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Purge This Land
Purge This Land

Lee Anne Schmitt’s Purge This Land documentary on racism in America is the winner of the Grand Jury Award at London’s Open City Documentary Festival.

The film which received its UK Premiere at the Festival, retells the history of racism and slavery in modern America through the prism of John Brown – a white, militant abolitionist – who was sentenced to death in 1859 for a failed attempt to start an armed revolution.

The Grand Jury said: “This film is brave in tackling a subject so relevant and poignant. Lee Ann Schmitt is self-aware of her perspective and shows total control in her authorship. Hypnotic narration interlaced with carefully composed shots, archival footage and imagery asks the viewer to address the subject in a new way. The documentary projects the infinite complexities of the subject to the landscape, and so introduces the notion of the landscape itself being guilty. Schmitt centers the narrative around a white abolitionist and her own whiteness in relation to her family, which reveals the dark side of American history as inescapable, and as in need of confrontation as ever.”

Lee Anne Schmitt said: “I am thrilled. I would like to thank the Open City jury for this incredible honor. Having worked on the film for 6 years I’m keen to talk about it and share it with the world. As the film begins its journey this is a huge affirmation.”

Special Mention went to the film From a Year of Non-Events, by Ann Carolin Renninger & René Frölke

The Grand Jury said: “This is a charming film that surprised us with its playful editing. It offers a cinematically sensory experience.”

Open City’s Emerging International Filmmaker Award went to Ziad Kalthoum’s Taste Of Cement. An inventively cinematic portrait of exiled Syrian workers trapped in a skyscraper that they are building in Beirut and unable to shake off memories of the shelling of their own homes. The film also received its UK Premiere at the Festival.

The Emerging International Filmmaker Jury said: “An ambitious and powerful film with a formalism and distinct cinematic approach which captures the lives of Syrian workers in exile. Offering a meditation on construction and destruction set in modern day Lebanon. Yet presenting a timeless narrative of labour and of longing that resonates the world over. The film underlines the talent and promise of Ziad Kalthoum on the international documentary stage and we hope marks a new era in cinematic storytelling from the Middle East.”

Ziad Kalthoum said: “When a war breaks out, it means that language and logic among humans have failed, but what I found is that I can create a new language that speaks to people through cinema during wartime.

Thank you to the Open City Documentary Festival to give me this valuable opportunity to present the film Taste of Cement here in London, and special thanks to the jury and festival director Mr. Michael Stewart.”

Special Mention went to Memory Exercises by Paz Encina. The Grand Jury said: “A film which connects audiences with the forgotten story of the Paraguayan dictatorship through a multi layered and visceral cinematic language. Merging an intimate, personal story with the history of a region that is still confronting haunting memories from the recent past.”

The Best UK Short Award went to Alexithymia by Duncan Cowles.  The Best UK Short Award Jury said: “An engaging and complex non-fiction short film. Well-crafted and edited with a creative approach to the documentary form. The jury is looking forward to watching this filmmaker’s career progress, and consider them an exciting new UK talent to watch.”

Duncan Cowles said: “I’m absolutely delighted that the film has been honored in this way. I made the film for absolutely zero money, and everyone who worked on it did so for free, so for it to be as well received as this feels great. Thanks very much to Open City for playing the film, nominating it and to the judges for awarding it.”

London’s Open City Documentary Festival hosted 36 UK Premieres and took place over 6 days, from September 5 to 10, 2017, with screenings and events spanning 13 London venues.

2017 London’s Open City Documentary Festival Award Winners

Winner: Purge This Land, by Lee Anne Schmitt
Special Mention: From a Year of Non-Events, by Ann Carolin Renninger & René Frölke

Winner: Taste of Cement by Ziad Kalthoum
Special Mention: Memory Exercises by Paz Encina

BEST UK SHORT AWARD – Supported by the British Council
Winner: Alexithymia by Duncan Cowles


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