“2019 is the best programme ever,” says IDFA’s artistic director Orwa Nyrabia

by Fritz Kohle from the IDFA press conference in Amsterdam, 23/10/2019

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Orwa Nyrabia highlights the tribute to D.A. Pennebaker.

Orwa Nyrabia and his IDFA team of programmers

Orwa Nyrabia is not someone who likes to brag about his accomplishments. To the contrary. He comes across as a modest festival director with a passion for documentary filmmaking. The journalists at the press conference were not rattled by his claim that this year might be the ‘best programme ever’ because Orwa made that claim towards the end of his presentation. By then we were all suitably impressed by what IDFA has on offer this year. The IDFA team put together an outstanding programme and I for one, can’t wait to attend the festival.

320 films from 75 countries, 14 Bertha fund films.

The IDFA team selected 320 films and media projects from 75 countries for IDFA screens across Amsterdam this year. Few films are single country productions – a true reflection of the globally networked nature of documentary production today.

55% are European productions though fewer films were submitted from Eastern Europe. Orwa speculates that this may be because of ‘the stronger influence of conservative and right-wing governments’ in Eastern Europe which are less supportive of documentary filmmaking.

14 films received finance from the IDFA Bertha Fund. The fund “supports independent, critical, and artistic voices from Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe (IBF regions) with the aim of stimulating and empowering the creative documentary sector in these regions.” The 14 films in the IDFA programme are a testament to the success of the Bertha Fund.

64% of world premiere films made by women

This year 64% of films are made by women, something Orwa is proud of. At the same time Orwa and his team highlight that programmers ‘did not select films to ensure gender equality’. According to Orwa ‘this is something that is happening out there. Women are just making more documentaries. And they are very successful at it’. IDFA might very well be one of the few events where gender equality shines. Overall 55% of all IDFA films are produced or directed by women.

IDFA is the largest documentary festival with more than 3500 professional guests

IDFA is the global event where documentary filmmakers meet, discuss, pitch and screen their work. Orwa’s eyes shine when he talks about the number of guests IDFA has invited this year. The goal is to tailor the IDFA forum more flexibly to meet the needs of every single project specifically. Professionals from around the world will debate the state of documentary production at the IDFA Forum. Enthusiasts claim that documentary films have entered a ‘new golden era’, though critics point out that many documentary productions continue to struggle.

Special Highlights in 2019

Direct Cinema pioneer D.A. Pennebaker passed away this year and is survived by his wife Chris Hegedus. Their achievements are celebrated with a tribute to Pennebaker’s and Hegedus’ work.

The lifetime achievement award goes to Jørgen Leth. His film ‘I Walk’ features in the feature-length documentary competition.

The guest of honour this year is Chilean director Patricio Guzmàn. The filmmaker will join IDFA cinemas for discussion and the festival honoured him with a retrospective of his work.

IDFA Doclab, immersive VR documentaries and more ….

As usual, IDFA has more than just film screenings on offer. The IDFA Doclab continues to break new ground with exhibitions, live cinema events, interactive conferences, the IDFA DocLab R&D programme, Doclab Forum and Academy.

Immersive (VR, AR) and interactive documentaries feature strongly. IDFA is one of the few events that continues to engage with filmmakers and artists to push technological boundaries and present content in new and unusual ways.

The opening film: Sunless Shadows

We only previewed a minute or so of ‘Sunless Shadows‘ by Mehrdad Oskouei. His film is about ‘life in an Iranian juvenile detention centre where a group of adolescent girls serve their sentence for murdering a male member of the family’. But that minute was enough for me to get teary-eyed already. Watch it! If you can still get tickets …
You can view the feature-length competition programme here.

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Director Mehrdad Oskouei managed to get access to an Iranian juvenile prison to film ‘Sunless Shadows’

Filipino films at IDFA

Filipino documentary filmmaking features at IDFA almost every year. The Manila-based filmmaking collective ‘Cinematografica’ screens their film ‘Aswang‘. The term Aswang describes witches, vampires, ghosts and werewolves in Filipino. These evil spirits feature heavily in myths and popular films. But according to the filmmakers, ‘since President Rodrigo Duterte took office, they have been appearing in real life on the streets of Manila.’

aswang 300x225 2019 is the best programme ever, says IDFAs artistic director Orwa Nyrabia
‘Aswang’ is directed by Alyx Ayn Arumpac and produced by Armi Rae S. Cacanindin for Cinematografica films.

All in all, IDFA promises to deliver what the artistic director has promised: 2019 might very well turn out to be the ‘best-ever’ IDFA programme.