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IDFA Director Blasts Arts Budget Cuts

Ally Derks, the long-time director of IDFA: the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam, gave the opening address on Wednesday evening for filmmakers, professionals and attending guests assembled for the official opening of the 23rd edition of the much-respected documentary festival. She used her remarks to offer a focus on the challenges facing both documentary filmmakers and supporters of the arts in these austere economic times. What follows are excerpts from her speech:

"Dear friends, tonight we are launching the 23rd edition of IDFA with the world premiere of Leonard Retel Helmrich’s magnificent film, Stand van de Sterren (The Position Among the Stars). But before we enjoy it, I want to take a few minutes to reflect on the films in the festival - and the current climate under which they are being made. (The films in this year's Festival) are creative expressions that transform the world with beauty, aesthetics and the hope found in art. They experiment with form. They consider documentary as a life form. They transform facts into the art of information. The art of storytelling. In truth, documentary is an artform.

But alarmingly, in many countries of the world, the arts and cultural industries are under grave threat. Documentary production and public service broadcasting are at risk. Compounded by economic recession, and a lack of official vision, cultural funding everywhere faces severe budget cuts. Admittedly, in The Netherlands, we are a little luckier, but we are still not immune to economic tidal waves. Elsewhere, cultural workers and organizations are not so lucky. For example in Paris, the Minister of Culture has ordered big cutbacks in culture; the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou will be forced to give up exhibitions. In Spain, the head of the national library has resigned. In England, the Conservative coalition shut down the extremely important UK Film Council. In Denmark, the pressures on the economy and fundamentalism have walked hand in hand with censorship. And in Germany, 12 billion euros will be cut from culture over the next four years.

Cost-chopping politicians see culture as a soft target. They think that artists are too poor and disorganized to fight back. Preaching to their core group of supporters, politicians attempt to drive a wedge between artists and the public. The results are catastrophic. The dismemberment of culture goes to the heart of a nation’s identity. It drains a nation’s soul. And it has a significant impact on unemployment. Now, in these tough times, I think that we can all agree on the need for some financial belt-tightening. In rational and proportional ways. But, in this country, the arts budget faces a 24% cut. Some of Holland’s most precious cultural, musical and performing arts institutions are being brutally devastated, demolished and dismantled. Orchestras will shut down. Public Television may lose one third of its assigned channels. And as a special Christmas ‘bonus’ to the people of Holland from our enlightened coalition, the tax on performances will go up from six to 19%.

Those who would cut arts funding so dramatically, should be reminded that culture is the measure of a civil society. Without Art there is no nation. Art is not just opera, or ballet or high-minded experimental theatre. Art is not just an intellectual enterprise for the privileged few. Audiences become better citizens by engaging with art and culture. Art is life. We are all born with a creative fire within us. Sometimes it is drummed out of us. Other times it is nurtured.

So what can we do about these cutbacks? We, as Holland’s artistic and cultural communities will not be silent. We can take personal and collective action. As the great Dutch philosopher Spinoza once observed: “The more a government strives to curtail freedom of speech, the more obstinately it is resisted.” On Saturday November 20th, there will be a nation-wide Screaming Out for Culture. We invite you all to scream out as a diverse choir of diverse voices.

But it must be emphasized that still I feel that the best way to reclaim culture - and to protect it for the long-term - is to encourage education and sustained public pressure. In most countries, I am convinced that popular will side with artists and the creative industries. As the Dutch public acts to preserve our culture, let us join them wherever we can. Let us remind everyone that the art of real life is reflected in the art of documentary. And so, in conclusion, I believe that IDFA 2010 offers us many visions which point to the idea of a better world. It is a world with hope and promise at its centre. A world where free expression is possible. I hope you’ll find that the documentaries of IDFA 2010 may take you to a place where art and culture will finally, and properly - be valued. Thank you very much."

Sandy Mandelberger, IDFA Dailies Editor

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