IDFA 2019: Industry
A staggering 3000 industry professionals are expected at IDFA 2019. Industry boss Adriek van Nieuwenhuijzen, who has been at the festival since the start, assesses the extraordinarily varied programme with Geoffrey Macnab.
As always, the IDFA Forum, the festival's co-production and co-financing market, is at the heart of matters. Van Nieuwenhuijzen is delighted that "a good spread of countries" are represented, such as Brazil (a João Inada interactive VR doc about the lives of three favela residents, and a Marcelo Gomes' road-doc focusing on the Lisbon gentrification process, co-produced with Portugal), South Africa (Milisuthando reflects on apartheid from a black South African viewpoint) and Afghanistan (Kabul Melody, Sahra Mani's film about female Afghan students risking their lives for music) sit alongside the projects from Europe and the US.
The industry boss is also happy with the mix of films being presented, everything from hard hitting current affairs documentaries to much more lyrical and offbeat work. There are plenty of hybrid titles that use re-enactments and archive, for example Jorien van Nes' The Art of Stealing, produced through Amsterdam-based Submarine Films, which follows four Romanians planning a huge art heist.
Other Dutch projects in the Forum include Jan Rothuizen's interactive doc/travel story Club Colombia, and Aliona van der Horst's My Father's Silence, which tells the life story of a father put through the shredder of two dictatorships, Stalin's and Hitler's, and the story of a daughter whose life was shaped by his fate.
This year, as always, several industry talks are planned. Surviving as a documentary filmmaker will "dig into" a subject that makers are sometimes shy about addressing, namely how they make ends meet. Research from many different sources has highlighted the long hours and precarious economic situation of many filmmakers.
Predictably, SVOD looms large throughout the festival. The huge streamers (Netflix, Amazon and co) have upturned traditional financing and distribution patterns but IDFA will also have a session looking at the challenges facing smaller European SVOD and TVOD players.
Delegates will also debate the increasingly knotty subject of "archive and ethics". As Van Nieuwenhuijzen points out, it has become increasingly commonplace for archival material to be used in very different contexts from what the people who shot it originally intended. In Who owns history? The politics of memory preservation, organised in collaboration with The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, the festival is offering a platform for filmmakers whose work focuses on "the questioning and reinterpreting of the historic image."
Another of the talks is Filming the other - entitlement or privilege. From the time of Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North (1922) onwards, documentary makers have had to work out just how much license they have to intrude into the lives of their subjects. Are western filmmakers sometimes guilty of being voyeuristic or showing a postcolonial arrogance in their treatment of cultures a long way removed from their own?
Back in 2007, when the DocLab programme was launched, VR, AR and web-based storytelling seemed like radical new concepts. Now, they're part of a "grown up industry" even if, as Van Nieuwenhuijzen acknowledges, monetising them remains a challenge. "That is still, of course, the big question," she says. "That is why there is a whole afternoon at DocLab devoted to discussing all the topics that are so relevant to this industry. It is a combination of project pitches and a summit."
Meanwhile, Docs For Sale remains a core part of IDFA's industry offering, welcoming 200+ buyers, sellers, programmers and commissioning editors to see more than 400 films in this year's DfS catalogue.
"The festival was growing under the leadership of Ally Derks and it is still growing under the leadership of Orwa," Van Nieuwenhuijzen declares. "The international documentary industry is evolving, and IDFA is evolving with it."
SEE NL Magazine #37 November 2019 / 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.