The art of documentary film

Film still: Radiograph of a Family, dir. Firouzeh Khosrovani.

Keep the documentary film wheel turning

As Artistic Director Orwa Nyrabia notes, the pandemic actually brought something positive to festivals too: “There’s more solidarity and collaboration in the film world than before.” “It was a very special year. We needed to find a reason why a film festival can still happen, even though it might be mostly happening online. We brainstormed and consulted with many filmmakers and professionals from the Netherlands and around the world, and we ended up believing that our responsibility is to keep the documentary film wheel turning, despite everything. We had to find special solutions for a special moment in history.

“The hardest thing about 2020 was the fact that literally nothing was to be expected. As a team we had to take on this pressure while continuously developing a minimum of three possible festival scenarios—almost up until our opening night. To me, protecting the festival’s viewpoint was key in 2020. It forced us to ask big questions. What is the real added value that we offer to filmmakers, our audience, and the film industry internationally? How do we cherish that in the new context of a user-friendly infrastructure such as the online dashboard?

Photo by Roger Cremers.

“Despite the pandemic, we managed to present a high-quality program. Our Guest of Honor was Gianfranco Rosi, one of the most renowned, well-established documentary filmmakers in the world today. We were very proud to have him with us and to have his documentaries and favorite films from the history of cinema. In a year like 2020 we needed to go back to the magic work of real cinema.

“The award winners of 2020 were proof of IDFA’s openness towards all corners of the world. We continuously focus on finding good films from non-Western countries. Europe and North America produce the highest number of documentary films worldwide, so it is to be expected they are the majority. It is just a question of by how much.

“In continuity with IDFA’s role of supporting filmmakers worldwide, we partnered up with the International Film Festival Rotterdam and the European Film Academy for the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk (ICFR). As a festival, we take responsibility towards filmmakers who are endangered by exercising freedom of expression in their films.

“We now are called the ‘Network of International Strategic Partners of ICFR,’ and various other organizations and film unions are joining to make sure we keep activating the international film community to help filmmakers at risk. This kind of international collaboration also helped us as a festival during the pandemic: Throughout 2020, several other international festival directors and I met up during regular and helpful online meetings to share experiences. I hope we carry that with us beyond this difficult year. “A major challenge of holding a festival during these times is the lack of ‘buzz,’ which is a key element. Professionals from all around the world come to Amsterdam to watch and talk about films. When we learned that we could not have that actual physical festival ‘buzz,’ we worked hard as a team to get more international film press coverage to compensate for the lack it. That’s an important point. We also managed to bring the focus of a big international audience to the IDFA Collection, our online platform. It was designed years ago to provide a window for films that were selected at previous editions of IDFA. With its high reach, the Collection makes an excellent showcase of thousands of good documentary films for audiences all over the world.”

Orwa Nyrabia, Artistic Director

Where did the selected films come from?