The Art of the Essay Film

… is a very well programmed and introduced film series that takes place in London at the BFI (British Film Institute) Southbank. Yes, what is the essay film that we talk about and often connect to films that we don’t know where to categorize… This is the intro text written by Kieron Corless, taken from the site, link below:

“Sitting somewhere between documentary and fiction, the ‘essay film’ signals and probes, like no other form of cinema, the filmmaker’s personal relationship to the images on screen. Grappling with urgent political and philosophical issues of the day, the essay film is cinema at its most engaged and liberated… He continues: Nowadays most commentators agree that the essay film is neither documentary nor fiction but sits somewhere on its own, evincing characteristics of both through its staging of an encounter between a self, filmed images and the world. Could we label it a genre?…”

Anyway, it is a brilliant and very inviting programme that BFI has put together – with lectures at the end of August after all films have been screened. Film history it is, to offer the audience “A Propos de Nice” (Jean Vigo, 1930,), A Valparaiso (Joris Ivens, 1965), Madrid (Patricio Guzman, 2002), not to talk about the name always mentioned when essay films are screened – Chris Marker with his “Sans Soleil” (1983), Alain Resnais “Toute la Mémoire du Monde” (1966) and Humphrey Jennings masterpiece “Diary for Timothy” (1945) (photo).

What pleases me is to see John Burgan’s Berlin-film listed. I saw this film many years ago (the film is from 1998, title “Memory of Berlin”), it was impressive and wonderfully off-mainstream. We have met and corresponded

since then, and I know numerous young filmmakers, who have praised his teaching, when he was at The European Film College in Ebeltoft in Denmark. The film is “an autobiographical, made-for-German-TV essay film was much admired by none other than Chris Marker, but remains too little known despite that. Using the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as his point of departure, Burgan recalls his life as an adopted child, linking his poignant awareness of his own split identity and his search for his biological mother to the historical trauma of the city’s divided state.”

A film that I have never heard about is “La Morte Rouge” from 2006, 35 mins., description like this: Víctor Erice’s elegic short essay takes as its starting point his first trip to the cinema as a young boy in post-Civil War Spain, but spins off to explore the theatre, now disappeared, in which he saw the film, childhood horrors, and the suffering of a people traumatised by the war’s losses. Erice skilfully weaves diverse elements – archive, newly shot footage, Arvo Pärt’s music – into an allusive meditation on history, memory and time’s corrosive impact.

Where can I get hold of this – not being able to come to London?

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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