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Looking back: IDFA 2019

An opening night to remember

As is the tradition, IDFA 2019 was opened in the monumental Carré Theatre to over a thousand visitors. After introducing the crowd to the late D.A. Pennebaker’s first work, the short film Daybreak Express, artistic director Orwa Nyrabia took the stage. After a few welcoming words, the stage was given to the official opening speech. This year, the opening speech wasn’t provided by a politician or other prominent figure, but the Canadian-Vietnamese filmmaker Carol Nguyen—the youngest person with a film in the IDFA 2019 selection.

What followed was an opening speech that not only inspired the packed Carré Theatre, but one that resonated with what made IDFA 2019 such a successful edition. Covering themes like identity, diaspora, and the glass ceiling—IDFA 2019 was the first edition featuring a majority of female filmmakers across all competition sections, an overall younger audience, and saw different communities in Amsterdam come together thanks to the edition’s diverse programming.

Where did the selected films come from?

Films from Western Europe comprised over half of the selection in 2019, but films from Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East are on the rise.

Patricio Guzmán: Documentary icon

Chilean documentary veteran Patricio Guzmán is often described as the chronicler of the struggles of his people over the past half century. He can largely be credited with sharing the story of the Chilean regime with the entire world, making us aware that the challenges of the Chileans are the challenges of humanity. In short, we were more than delighted to have him as our Guest of Honor at IDFA 2019. During the festival, his films drew members of the Chilean-Dutch community and international cinephiles alike. Not only do his films carry unimaginable significance for those who have a personal relation to the events he has documented; his films are also masterpieces of documentary art.

As a result, his work is an exemplary force for what IDFA stands for: combining the political with the artistic, and thereby speaking to a broad and diverse audience.

Worthy of focus

Touching upon notions of history and remembrance, the largest Focus Program—It Still Hurts—dealt with our post-war world in the broadest sense, anticipating on the 75th anniversary of World War II. A second Focus Program titled Re-releasing History featured films entirely comprised of archival footage, centering the filmmakers’ emotional, political act of re-interpreting history with a new gaze.

Lastly, Focus Program section The Villain centered on our collective obsession with evil, exploring different ways of knowing your enemy—from a filmmaking perspective. Re-releasing History is supported by Beeld en Geluid, the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.

Exceptional female filmmakers

In the competition sections, a major milestone was achieved: 64% of titles competing for an IDFA Award were made by women—resulting in an increase in the overall percentage of films by female directors in the IDFA 2019-program to 47%. This was in no way the result of selection procedures or any other interventions on IDFA’s end:

“Reaching a fairer representation was much easier than it seemed to be,” artistic director Orwa Nyrabia said in response to the news. “The outstanding films that found their way to us this year were a humble reminder that we are in the presence of exceptional female filmmakers.”

Films by female directors in the competitions

Films by female directors in the selection

In the overall selection, the number of films by female directors was still below 50%, but the competitions told another story: 64% of titles up for an award were directed by women.