The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) made its home in the ‘Winter Wonderland’ of Amsterdam’s Rembrantplein square for two packed weeks of documentary cinema, attracting growing numbers from both the public and the industry alike.
While the Netherlands faces severe cuts in cultural funding under the new Dutch coalition government, IDFA continues to shine as a beacon for documentary cinema. With almost 300 films across 14 screening programs for both traditional and experimental documentary, this Amsterdam event provides the perfect forum for old masters to meet the next wave of innovative button-pushing documentarians.
The 23rd edition, held from November 17 – 28, saw attendance figures rise by 10% with additional screenings per film and an extra day added to the previous 11-day run due to its increasing popularity, evident by consistently sold-out screenings and growing rush lines.
This year, IDFA also expanded the notion of documentary itself with an exhibition that explored the genre through visual art, experimental videos and performance, aptly titled Expanding Documentary. Eleven pieces by international artists and filmmakers conveyed idiosyncratic interpretations of documentation through creative criticisms on the complexities of reality.
Most notable was the National Film Board of Canada’s 360º web documentary installation, Out My Window by Katerina Cizek, which is the first in an ongoing multimedia project called Highrise. Out My Window, awarded the IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling, consists of thousands of photos and dozens of intimate audio interviews from 13 different cities in 13 different languages.
Other impressive works in the exhibition included an installation version of Vincent Meessen’s film, Vita Nova, which originally screened at IDFA 2009, and Duro Toomato’s Slomobat Advice: Yes or No, which attempts to personally answer crucial questions about life’s toughest dilemmas (as demonstrated via the Slomobat YouTube channel).
As for the more ‘traditional’ docs screened, Waste Land by Lucy Walker swept up yet another Audience Award at IDFA, having previously won in the same category at Sundance, Berlin and Full Frame. Other favorites included Autumn Gold by Austrian Jan Tenhaven, the blistering Armadillo by Danish director Janus Metz, Jennifer Fox’s My Reincarnation and Love etc. by American newcomer Jill Andresevic.
The biggest buzz, however, was reserved for Dutch filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich, who scored two wins at the IDFA awards ceremony with Position among the Stars, the third installment of a trilogy that follows the Christian-Islamic Sjamsuddin family in Indonesia. The doc opened the festival and took home both the VPRO IDFA Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary and the Dioraphte IDFA Award for Dutch Documentary. Helmrich also presented his accomplished visual approach, coined the Single Shot Cinema technique (as seen here), during a masterclass as part of the IDFAcademy, which offers young filmmakers the opportunity to learn from esteemed documentary professionals in up-close and personal sessions.
Finnish director Pirjo Honkasalo also presented her filmic philosophies and form stance on the documentary aesthetic during the second masterclass, moderated by YLE’s Iikka Vehkalahti. ‘Trust the simple poetry of images,’ said Honkasalo during the session. ‘Limitations were put on documentary to protect some kind of truth, but you can definitely use a film language for any documentary.’
IDFA’s online market that presents 450-plus docs, Docs for Sale, hosted a number of industry panels that introduced festival programmers, sales agents and TV buyers, while scrutinizing market landscapes across three continents. Among the panel’s guests were Diane Weyermann of Participant Media (Food Inc., Waiting For Superman) and Robin Smith of the Canadian company KinoSmith. ‘Documentaries in Canada are having a hard time finding an audience,’ warned Smith. ‘The problem is that broadcasters are gobbling up rights, which makes it difficult for you as filmmakers to get your films in theaters.’
For more on the winners of this year’s IDFA awards, click here.