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Orwa Nyrabia, artistic director IDFA

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IDFA 2020: Orwa Nyrabia

16 November 2020

Doc-makers won't be stopped!

"Unlike the more commercial parts of the film world, documentary filmmakers will be hurt, but they won't be stopped," IDFA Creative Director Orwa Nyrabia tells SeeNL on the eve of IDFA 2020. "Their drive to make films is much more profound, even existential."

The 33rd IDFA kicks off 18 November (16 November for industry) with a dynamic programme of 257 titles from 78 countries, including co-pro territories. Of the films in competition sections, a whopping 57% are directed by women.

"In a year when film is being challenged, when we find ourselves debating whether film, as we know it, will actually survive or not, it is particularly meaningful that the year's harvest of documentaries is absolutely marvellous," Nyrabia adds. The festival opens with what it terms the "quietly earth-shattering" Nothing but the Sun by Paraguayan-Swiss director Arami Ullón, before revealing an array of new and highly lauded titles from the likes of Claire Simon (The Grocer's Son, the Mayor, the Village and the World...), Milo Rau (The New Gospel) and Firouzeh Khosrovani (Radiograph of a Family) in Feature-length Competition.

First Appearance competition offers up a dozen works from the masters of tomorrow while the films in Mid-length competition "stick to no predictable rules, abandon traditional conventions, and carve out a new space for imagination." Further competitive and non-competitive sections set out to test the limits of documentary and non-fiction story-telling while the works of latter day luminaries such as Hubert Sauper, Ulrike Ottinger and Ai Weiwei (Masters) add further ballast to the programme.

As importantly, in a year that has delivered misery on an industrial scale, IDFA is characterised, more than ever, by an overwhelming sense of defiance, hope and humanity.

"Solidarity in the film community was rediscovered this year. This might be the best outcome of a rather terrible experience for the film world in general. Festivals are communicating better, support schemes to filmmakers and companies are growing, even if not enough. A new sense of compassion is in the air and that is refreshing, and we all have to invest in cherishing beyond the crisis moment," says Nyrabia.

"For IDFA, it was a year of looking in the mirror and examining the actual value and the profound reasoning behind all of our many activities. We were forced to stop relying on many of our usual processes, and that opened windows of imagination and allowed us to reinvent our whole structure and to redesign many of our programs. We will continue doing this."

Dutch documentary is in the ascendant again with a designated competition of eight new titles by the likes of IDFA favourites Heddy Honigmann (100UP) and Renzo Martens, whose White Cube also plays in Feature-length Competition. Kids and Doc Competition sees two stories of suppression and survival (Skies above Hebron and Jano & Shiro, a Brothers' Journey), while PolakVanBekkum tell a highly personal story of encroaching dementia in Lost on Arrival.

"It is another exciting year for Dutch documentary film," underlines Nyrabia. "Numbers are not so high but passion is over-flowing. We have films that transcend their filmmakers' love of the art of documentary filmmaking without pretention and with unwavering sense of empathy. These are films that travel the world, and travel the Netherlands too, sharing their filmmakers' intrigue, anger, love and continuous search for meaning, in life as well as in film."

IDFA DocLab Competition Immersive Non-Fiction in the meantime shows three new Dutch works, Tamara Shogaolu's Planetarium-based Echoes of Silence, Ali Eslami's Eclipse (which sets out decode the thoughts and feelings of 'the other') and the transformative VR Symbiosis, by Dutch collective Polymorf.

Nyrabia has gone on record to praise the international documentary community who have remained tough and steadfast over the past nine months. He also acknowledges the support of his Dutch partners.

"We were working closely with both the Film Fund and the Ministry of Culture throughout the past few months," he comments. "IDFA managed to pull through thanks to the commitment and the faith of the ministry, the fund, the city of Amsterdam and our many private sponsors, supporting organizations and individual donors. Everybody came together this year. It was always heart-warming to see the way that everybody believed in the necessity of not stopping... of putting the accumulated value of what IDFA does to good use when the audience and filmmakers need it the most."

For further reading:
-> SEE NL Magazine Online, November 2020 / IDFA Doc issue
-> Line-Up Dutch Docs At IDFA 2020 
-> Watch: Showreel Dutch Documentaries IDFA 2020

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