Aswang: The story of an IDFA Award-winner

What does it mean to win an award at IDFA? Besides the public recognition, the industry approval, and the prize money, for many filmmakers, an award is also the start of a new life, and a vehicle for sharing a critical perspective with audiences around the world. A perspective that holds the potential to transcend the boundary of art and politics. In 2019, IDFA revitalized its award structure, introducing a slew of new awards for directing, editing, cinematography, use of archival material, and—in the DocLab competitions—creative use of technology. Among the new awards was the inaugural FIPRESCI Award, handed out by the esteemed International Federation of Film Critics. On November 25, emerging Filipina director Alyx Ayn Arumpac took home the FIPRESCI Award for her film Aswang, which premiered in the IDFA Competition for First Appearance. A co-production between the Philippines, France, Norway, Qatar, and Germany, the film creatively unmasks the terror that is President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war. The experiences of a journalist, a coroner, a missionary brother, and a homeless child form the backbone of the documentary, capturing the widespread despair and fear caused by the regime’s lawless violence.

No stranger to IDFA, Arumpac first pitched Aswang at IDFA Forum back in 2017, then brought the project to IDFAcademy Summer School in 2018 for script development. The same year, the IDFA Bertha Fund supported Aswang with €17,500 in production funding, with a further €40,000 granted for international co-production support later in 2018.

"a courageous statement of current politics and the power of media"

By the time the film was selected to premiere in competition at IDFA 2019, Arumpac had proven herself as a filmmaker to watch. Quickly snapped up from the Docs for Sale catalogue, major sales agent LevelK acquired world sales rights for Aswang two days before the festival kicked off. Three public screenings later, the film was hailed by the FIPRESCI jury as “a courageous statement of current politics and the power of media... a haunting visual and soundscape that evokes a broad spectrum of emotional reactions... a gripping cinematic experience.” Media coverage in Variety, Screen Daily, The Hollywood Reporter, Cineuropa, Deadline, and Vox Magazine, among other outlets, echoed the jury’s statement.

"a gripping cinematic experience"

In the months after IDFA, Aswang was selected for MoMA’s Doc Fortnight 2020, Cinéma du réel, Geneva International Film Festival, One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, and other international film festivals. But perhaps most notable was Aswang’s selection as the opening film of the Daang Dokyo Film Festival, the first documentary film festival by and for the Philippines. Now, thanks in part to a final round of distribution funding from the IDFA Bertha Fund, the film will be released theatrically and on VOD in Denmark and Sweden, as well as going on to premiere in its home country, arguably to the audiences who matter the most. So, what does it mean to win an award at IDFA? Maybe it’s a culmination of everything that came before. Maybe it’s the start of a new chapter. Or maybe it’s our way of saying, “I see you, filmmaker. You matter.” See all awards and winners from IDFA 2019 here. IDFA’s competition program is supported by Ammodo.