A Taste of Cement

A Taste of Cement

Image by A Taste of Cement

The Open City Documentary Festival in September offers a chance to see the best in international documentary as well as Q&As, panels, workshops, networking and parties.

These are the main films and events from or about developing countries:

A Taste of Cement

5 September, 6.30pm, £13.50/£10.50

Ziad Kalthoum creates a poetic essay documentary about Syrian construction workers building new skyscrapers in Beirut. As they help rebuild ruined neighbourhoods in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war, their own houses at home are being shelled. The Lebanese government has imposed curfews on refugees and so the workers are locked in the building site over-night. Every night in their pit below the skyscraper the news from their homeland and the memories of the war haunt them. Mute and imprisoned in the cement underground, they must endure until the new day arrives where the hammering and welding drowns out their nightmares.


New Methods // Old Stories - How are Filmmakers Covering the Crisis that Won't Go Away?

September 6, 11.15, £5

Leah Borromeo and Katharine Round chair  discussion on Syrian refugee stories. Featuring journalists, documentarians and storytellers across visual and non-visual media, we'll debate story structures, editorial hierarchies and means of delivery. What happens when we are preoccupied with and fed certain types of visual image? What about non-visual storytelling? Who are the most appropriate people to tell these stories? How can we balance our creative drives and ambitions without causing more damage to people scarred by conflict? How does money and capital limit or dictate what's said and... who hears it?


Good filmmaking with good intentions: Working with NGOs

September 6, 1pm, £5

Workshop bringing together people from foundation and non-profit media departments to explain the role that film and video play in their work and opportunities emerging filmmakers might find in partnering with or working for non-profits.


Memory Exercises

September 6, 8.:30, £10/ £7

Agustín Goiburú was one of the strongest and most radical dissidents under the long-lasting, right-wing dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay. He went into exile in neighbouring Argentina and was ‘disappeared’ from his home near the Parana River, the border between the two countries, in 1976. The river plays a major role in Paz Encina’s haunting film, an imaginative tribute to Goiburú’s life, in which she deftly combines footage of furnished but empty rooms resembling still lifes, archival materials and the memories of Goiburú’s children retold through the words and imagery of an even younger generation. This juxtaposition of generational voices and of fact and fiction evokes the lost lives of political opponents creating a wider examination of the impact the regime’s terror had on the population at the time, repercussions of which still echo in the present day.


Dark Skull

September 7, 6.20p,£11/ £8

Set amidst the harsh world of the Bolivian mining community, Kiro Russo’s docu-fiction hybrid tells the story of Elder who, following his father's death, is sent back to live with his Grandmother in Huanuni, a small town in the country’s tin mining heartlands. His godfather, Francisco, finds him work at the local mining company. However, it isn’t long before Elder starts acting up, making trouble for Francisco by  skipping work to go out drinking in the town’s dingy bars instead. But his nocturnal wanderings eventually lead him to a troubling secret relating to his father’s death. Made in close collaboration with the miner’s union and shot largely within the mines, Dark Skull is a murky, mysterious drama that deftly blurs the line between reality and fiction.


Lost Land

September 7, 8.30, £10/ £7

Straddling a 2,700-kilometer-long wall constructed by the Moroccan army, the Western Sahara is today divided into two sections  - one owned by Morocco, the other under the control of the Sahrawi National Liberation Front. Drawing from stories of flight, exile, interminable waiting and the arrested, persecuted lives on both sides of that wall, this film bears witness to the Sahrawi people, their land and their entrapment in other people’s dreams. With an aesthetic that sublimates the real, Lost Land resonates like a score that juxtaposes sonorous landscapes, black-and-white portraits and nomadic poetics.


Almost Heaven

September 8, 6.15pm, £12/ £7/£8/£11

Carol Salter’s tender coming-of-age documentary chronicles the life of 17-year-old Ying Ling who, like many teenagers of her generation, has moved from a small village to one of China’s booming industrial cities to find work. Despite being afraid of ghosts, Ying Ling has taken up an apprenticeship as an undertaker at a large funeral home in Hunan Province’s capital Changsha. She shares accommodation with the other trainees in her work place’s basement and strikes up an affectionate friendship with a fellow mortician - the gawky and goofy Jin Hau. The film follows them in their daily work routines - washing dead bodies, arranging funerals, tending to mourning relatives - while trying to find their place in the world.

