A report from Amsterdam and the IDFA
Stuart Sloan, programmer for the Docs Ireland festival, recently took up a Film Hub NI bursary that allowed him to attend IDFA, the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam). Here, Stuart reports on his favourite films from the world's largest documentary film festival.
As I have not been able to attend any festivals for the past 2 years, I was very much looking forward to IDFA, and even though I knew certain restrictions were in force in Amsterdam during the festival, I was glad of them because it made me feel safe about attending. However, a week before I was due to go, the Netherlands announced much harsher restrictions on social settings, but luckily had no limits on cultural settings like the cinema. This meant that some of the meetings I was planning to have with foreign distributors, sales agents and filmmakers would be severely curtailed, but since the main purpose of attending IDFA is always to witness the world’s contemporary documentary scene, its trends and new styles, I felt like it was still important to attend. I indeed managed to see many amazing, insightful and illuminating films from around the world – I have listed a few highlights below.
The Last Shelter – this amazing film from Malian director Ousmane Samassekou focuses on a ‘House of Migrants’ on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, where migrants heading for Europe and the dream of a better life take shelter as they continue their journey. We witness people from many different countries with many different backgrounds, but all with a shared desire to make a better life. The film rarely escapes out of the 4 walls of this place, but manages to tell a story that resonates throughout the entire world in 2021. Hopefully we will see this in Docs Ireland 2022.
Children of the Mist, dir. Diem Ha Le – what starts out as a quiet, light hearted study of children and young teenagers in Hmong communities in Northern Vietnam quickly escalates into a study of ancient traditions involving what is known as ‘bride-kidnapping’, where girls as young as 14 are abducted by nascent future husbands on the Lunar New Year Celebration. Herein, with some of the most difficult to watch sequences of documentary I have ever seen, we learn a lot about modern, and ancient, Vietnam.
Intensive Life Unit, dir. Adéla Komrzý – This study of palliative care in the Czech Republic skilfully explains an increasing problem for all developed countries – as medical technology allows for people to live longer and cure more and more diseases, how does this affect the patient, often elderly and living in pain. More and more specifically trained staff will be needed for this growing field of medicine, and often the skills needed are more philosophical than traditional doctors or nurses would be used to. Fascinating stuff – a special note for the amazing and inspirational doctors followed in the film.
After a Revolution, dir. Giovanni Buccomino. Incredibly intense first-person account of a brother and sister who were initially involved on opposing sides in the Libyan revolution that occurred immediately after Gaddafi’s death in 2011. The director has amazing access to the participants, effectively living with them whilst they live in parts of the country controlled by rebels, being attacked by government forces – which leads to some astonishing scenes. The film covers 7 years of the conflict, and so manages to shed some light on a very complex situation, also allowing Buccomino to say something about all revolutions.
Laurent Garnier: Off the Record, dir. Gabin Rivoire – finally a bit of fun, this slick and fast paced film follows the path of superstar DJ Garnier, whos own life mirrored the explosion in dance music in the 1980s, first in Europe and then soon as the world’s biggest music scene. Garnier is a smart, likeable guy and his story is interesting enough.
I also saw a lovely film about teenagers in Italy, Futura, a film about bodyguards in Niger, Zinder, a boarding school in rural Argentina, The Delights, Alice Diop’s documentary essay film that meanders through France, past and present, WE, a film about the gig economy in Russia, [email protected] This Job and a Chris Marker style film about life in Wuhan, China, (before Covid hit) A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces.
This last paragraph highlights the international excellence of attending IDFA, and the vast breadth of films on offer there. I was also able to make notes of countless other films I plan to watch over the coming weeks and months as I prepare for Docs Ireland 2022. I had a very valuable time at IDFA 2021, and I really appreciate how the wonderful Film Hub NI are able to help me attend, but I also do hope the film festival world can return to a more normal setting in the years to come!