A season of eclectic, international and award-winning documentary films. The films have appeared on the international festival circuit, but remain, for the most part, difficult to find. For all the films that receive the blessing of TV, or a cinema release, there remain thousands unseen and unheard that reveal vital worlds, reflections, beauty, anger, humour, loss and wonders.
The Albion Beatnik Bookshop is the ideal venue. A good documentary film will explore social, political, cultural issues with a freshness of approach and a wealth of detail that we would also expect to find in a good essay. Essay and film are, at their best, both capable of restoring to contemporary issues the intellectual and emotional complexity that belongs to them.
The films screened are both pretext and context for discussion. Documentary films excel at opening up topics in accessible ways. This is not to say that what they say is not sometimes flawed or mistaken or not to be challenged. Entertaining they certainly are but, this is a notion that is subtly modified by the desire to go beyond the films themselves. Documentary films are engaged in social realities in ways that non-fiction doesn’t need to suggest. Rightly or wrongly some form of realism underpins each documentary film. The raw materials lie ‘out there’. As such the implication is that we can also change those realities if we so wish. Those raw materials are always part of a wider context, a context that includes us.
These complex narratives that we weave are the products of an insatiable desire to communicate, and new technologies have made this easier and cheaper. And yet, stories always contain elements of the fabulous, and images are seductive, heroes and villains ubiquitous. Nothing is ever quite what it seems. The stories we tell, and the ones we choose not to tell, say a great deal about our assumptions, often naïve, about ourselves, and the world we live in.
But, a gathering to watch documentary films in a bookshop provides that rare thing: that collective moment when, with the help of others, we can see ourselves, and our relations with others, just that little bit clearer. It allows us to escape the all too pervading sense that there is nothing anyone can do about anything.
Albion Beatnik Bookshop
34 Walton St, Oxford, OX2 6AA