Almost Heaven treats death and the grieving families attending the funeral home with the utmost respect yet equally manages to depict the joy for life of its young protagonist with spurts of humour lightening up the establishment’s long dark corridors. It is an examination of the meaning of death as much as a celebration of life and what it means to be young in present-day China.


Bitter Money

September 9, 2pm, £11/ £8

Over the past decade and a half, Wang Bing has established himself as China’s preeminent documentary artist. His work, often epic in both length and scale, bears witness to the rawness of life on the far edges of Chinese society.

In Bitter Money, a prize winner at the 2016 Venice Film Festival, Wang brings his raw and uncompromising aesthetic to bear on the lives of garment workers on China’s Eastern coast. His unflinching camera follows a group of workers both at work through 12 hour shifts and in their off-hours, as they hang around shabby dorms drinking, fighting, laughing, dreaming of home and worrying about money.

Trapped though they are in oppressive jobs, abusive relationships and dispiriting surroundings, through his patient observation, Wang captures the contours of his characters' lives, slowly revealing the humanity even in these most desperate of situations.


The Body Politic

September 9, 3:30pm, £5

Exploration of the possibilities for navigating restrictions through more complex and inventive visual forms that allow women artists to use their bodies expressively. Examining images and film clips, we will look in more detail at the reflection of the female body in cinema and visual arts, before and after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Mania Akbari will be in conversation with Sophie Mayer (author, Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema) and Vali Mahlouji (Iranian art curator and writer).


We Were Kings

September 9, 7pm, £12/£8

The British Library hosts this world premiere, a rediscovery of Burma’s lost royal family. Deposed and exiled by Britain, they are now emerging from the shadows in a country experiencing seismic change. This intriguing documentary won the Whicker’s World Foundation inaugural Funding Award for historian and first time director, Alex Bescoby.


Spectres are Haunting Europe

September 9, 8.30pm, £12/ £7/£8/£11

The Idomeni refugee camp on the border of Greece and Macedonia housed over 8,000 people from the Middle East who were trying to cross the border into Europe. When Greek police closed the camp in 2016, the refugees resisted and blocked a railway line used to deliver goods into the country. Comprised of three parts and shot on a combination of HD Video and 16mm, Maria Kourkouta and Niki Giannari’s minimalist documentary observes these events in a series of carefully modelled static images that open up the space within and without of the frame, and in the closing black-and-white sequence offers a poetic commentary. The result is a bleak portrait of a place where endless lines of refugees try to preserve the final remnants of their individual freedoms.


Small Talk

September 9, 8.30,£10, concs £5/£7.50  

Anu is not a woman of many words, at least not around her family. Growing up as a tomboy she unhappily entered an arranged marriage at a young age, as was customary in 1970s Taiwan. After giving birth to two daughters she fled her violent,  good-for-nothing husband and brought up the children on her own - working as a professional funeral mourner, and living a lesbian half-life of smoking, drinking and gambling with her friends and lovers. Her daughter (filmmaker Hui-chen Huang, now with a young daughter of her own) started making this raw, intimate documentary 20 years ago to work through their stilted relationship, and understand what kind of a mother she wants to be for the next generation.

It is considered taboo in Taiwanese culture to question a mother’s unconditional love, let alone the love of an openly butch lesbian mother, yet that is exactly what Huang sets out to do in her multifaceted portrait of a complex mother-daughter relationship. Through a series of intense and sometimes frustrating personal encounters, she tries to shed light on the family’s silenced past in order to confront painful shared experiences and to embark on a journey of reconciliation.


Motherland or Death

Sunday, September 10, 2pm, £12/ £7/£8/£11

For more than 50 years Cuba has been following the battle-cry of the revolution: Patria o Muerte, which translates as Motherland or Death. This mantra has been a daily dilemma for several Cuban generations. Motherland or Death focuses on the generation of Cubans born before the revolution as they near the end of their lives. Whilst their devotion to the motherland remains undiminished, they begin to question the circumstances in which the regime has forced them to live.

Mansky portrays a stark contrast between Cuba’s carefully crafted image and the reality of daily life. The film depicts Havana as a desolate place, a dilapidated skeleton, broken up and rearranged with stray dogs and cats, lamp posts as gallows, and angry spewing sewers.

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