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IDFA 2018: 21st Century Women

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25 November 2018

Sylvana, Demon or Diva and Marceline. A Woman. A Century are among many films celebrating strong women at IDFA this year. Melanie Goodfellow reports.

IDFA has always reflected the big political and social issues shaking and shaping the world, either within dedicated sidebars or tangentially in the works it screens. Its 2018 selection is no exception. At a time when female representation, rights and leadership are in the spotlight, this year's line-up includes a number of works about strong and pioneering women.

Among them is Ingeborg Jansen's Teledoc Sylvana, Demon or Diva, an up close and personal portrait of outspoken Dutch political activist Sylvana Simons, and Cordelia Dvorák's Marceline. A Woman. A Century , about late Holocaust survivor, writer and filmmaker Marceline Loridan-Ivens, who was also the wife and close collaborator of iconic Dutch director Joris Ivens.

Sylvana screens in IDFA's new Frontlight selection. Its subject, controversial former television personality Simons, born in Suriname but growing up in the Netherlands, launched her Bij1 (Together) political party in 2016 to fight racism and discrimination. An advocate of female empowerment, she has been subject to racially-motivated hate campaigns in the past and still receives daily abuse on the social networks.

Director Jansen was brought on board by producer Eric Velthuis at Dutch production house KVFilms. "At first I was hesitant. I didn't know that much about her and was slightly sceptical of her as a politician," says Jansen. "Then, as research, I saw her during the last part of the national elections in which she participated, and was impressed and fascinated by her and the very diverse group of people that supported her as a new, up to now lacking, voice in Dutch politics."

The documentary follows Simons as she runs for a seat in the Amsterdam city council in early 2018, at the same time as building her fledgeling party from scratch, but the film also goes behind the scenes, delving into her roots, motivations and personal demons. "I hope it gives a comprehensive image of [her] as a person of flesh and blood, whose personal experiences have fuelled her political ideas," says Jansen. "I also hope it makes every viewer think about the reasons and reasonability of all the (strong) reactions that Sylvana apparently provokes in people. Why is she a controversial figure? Why are we - a large part of the Dutch - so eager to judge her?"

Marceline. A Woman. A Century, which premieres in IDFA's new Luminous sidebar, revolves around in-depth encounters with Loridan- Ivens and some of her closest collaborators, filmed in her Paris apartment, just before she passed away last September aged 90. It was lead-produced by Paris-based Elda Productions, with Annemiek van der Hell (Windmill Film) on board as associate producer.

Loridan-Ivens speaks with vigour about surviving the Holocaust and dealing with these experiences throughout her life, her political awakening in the Paris Left Bank of the 1960s and her close working relationship with husband Joris. She also talks of her solo autobiographical projects, such as her third and final book L'Amour après , exploring how women can rehabilitate their bodies, sexuality and capacity to love after suffering trauma.

"What made Marceline such an outstanding film protagonist for me is that arc from the long-silenced survivor of the Holocaust [that] she was, when returning after the war, confronted with an oppressive silence everywhere in post-war France, to then one of the politically most uncompromising and frank European filmmakers," says Dvorák.

The filmmaker says she was impressed with Loridan-Ivens's professionalism and determined spirit, right until the end. "It was sometimes really hard for her energy-wise at her age to receive a whole film team in her apartment and to go back to very painful memories," says Dvorák. "I hope her fearlessness, her implacability but also her sense of humour, her hunger and lust for life might inspire and encourage people as it did me."

SEE NL Magazine #33 November 2018 / IDFA Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by EYE International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.

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