AUSTIN, Texas—Even for fans of experimental cinema, Night Has Come—a 56-minute black-and-white pandemic film made entirely of officially archived Belgian footagemay feel quite experimental. This is not a straightforward virus narrative along the lines of 28 Days Later.

But around 2014, Peter Van Goethem found himself in a very relatable position: the PhD student at the Free University of Brussels had been working on a big doctoral project for two years, yet now he felt stuck. Van Goethem’s original proposal centered on documenting Brussels’ evolution over the years—its modernization, its rise on the International scene, its sociopolitcal changes throughout the great wars—and he had done a lot of research. Working with the Royal Belgian Film Archive Cinematek, Van Goethem perused no fewer than 1,268 films to assess various archival content spanning avantgarde experiments, journalistic productions, educational films, propaganda, prior documentaries, and more.

But something just didn’t work. And Van Goethem couldn’t shake one particular thought, something he repeatedly lingered on while poring through the archives.

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