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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.


Orientation at IDFA

Wednesday, November 26-----I arrived at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam yesterday to find….an event very much in full swing. The Festival had, in fact, opened the Thursday before, so the hundreds of international visitors who have descended to Amsterdam were already fully oriented. I’ve attended IDFA several times in the past, but this is the first time since it fully relocated from its traditional location on the Leidseplein to the more upscale surroundings of the Rembrandtplein.


After checking into the Eden Hotel, central hq for visting media and professionals, I made my way around the corner to the expansive Rembrandtplein, with its movie theaters, discotheques, restaurants and coffee shops (which serve more than just java, if you know what I mean). The new central headquarters for the event is at the Cineac, a former movie theater and nightclub that has been abandoned for the past few years. IDFA moved in to create a hub of activities and administration, including a general boxoffice for local and an industry ticket office for visiting professionals and filmmakers (tickets are free, but based on availability). The place is constantly packed but well signed and a mix of the Dutch efficiency and informality.


After checking in and getting all my materials, I looked over the expansive Catalogue listing the almost 300 documentary features, shorts and (hard to classify) new media programs on tap, including an impressive array of seminars, master classes and networking sessions. For documentary producers looking to pitch their new projects, non-fiction filmmakers anxious to screen their films for an appreciative audience and programmers/buyers wanting to test the pulse of the international documentary arena, IDFA is ground zero and heaven all wrapped into one.


Still feeling somewhat jetlagged, I decided to move in a slow pace, looking over the listings for Wednesday and Thursday, in order to determine which films I want to see (the Festival makes available free tickets to visiting professionals on a two-day forward basis). Not wanting to overload on the first day, I decided that a simple overview film would be my best introduction.


Erroll Morris

Capturing Reality: The Art of the Documentary was a perfect starter film for my 5 days journey into the world of non-fiction. The film, or video more precisely, was having its world premiere at the event. Directed by Canadian Pepita Ferrari, with funding from the National Film Board of Canada, the film offers a wide-ranging portrait of documentary style and technique, presented by some of the best practitioners in the field. Director Ferrari has assembled a who’s who of doc giants to comment on their artful approach, including Hubert Sauper, Jennifer Fox, Kim Longinoto, Albert Maysles, Errol Morris, Patricio Guzman and Heddy Honigmann. 

The director’s stated goal was to find out where these vastly different film auteurs get their inspiration and what their view is on the profession. She has intercut interviews with short film excerpts that expertly illustrate the filmmakers’ points of view and arguments. The approaches to preparation and execution vary widely among the group. Some directors attach a great of importance to solid preparation through exhaustive research, while others prefer to be less prepared but open to what happens spontaneously in their locations or among their subjects.


One of the areas where most agreed was the need for more attention to the visual aspect of a documentary, specifically the use of camerawork, lighting or even dramatization. These filmmakers seem to have abandoned the traditional notion of documentary as a totally objective process which simply records the “truth” of a situation. Filmmakers are less hesitant than ever before to put a subjective spin on the topic and to add traditional film methods to heighten emotions or give audiences easier access to the themes a film is exploring through the use of music, editing and camerawork.


An important topic explored in the film is the authenticity of the documentary as a factual document and the integrity of the filmmaker. Coming from such a wide array of voices, it becomes clear that a documentary can take on many different forms (from cinema verite to out-and-out dramatization) and the “hand” of the filmmaker need not be totally invisible in the process. In this new age of documentary expressionism, it is a director’s right if not their obligation to find their own manner of storytelling. The themes and subject matter discussed in this one film provide a guidepost for the rest of my stay at IDFA, where I plan to view at least 20 documentary films (over 5 days). Get ready, eyeballs…..


Sandy Mandelberger, IDFA Dailies Editor  

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Online Dailies of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam 


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