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IFDA: Amsterdam's other peep Show

International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam will celebrate its 20th incarnation November 22-December 2 in the Dutch city dubbed the “Venice of the North.” Though relatively unknown in the States, IDFA is a critical stop on the documentary festival circuit.

The 10-day fest will screen more than 300 documentaries in 20 sections, starting out with Richard Robbins’ Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience. A collage of letters, essays, poems and diary excerpts by U.S. soldiers in Iraq, this opening night pick will vie with 15 other feature-length submissions in the Joris Ivens Competition, one of IDFA’s eight jousts.

In 1988--the festival’s year zero--IDFA opened with Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam, by Bill Couturié. The bookend film will be shown as part of an anniversary retrospective.

Also on the festival marquee is Storm Under the Sun, Xiaolian Peng and Louisa Wei’s documentary about a group of Chinese intellectuals who survived Mao Zedong’s crackdown of the fifties. Storm was produced with coin from IDFA’s Jan Vrijman Fund, set up “to stimulate the documentary climate in developing countries and countries in transition.”

Iran’s Maziar Bahari is the filmmaker IDFA corralled this year to curate “Top 10,” showcasing the honoree’s all time favorite documentaries. The audience version of this program, “Top 20,” tallies the votes of lay documentary enthusiasts and presents the 20 most popular titles. Hubert Sauper’s Darwin’s Nightmare crowned the 2007 list.

A special program this year salutes animated docs. More than a dozen titles fill its slate, which reaches as far back as 1916.

Under the rubric of “IDFAcademy,” a series of masterclasses and confabs will unfold throughout the festival. One such session features Werner Herzog, who will also premiere his new film, Encounters at the End of the World. Another forum, “Talk of the Day,” has Larry Flynt among its lineup.

Of the 57 films in competition, nearly all are European premieres. The winner of the Joris Ivens Competition will go home 12,500 euros richer, and the Silver Wolf Competition among 30- to 60-minute documentaries has 10,000 euros in play. In First Appearance, it’s strictly debut films that will go head to head for the 5,000-euro prize. For the first time, the festival will also give out the International Student Award, as part of the IDFAcademy film program. Jurors for the assorted competitions include Participant Productions executive vice president Diane Weyermann, filmmakers Heddy Honigmann and Jonathan Stack and sales agent Jane Balfour.

The 10-day fest is accompanied by a market, Docs for Sale, now in its twelfth year. Additionally, it joins with a co-finance market called the FORUM, where producers, television stations, distributors and other festivals come together for screenings and pitches. Taken together with the Jan Vrijman Fund, IDFA and its business arms encompass the screening, production and sale of documentaries—and annually draw some 2,000 industry types from around the globe.

Having staked out a new home, the 2007 festival will converge on Amsterdam’s Rembrandtplein square, taking Pathé Tuschinski and Pathé de Munt cinemas as its main screening spots. The Forum and Docs for Sale will also take place in the city’s historic district named after the Dutch master.

Award nominees will be announced November 29 at the “Talk of the Day,” and the award ceremony will take place December 1.

Entries in the Jores Ivens Competition are listed below. For a comprehensive roster of festival contestantss, see www.idfa.nl.

All White in Barking, by Marc Isaacs (UK)
Bajo Juarez, The City Devouring Its Daughters, by Jose Antonio Cordero & Alejandra Sanchez (Mexico)
Darfur Now, by Ted Braun (USA)
Desert - Who Is The Man?, directed by Felix Tissi (Switzerland)
Encounters at the End of the World, by Werner Herzog (USA)
Faces, by GMax (The Netherlands, France)
Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go, by Kim Longinotto (England)
How to Become a Hero, directed by Mladen Maticevic (Serbia)
Mechanical Love, directed by Phie Ambo (Denmark, Finland)
Night, directed by Lawrence Johnston (Australia)

By Laura Blum

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