN BRETZEL uses found footage and literary invention to play with the conventions of film portraiture and highlight the invisibility of women’s histories – themes that the artist will discuss in a live conversation.
  • An extended programme around the work of Jenny Brady features three of her own films and three films curated by the artist, alongside a talk about her current research into musical performance and the sonic practice of Alvin Lucier.
  • This year’s programme closes with a study day devoted to Brazilian filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho, specifically his films MAN MARKED FOR DEATH, LAST CONVERSATIONS and the unfinished A DAY IN THE LIFE.

> The ESSAY FILM FESTIVAL streams online from 25 MAR to 03 APR 2021.




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*THE SMALL PRINT: Opinions author’s own. // As accurate as we could make it. Apologies for any errors. Updates & corrections will be made to the online version only. // Event dates/times/formats are subject to change by the venue/organiser. Events may already be sold out at the time of posting, so please click quickly. // We try to list as many original format screenings as we can (8 to 70MM), but sometimes formats change due to age of the print, availability, logistics etc, so please check ahead with your venue if the format is your thing. // All images are used in the spirit of fair use for reporting & review – no ownership is implied or intended / unless otherwise credited to RADIANT CIRCUS as the original rights holder. We will remove any images immediately upon request – just get in touch. // We don’t filter our listings by age/certification: all readers & subscribers should therefore be 18+. // Finally, we always try to follow The Carny Code by “not screwing up anyone else’s game”, but everyone can make mistakes… If something does go wrong, we will always do our best to put it right. //.