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IDFA International Documentary Festival Amsterdam


The 23rd edition of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the world's largest and most prestigious film event devoted exclusively to non-fiction film and media, will run from 17 - 28 November in the city of Amsterdam.


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Interview with Alan Berliner---Part One

Sunday, November 26---American documentarian Alan Berliner, who is receiving a Retrospective of his films here at the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (idfa), has also been invited to choose and screen his Top Ten Picks of the best documentaries ever made. That list has since expanded to 11 titles, and in the first of two interviews with Online Festival Dailies Editor Sandy Mandelberger, the director explains his choices and other inspirations in his unique career. Berliner, a Special Guest of the Festival, will give a Master Class lecture this evening at de Balie at 21:30.

Sandy Mandelberger (SM): You have been invited to attend IDFA as a Special Guest of the Festival…..where you will give a lecture, conduct a master class, choose ten of your favorite films and have a retrospective of your career. How did this all come about?

Alan Berliner (AB): Well, it actually came together in waves. At first they said they were interested in showing my film WIDE AWAKE. Then, I got an email inviting me to teach a Master Class. And the next one I got asked about presenting a Retrospective of all of my films. And after that, an email was sent asking me to choose ten of my favorite films, so it all kind of snowballed. One thing led to the next. I wrote an essay explaining my choices of the ten, which turned into eleven favorite films, which is being included in the Catalogue. Favorite films is not exactly the right term, since I chose the films that I felt influenced me the most.

SM: I know you are a list keeper, so where the choices of this Top Ten list at the forefront of your brain or did you have to do a lot of thinking about it?

AB: It was easy to think of the films that have influenced me the most, mainly because I have seen them so many times and they are always in my conscious mind. Thinking about films that are my favorites would be like choosing my 10 most favorite meals….the films that mean the most to me are the ones that have influenced me.

My choice was mainly historical films, particularly from the 20s and 30s, films like MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA by Dziga Vertov, FALL OF THE ROMANOVS by Esther Shur , BERLIN: SYMPHONY OF A CITY by Walter Ruttmann and MANHATTA, another city symphony film co-directed by Paul Strand and Charles Scheeler.

I also decided to include films by Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas and Maya Deren, who combined the avant-garde with documentary. I am particularly interested in films that stretch beyond their genres and present a dialogue that becomes their own signature. I like to think that my own work is like that, as well.

SM: One of the main themes of your films is the relationship of family and your use of your personal life as subject matter. Tell us more about that.

AB: The process of having all of my films shown at the Festival have caused me to look back at my work and think about the overlying themes. I start to see the project of my work in the broadest term to use my life as a kind of laboratory as ways of getting to the core of issues that other more distanced documentaries don’t touch in quite the same way. The idea of telling stories from the inside out you not only are able to get at personal revelations, but you are able to get to that universal place, which makes your own stories relevant to a wider audience. You can get to a place where the facts transcend the story itself and allows the audience to bring their own experiences to it, which allows them to reflect on their own lives. In fact, my goal is that the more specific they are, the more universal they can become.

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