Refocusing the Lens: A Magnum Film Festival

Four screenings will take place at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London over the coming weeks.

A young man stands with a gas mask in a cloud of tear gas near Gezi Park, where civil unrest began in May 2013 after the violent eviction of a sit-in at the park protesting an urban development plan. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd that had gathered in Taksim Square. Istanbul, Turkey, 2013. © Emin Özmen / Magnum Photos

Magnum Photos is hosting its second UK-based film festival this month at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in central London.

The festival, titled Refocusing the Lens, takes place over four separate screenings from June 24 to 30, and explores the work of four Magnum photographers in four different locations. The curation examines the multifaceted role of photojournalism and its urge to document global issues, screening films from the Magnum archive alongside the work of other filmmakers which offer concurrent or contrary perspectives of the subject at hand.

It is the second festival of its kind, curated to interrogate the complex dynamic of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ gazes, as well as the act of observing in the moving image. With each screening followed by a live discussion, the audience is invited to join the dialogue. 

Speech Lines: Portraying Iran

The first screening, which takes place on Saturday, June 24, is based on the work of Iranian photographer Newsha Tavakolian. It is the official UK premiere of her film, For the Sake of Calmness, which combines a visually powerful journey from both real and imagined landscapes with a deeply introspective self-narrated monologue from Tavakolian.

Complimenting this debut are two films, Mother’s Apricot Compote by Nia Fekri and The Ladies Room by Mahnaz Afzali, which in turn present a duologue and a polylogue between Iranian women.

Dust and Tear Gas: Turkey in Focus

The second screening follows on Sunday, June 25, presenting the work of Emin Özmen with the UK premiere of his film Witnessing Gezi. Özmen’s film explores offers a deeply human perspective on the civil resistance that unfolded during the Gezi Park Uprising. Shown alongside Somnur Vardar’s Drifting — an introspective story of the construction of a city cleansed of its identity and memories — both films explore narratives of resistance, longing, and the pursuit of a better future.

Istanbul, Turkey, 2013. © Emin Özmen / Magnum Photos
Istanbul, Turkey, 2013. © Emin Özmen / Magnum Photos

A Family in History: Nicaragua Reframed

On Tuesday, June 27, two films by Susan Meiselas, shot in Nicaragua in 1985 and then 2011, explore the lives of five brothers and sisters and their work in medicine, community organization and agricultural reform, pursuing revolutionary ideals for social transformation. Living at Risk: The Story of a Nicaraguan Family uncovers a hidden aspect of the revolution — a sense if the fabric of everyday life, and the ways in which perpetual danger and pressure are incorporated into the daily routines — whilst The Barrios Family 25 Years Later offers another perspective of post-revolutionary life in Nicaragua. A discussion with Meiselas herself will take place following the screening.

© Susan Meiselas / Magnum Photos

Countercurrents: India Today

The final screening, taking place on Friday, June 30, explores the work of Sohrab Hura in dialogue with Payal Kapadia, another contemporary director from India. Hura’s films, The Coast and The Lost Head and the Bird form part of a wider project which explore the undercurrents of violence — religious, sexual, and caste-related — through imagery captured along the coastline.

In dialogue are Kapadia’s The Last Mango Before the Monsoon and And What is the Summer Saying, documenting village life on the outskirts of a Marathi jungle, made prior to the director’s breakthrough, A Night of Knowing Nothing, in 2021. As with Tuesday’s screening, the projections will be followed by a live discussion with Hura himself.

Still from the film 'The Coast,' 2020 © Sohrab Hura / Magnum Photos.

“We wanted to offer audiences a glimpse into the diverse collection of work produced by Magnum photographers across various continents,” Bayryam Bayryamali, education manager and curator of the festival explains. “The program aims to examine the complexities and challenges of representation, the power of the camera, and il/legitimate agents writing, shaping and sharing histories.”

Refocusing the Lens, a Magnum film festival, takes place this month from June 24 to 30.

All screenings start at 6:30 pm at the Institute of Contemporary Arts The Mall. For tickets and further details, click here.

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