IDFA 2011 Overview, Part One

IDFA, the largest documentary event in the world, begins next Wednesday in Amsterdam and continues through November 27. More than 300 films will screen, culled from 3600 submissions – staggering figures, and a testament to the diligence of Director Ally Derks and her staff.

I’ve been attending the festival for the past few years, and am honored to be serving on the its First Appearance competition jury for this edition. I look forward to seeing each of the sixteen debut films in this category, hailing from nearly as many countries, so, out of impartiality, I won’t single any of them out below. The full list may be found here.

IDFA is so large, it necessitates splitting up my overview post into two – this one will spotlight some of the films that I’m most intrigued by from the various competitions, while the second will look at the fest’s remaining programs. There are far too many interesting-sounding films to be able to highlight them all, but these lists include those titles that I especially hope to find time for in-between jury duty.

The fest’s main competition is for feature-length projects (over 60 minutes), and consists of sixteen titles, including Werner Herzog’s INTO THE ABYSS and Léa Pool’s PINK RIBBONS INC. I’m most excited by the new film from Mads Brügger, the director of THE RED CHAPEL, THE AMBASSADOR (pictured), in which the director sets out to expose corruption in the Central African Republic. Also on my list are: Giovanni Giommi’s BAD WEATHER, about a Bangladeshi brothel island; Alix Lambert and David McMahon’s BAYOU BLUE, an investigation into a decade-long murder spree that claimed 23 lives; Marcus Vetter’s CINEMA JENIN, about the filmmaker’s attempt to re-open a Palestinian cinema, creating a community space; and Lise Birk Pedersen’s PUTIN’S KISS, which blends the coming-of-age doc with modern Russian politics.

IDFA’s Mid-Length competition (45-60 minutes) also includes sixteen films, with Eric Brach’s HABANA MUDA one of the stand-outs that I’ve already seen at True/False earlier this year. Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami’s GOING UP THE STAIRS has caught my eye – the story of an illiterate 50-year-old Iranian woman who discovers (and hides) her talent for painting. I’m also drawn to both Jorge Gaggero’s MONTENEGRO, about a strange dependent relationship between two men on an isolated island; and Julia Panasenko’s OUTRO (pictured), which follows the final weeks of a woman’s terminal illness – though it seems the subject fears her mother more than death.

The festival recognizes student filmmaking with a competition that includes eleven shorts and four features from international film academies. Two docs promise confrontation on difficult subjects: Matthias Bittner’s NOT IN MY BACKYARD offers an in-depth look at two convicted sex offenders trying to re-integrate within society, while Karen Winther confronts a decision she has long regretted in THE BETRAYAL (pictured), an examination of her time in Norway’s squatting community.

Fourteen homegrown films compete in the competition for Dutch documentaries, including a few films also featured in other categories. There are quite a few selections here I hope to see, but that the top would be a project I saw a fantastic pitch for at IDFA’s Forum last year, Femke and Ilse van Velzen’s JUSTICE FOR SALE (pictured), on the failings of the Congolese justice system, as represented by a rape case. Also of interest here are: Jessica Gorter’s 900 DAYS, an attempt to debunk propaganda about the siege of Leningrad through stories of survivors; Petra Lataster-Czisch and Peter Lataster’s JEROME JEROME, which follows an autistic teen for two days; and Gabriëlle Provaas and Rob Schröder’s MEET THE FOKKENS, a portrait of twin sisters who have been prostitutes for half a century.

In recognition of the growing number of environmentally-oriented docs being made, IDFA offers a Green Screen competition of fifteen titles. Included here are Jon Shenk’s deservedly acclaimed Telluride/Toronto title THE ISLAND PRESIDENT and John Kirby and Robbie Gemmel’s thoughtful look at Nantucket’s offshore windfarm controversy, CAPE SPIN. Two additional titles look especially notable: Adam Jonas Horowitz’s NUCLEAR SAVAGE, on the aftermath of US nuclear tests on the Marshall Islands; and a title I missed at Toronto, Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks’ SURVIVING PROGRESS (pictured), on the downside to theoretically progressive societal innovations.

Finally, in cooperation with PLAY, a music film festival, IDFA offers a seventeen-title competition for music docs. Regular readers may note that I generally don’t tend to be overly interested in music docs, but there are always exceptions. I have already responded well to a couple of the films included in this category, Michael Rapaport’s BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE and Don Argott and Demian Fenton’s LAST DAYS HERE. Rounding out this part of my overview, I’ll draw attention to two additional titles: Safinez Bousbia’s EL GUSTO, about pre-independence Algeria’s chaabi music scene that united Arabs and Jews; and Sandra Trostel’s UTOPIA LTD (pictured), which follows young German trio 1000 Robota as they record their first album and get swept up into overnight fame.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Overviews, Recommendations

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