The new artistic director at IDFA talks about the new features of the documentary industry and how watching a documentary can turn into a life-changing experience.
1.What is the focus of the 31st edition of IDFA?
«IDFA is big enough to carry multiple focuses, but if there is one I would mention it would be that ‘inclusion’ is our overall focus. Our key priority now is geographical and gender inclusion.»
«Every time we look to the masters of documentary film, we come up with names of great male filmmakers. But if we challenge ourselves more, we find out that there is more to be found if we’re not enslaved by a [particular] system of perception.»
«The same applies to films from Africa, South East Asia, parts of Latin America, and the Arab world. If you look at the usual pool of films coming from these regions, the first impression is that there are not so many good films being made. But with more persistence you discover that there are films, but they are not seen in festivals, television or platforms, and that makes hunting them down harder.»
«Investing in finding these talents and meeting these masters we haven’t heard of is now a priority for IDFA. With this in mind, we expanded our viewing committee to include experts from around the world, and now our first filter is a truly wide and inclusive group. Through this filter we understand more about perceptions, ways of judging a film, and different ways of seeing. This all adds up to an interesting debate.»
2. What else is new this year?
«We are happy to celebrate the life and works of great Czech filmmaker Helena Trestikova this year and I’m particularly proud of the focus program we curated under the title ‘Me’. It takes a look at the documentary cinema in which the filmmakers themselves are part of the film – sometimes physically, sometimes through the personal character of the film, and sometimes as a carrier of socio-political realities. It is a special program that includes talks with a stellar group of exceptional guests.»
«Following the tradition of IDFA in the past few years, we also have a focus program examining an aspect of filmmaking itself. In the past we looked at editing, cinematography and sound, and this year we start a series that looks at directing. In 2018 we are examining how filmmakers understand and represent space as an emotional, philosophical, or physical presence that defines the film.»
«In the past we looked at editing, cinematography and sound, and this year we start a series that looks at directing.»
«Last, IDFA’s new media section DocLab, in its 12th edition, is presenting an exciting curated program under the title ‘The Humanoid Cookbook’.»
«A dinner table will be at the centre, and around this table we will examine the never-boring relationship between man and machine, as well as that of past, present and future.»
3. What does the term «movies that matter» mean to you?
«With all respect to ‘Movies That Matter’, both the organisation [Amnesty] and festival, I am kind of critical to every word in the phrase. I think ‘movies’ is a very limiting definition of films or cinema to begin with. It is commercial [and] American and it’s about entertainment. By using this term in this context it turns entertainment into criteria for value. And then we start heading in the direction of propaganda – no matter how positive – whenever we start to measure value.»
«I think many films that seem to be irrelevant might add to who we are, while some films that have an important subject matter don’t add so much to who we are but quite the opposite. Instead they work in the realm of agitation and mobilisation, which is what can destroy the art of documentary and turn it into a [political] tool for different groups in their different wars.»
4. Can you think of a film that changed something for you?
«My example would be the work of Israeli filmmaker Avi Mograbi. His work opened my eyes in a way. I am Syrian; I grew up in a country at war with the state of Israel. Parts of my homeland have been under occupation since 1967. And then I found Avi’s films – I saw this courageous, ethically coherent and extremely personal peer. I had to look at his films and ask: ‘Am I as courageous? Am I as coherent as he is?’»
«What happens is that you lose prejudice when you surrender to the experience of watching a film. Your prejudice is challenged and then it is shattered. And to me this is what documentary film can do. It can make us surrender, and it’s only then that we can discover that we don’t know.»
- How did the documentary landscape change in the last decade?
«We see a surprising theatrical emergence of documentary films in theatres in many countries in the world, and we see a different demand.»
«When documentary film was stuck only with European and American public broadcasters, documentary film was stuck with a viewer that was somewhere between 55 and 60 years old. Now we are gradually seeing more engagement with younger people – a younger generation that is more engaged in socio-political questions.»
«What happens is that you lose prejudice when you surrender to the experience of watching a film.»
«We are also seeing a lot of cross-overs: a much better and more open space for documentary and fiction filmmakers crossing between the two genres and also making hybrid films. And this, in a way, liberates us and takes us back to the beginning of cinema when the question was not, ‘is it fiction or documentary?’ but rather, ‘is it film or not?’»
«Another thing happening is the shocking amount of danger posed by the extreme right-wing in the world, which creates a counter-approach to [various] issues. We are seeing a lot of defending and ‘positive’ propaganda, and I think this is a difficult thing to judge. Perhaps we have to wait and judge it in a wider historical viewpoint before we know how we can make the world better. I don’t assume propaganda might end up being useful, in fact I doubt that profoundly.»