IDFA 2012 Overview, Part One

IDFA, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, begins this Wednesday and runs through Sunday, November 25. It’s a significant year for the world’s biggest doc event, as 2012 marks its 25th anniversary.

The festival’s line-up includes a jaw-dropping 400+ films, with nearly 200 of those representing new feature-length documentaries. As in the past, with such an embarrassment of non-fiction riches, I’ll be splitting my overview here across two posts – today’s will focus on some of the features in the running for IDFA’s numerous competition prizes, while tomorrow’s will highlight selections from the regular non-competition programming.

IDFA’s top prize, €12,500, will be awarded to one of sixteen films in the Feature-Length Competition. Including standouts like Dror Moreh’s Shin Bet profile, THE GATEKEEPERS, and Alan Berliner’s moving Alzheimer’s portrait, FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED – which I saw at NYFF but haven’t had a chance to write about yet – this competition is really the must-see section of the fest. Among the notable titles here are Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s eagerly anticipated sequel to his engrossing 2004 miniseries courtroom thriller, THE STAIRCASE 2. THE LAST CHANCE (pictured); AFGHAN STAR’s Havana Marking’s take on notorious diamond thieves, SMASH & GRAB – THE STORY OF THE PINK PANTHERS; Nadav Schirman’s profile of the wife of terrorist Carlos the Jackal, IN THE DARK ROOM; Juliet Lamont’s look at the first girl band in Burma, MISS NIKKI AND THE TIGER GIRLS; Gabriel Mascaro’s exploration of Brazilian family and class dynamics through live-in maids, HOUSEMAIDS; Lam Lê’s documenting of the untold stories of forced colonial Indochine labor, CÔNG BINH – THE LOST FIGHTERS OF VIETNAM; Kesang Tseten’s study of Nepalese training to join a special British army unit, WHO WILL BE A GURKHA; and David Dirlic’s record of a family’s search for their vanished son, MISSING IN THE LAND OF GODS.

Fifteen films vie for €10,000 in the fest’s Mid-Length Competition (45-60 minute films). Among the highlights here are Eva Weber’s observational study of the lengths Guinean students will go to find electricity to study by, BLACK OUT (pictured); Ben Lewis’ animated exploration of inequity, POOR US – AN ANIMATED HISTORY OF POVERTY; Gianpaolo Bigoli’s look at Indians who risk their lives for love, LOVEBIRDS – REBEL LOVERS IN INDIA; Karima Zoubir’s portrait of a similarly taboo-shattering Moroccan divorced mother, CAMERA/WOMAN; Guillaume Suon’s profile of a woman breaking her silence about abuse suffered by forced marriage under the Khmer Rouge, RED WEDDING; and Patricia Correa and Valentina Mac-Pherson’s interviews with sex motel maids,THE WOMEN AND THE PASSENGER.

Last year, I was honored to be on IDFA’s First Appearance jury, which celebrates the work of new filmmakers. The sixteen titles competing for the €5,000 prize this year include Alex Meillier’s captivating story of an unlikely secret agent for East Timorean independence, ALIAS RUBY BLADE: A STORY OF LOVE AND REVOLUTION; Harry Freeland’s inspiring story of two albino Tanzanians combatting life-threatening superstition and greed, IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN; Kari Anne Moe’s study of Norwegian politics via school elections before and after last year’s terrorist acts, BRAVEHEARTS; Kathy Leichter’s portrait of her bipolar mother, HERE ONE DAY; Jakeb Anhvu’s exposé of a troubling Vietnamese orphanage, BLUSH OF FRUIT; and Katrine Riis Kjaer’s look at the dark side of international/cross-cultural adoption, MERCY MERCY (pictured).

Homegrown talent has a chance to win IDFA’s €5,000 prize for Dutch Documentary. The sixteen titles here (eleven just in this section, the remainder also featured elsewhere in the festival) include Roy Dames’ look at The Hague’s vice squad, THE SEX POLICE; Jaap van Hoewijk’s investigation into a brutal crime in Rotterdam, KILL YOUR DARLING; Anneloek Sollart’s follow-up to her previous film, in which a mother runs into serious legal trouble for keeping her son on a strictly raw foods diet, RAWER; and Simonka de Jong’s story of a Tibetan family facing internal strife due to the competing draw of modernity and tradition, THE ONLY SON (pictured).

There are sixteen films competing for IDFA’s Student Competition, which comes with a prize of €2,500. Of these, four are features: Chico Pereira’s portrait of a grouchy yet endearing grandfather, PABLO’S WINTER (pictured); Wille Hyvönen’s inquisition into an unlikely May-December romance, MY GODFATHER, HIS THAI BRIDE AND ME; Daniel Abma’s account of the reintegration into Germany society of three young ex-cons, BEYOND WRIEZEN; and the omnibus documentation of recent protests by Russian youth, WINTER, GO AWAY!

For the second year, IDFA partners with music film fest PLAY to present €2,500 to the winner of the Music Documentary Competition. Fifteen titles compete, including Sundance winner SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN and SXSW winner BEWARE OF MR BAKER. As always, this isn’t a genre that I gravitate towards, but I’d take a look at Hark-Joon Lee’s K-pop girl band story, 9 MUSES OF STAR EMPIRE; and Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino’s intriguing chronicle of an African-American proto-punk band of brothers, A BAND CALLED DEATH (pictured).

Additional competitions include special awards for IDFA’s digital/new media section, DocLab; DOC U, selected by a youth jury; a new Kids & Docs award for a youth doc; the fest’s Audience Award; and the €125,000 Mediafonds Documentary Award to support the production of a new film developed in IDFA’s Documentary Workshop.

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

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