Mimesis Documentary Festival Pushes the Limits of Nonfiction



The organizers behind Boulder’s Mimesis Documentary Festival, which runs from August 4 through August 10, don’t believe in documentary as a genre.

“Documentary is an impulse within the arts, something that exists within all art-making,” says Eric Coombs Esmail, director of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Center for Documentary and Ethnographic Media, which is presenting Mimesis in collaboration with the Dairy Arts Center and the ATLAS Institute B2 Center for Media, Arts and Performance. The festival will include traditional docs, as well as ethnographic, docu-fiction and experimental films.

“We have a broad scope of what we consider documentary,” adds festival director Curt Heiner, noting that the festival exhibits not just films but also theatrical, audio and even immersive works.

“The installation format of a documentary piece is older than the screen,” Esmail explains. Immersive techniques that are growing in popularity among artists and audience members today have a long history, and displaying such artwork at Mimesis gives audience members perspective into the many ways documentary art can be relayed.

The eighty artist-made films and installations cover a vast array of subjects — from how tumultuous political divides affect our inner landscapes to how couples form and infrastructure impacts human lives and the environment. In addition to hosting screenings and installation-based works, the festival will offer workshops and presentations by master filmmakers Lynne Sachs and Pedro Costa.

Sachs will screen and discuss her 2020 movie, Film About a Father Who, as the opening-night presentation at 6 p.m. Wednesday, August 4. Built from archival footage, home videos and interviews, the film portrays family dynamics across time, from multiple — often contradictory — perspectives. Sachs will also teach a filmmaking workshop that demonstrates how small, everyday moments can inspire film poems.

Costa, Mimesis’s featured artist, has gained recognition for his own “slow cinema” approach to documentary filmmaking. His signature docudramas often focus on Cape Verdean communities in Lisbon, Portugal, and he has received awards from Locarno and Cannes Film festivals, among others. He will offer a virtual masterclass about the art of editing, in addition to multiple screenings.

“He’s a touchstone artist” for a lot of the people submitting work, Esmail says.

But the festival’s focus is less on iconic filmmakers and more on exploring lesser-known artists. The bulk of selections were picked mostly from more than 300 entrants and many have been divided into smartly named programming blocks such as Towards an Architecture of Inclusion, Lessons for Unlearning, Borders Within, Motherese, A Place I Know, Impregnable, Untangled Archives and Zero for Conduct.

Organizers hope Mimesis will help documentary artists and scholars grow local, regional and international networks.

“There are so many documentarians from this region,” says Esmail. “I hope they will find this valuable and interesting to them.”

Mimesis Documentary Festival runs from August 4 through 10 at various Boulder locations; find a full schedule and tickets here. All films are also available for streaming online through the festival dates.