Creative documentaries

IDFA Program

When making their selections this year, IDFA’s programmers paid particular attention to originality and artistic merit, giving greater scope to the creative documentary. We were able to demonstrate that watching a documentary not only teaches audiences something about what is going on in the world, but that it is also an artistic experience that broadens audiences’ horizons in other ways. This year, the number of films and projects programmed was kept below 300, and for each competition we selected twelve instead of fifteen entries. This meant our bar for selection was set even higher, as well as allowing each film to have more screenings during the festival.


In 2018, IDFA invited Helena Třeštíková to be the festival’s Guest of Honor. This experienced filmmaker enjoys great renown in her native Czech Republic, and IDFA chose to bring her authentic way of working – which often involves following her characters for many years – to the attention of documentary lovers outside of Eastern Europe. Třeštíková compiled a Top 10 of her favorite documentaries which she discussed in a Filmmaker Talk. In addition, we screened a retrospective of her work.

The public program is supported by Fonds 21, VSBfonds, Creative Europe Media, Stichting Democratie en Media and Prins Bernard Cultuurfonds.

Read the interview: Třeštíková only edits after filming wraps up, even if it takes 37 years

For the first time, we brought documentary together with the performing arts during IDFA on Stage, a program made up of four performances including the world premiere of the fully restored and digitized version of Dziga Vertov’s Anniversary of the Revolution (1918). This film was accompanied by live music linking the year of the Russian revolution to the present.

This year, IDFA presented three focus programs: Me, the largest focus program, explored the personal and autobiographical documentary film; Space looked to the use of physical space in documentary; and Serialized experimented with the documentary series as a format.

Where did selected films come from?

For the first time in four years, the selection included more films and projects from Eastern Europe than from North America. Filmmakers from Asia, Central and South America, the Middle East, Africa and Oceania were still under-represented, but they submitted more works than ever before.

Films by female directors at IDFA
from 2014 to 2018

The number of selected films by female directors is still below 50%, but we are getting closer to a balanced percentage than in previous years.



Films that explore the personal history of the filmmaker.

Physical space is the starting point for these films.

IDFA DocLab: Humanoid Cookbook

How it feels to be human in a world disrupted by technology. This program was made possible by Netherlands Film Fund, Google, Diversion Cinema en Flemish Arts Centre de Brakke Grond.

The universal through the eyes of the individual.


Courageous filmmakers dig for the truth.


Where the serial format meets the festival setting.

IDFA on Stage
Events that merge documentary film and performing arts. This program was made possible by Prins Bernard Cultuurfonds.

The latest films by masters of cinema.

Best of Fests

The best of the international festival circuit.


The selection that moves between film and art.

Top 10

Our Guest of Honor Helena Třeštíková selects 10 of her favorite documentaries.


Alongside hundreds of short audience Q&As, a range of extensive post-screening discussions – called Doc Talks – were presented featuring filmmakers, experts, and in some cases even protagonists from the films. This gave audiences unique background information on the film and how it came about. Doc Talks were often associated with films from the focus programs, such as Naomi Kawase’s Doc Talk as part of the Me program.

For professionals, IDFA also organizes its Industry and Filmmaker Talks. These are sessions with renowned filmmakers and producers that deal with themes concerning the art of documentary filmmaking. 

This year, we recorded 33 of these talks in videos and podcasts so they can be accessed online, which was particularly interesting for industry professionals unable to attend the sessions in person.