IDFA is somehow Le Grande Finale of the year. People rush around all year until everyone finally gets together in Amsterdam to finalise business, see the final selections of top docs, attend the final seminars, talk shows, masterclasses, take the final decisions at dozens of meetings, drink at countless receptions and parties and celebrate the documentary.
Like every festival, IDFA also tries to keep up with the latest technology and integrated it quite successfully in several ways.
One new invention was DocAgora, a one-day conference “on new forms, new platforms and new models of funding creative, socially-engaged documentaries”, featuring filmmakers, distributors and other pioneers in these areas including representatives from MySpace, Fourdocs and BBC online. DocAgora is intended to serve as a network of sorts that organises conferences throughout the year but also plans other activities (www.docagora.org).
Another new initiative was Victor Kossakovsky’s workshop with young filmmakers. Under his guidance and following ten rules laid down by him, a different filmmaker made a little film every day which was uploaded to the Net. The IDFA website generally presented highly integrated transmitting from some of the talk shows, offering the chance to watch film trailers, follow the daily update of audience favourites, etc.
Another new format was the “State of Documentary: The First Annual IDFA UnDebate”, which was an attempt to examine the state of documentary on all continents and to focus on new inspirational initiatives rather than talk about issues like lack of funding, etc.
For many people, the IDFA days are crammed with business, business and more business. For the lucky ones with time to go the cinema, however, there were plenty of choices. On the evening of the awards ceremony, the Danish camp was bubbling with enthusiasm since all three main awards-in the Joris Ivens, Silver Wolf and Silver Cub competitions-went to Danish films. As a Dane I have to mention this, although IDFA is not a sports event. The films do not represent countries but individual filmmakers regardless of nationality. Below are a number of short reviews of a selection of interesting films from IDFA’s varied programmes.
The film depicts humankind’s relation to the four elements, both our dependence on them and the danger they constitute. “Fire” deals with Siberian woodsmen; “Water” with fishermen; “Earth” with miners and “Air” with astronauts. The idea is banal but the film is ambitious and serious. The filmmaker has a strong visual sense, the film features some highly original shots, and she expresses a clear idea. She does include some repetitive passages, however, and the film’s solemn tone makes it a bit hard to digest at times.
Prirechnyy – The Town that no Longer Exists
Norway 2006, 53 min.
Director: Tone Grøttjord
World Sales: Deckert Distribution
Prirechnyy is a once flourishing Siberian city that officially no longer exists. But its elderly inhabitants try to keep up some old traditions of the city and live their rough isolated lives without telephones or bus lines. We follow their daily life in a classic observational style. The film has its funny moments, such as when some women badmouth each other, and sad moments, such as when an old woman loses her son to cancer. A chapter of Russian history and the present situation are told through these people, using skilled filmmaking, not least featuring an original opening scene.
A touching film about a group of young Palestinian men working illegally in Israel to feed their families. They live in a homemade shelter and are constantly hunted by the police. The filmmaker is at the centre of their lives, observing their intimate conversations and filming them as they run away from the police and sometimes get caught. The film provides a rare insight, depicting sympathetic people with the best intentions but who are constantly mocked by the Israeli authorities. The film does not judge Israel as such, it merely shows the hopeless situation the country creates for ordinary Palestinians.
The film tells an excellent story that is topical, interesting and thrilling. For the last two weeks before Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections in 2005, the filmmaker followed Malalai Joya, an outspoken and persistent female candidate. She is constantly guarded by armed men due to several attempts on her life. We follow her in political discussions and voter meetings and in her efforts to work as a marriage counsellor. The straightforward film portrays an extraordinary, brave woman and gives some hope of change in Afghan society.
The film is an interesting attempt to link the filmmaker’s and her boyfriend’s personal family stories to world politics, especially the developments in communist Cuba and the former communist countries of ex-Yugoslavia. She lets their grandparents and parents talk about how their lives unfolded, how global politics influenced their private lives and political ideas. The film has many good episodes and creatively uses great archive material, touching personal meetings and strong characters. It has nice imagery and great use of music. The attempt to link politics with personal stories falls short, however: the director’s political storytelling is overly ambitious and never completely succeeds.
A beautiful film about two blind girls, ages 8 and 16, and their relationship to art and nature. The film expresses how their lack of sight intensifies their senses of touch and hearing. The eldest girl plays the piano and expresses herself very poetically. The youngest is quite attached to her mother and in great need of her mother’s touch. The film is quiet and calmly paced, each shot using light and shadow to create emotional pictures, filmed with many close-ups of the girls’ hands and faces, studying their moods and expressions.
A fine film about how to live one’s life-the importance of daring to follow one’s dreams-from the perspective of a man who has lived most of his life- he is 91-and didn’t risk enough. He takes a trip to Morocco with his grandson (the filmmaker), during which they talk about various things in life, such as love, career and travelling. Their conversations are intercut with interviews with the old man’s wife who also talks about love, music and their relationship. He always wanted to travel and she only to travel into music. The trip changes the grandfather completely, he regains his appetite for food and life and starts chatting with people, risking at last. The story is cleverly told with many implicit points and uncommented intercut interviews with the two old people.
The film follows two Basque musicians who play a unique instrument, a Txalaparta, which resembles a giant wooden xylophone and requires two people to play it. The musicians travel to the far corners of the world to play with other musicians. The film has some wonderful scenes of the musical encounters, and it is fascinating to watch the musicians make the Txalaparta out of local materials: ice in Lapland, stone in the desert, etc. Unfortunately, just as things get exciting, the actual playing of the music together with musicians from the countries the Basques visit is cut short each time by some bits of anthropological filmmaking. This makes the film overly superficial and less engaging, preventing us from getting caught up in the essence of music.
A well-crafted film about an underdeveloped Romanian village where a German man has started a sock-selling business, which keeps the women in the village busy knitting and gives them a source of income. The film presents various inhabitants of this small village, their interpersonal relationships and the different links in the small business. It is done in a classic style, with well-structured storytelling, a nice atmosphere and is both gentle and funny.
© EDN/ModernTimes (previously published in DOX Magazine).