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Orwa Nyrabia, Artistic Director IDFA

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Orwa Nyrabia, Artistic Director IDFA

Earlier this year Syrian producer Orwa Nyrabia was named Artistic Director of IDFA, the world’s leading docfest.

Orwa Nyrabia concedes that what makes the job of Artistic Director of IDFA somewhat difficult, but at the same time challenging and intriguing, is that there seems to be very little to actually fix at the esteemed fest. IDFA has, since its launch in 1988, been prima inter pares on the doc fest circuit, and has (like its sister fest IFFR over in Rotterdam) re-written the rulebook in terms of funding brilliant new cinema from emerging territories, as well as facilitating top sales and co-pro activity via Docs for sale and the Forum respectively.

Nevertheless, Nyrabia, like his festival colleagues, is fully aware that stasis equates to complacency, and points out that, right now, change is very much in the air at IDFA HQ. “It won’t be fast, it is going to be gradual, and year by year we will reshape IDFA and what it represents, but this year we will begin with the programme, which will be fully rejuvenated.”

Out will go Panorama, to be replaced by a section (or sections) with even keener emphasis on the brilliant fusion of form and content. “Documentary is always about [the fusion of] ethics and aesthetics. Documentary meets at the intersection of the two,” Nyrabia underlines. Nyrabia and his programmers will bolster the First Appearance section, for emerging filmmakers, and will be looking to Doclab to up the ante in terms of its continuing engagement with new media. What is new must continue to shock, to stimulate and to entertain, he maintains. “Across all sections, IDFA will be a festival that will have more space and a keener eye on what is ambitious and different.”

Nyrabia promises that after the festival structure is overhauled/revamped in 2018 the industry side will undergo equal scrutiny in 2019, although he remains tight-lipped about details. “Please wait, but we’ll be asking the audience and the industry to be open to even more challenging and eye opening content.”

The backdrop to all this is what Nyrabia refers to as ‘the new reality’. “The age of [institutional] funding having a formatting effect on documentary is coming to an end,” he says. “It means that we are seeing and following up on much newer and more individual and unique voices in the world of documentary, that films that used to be seen as unworkable are working, are finding their place today in cinemas and on SVOD... but are not anymore defined solely by the formatted TV slots.” The fest director cites Kirsten Johnson’s Camera Person as an example of a film that was a difficult television sell but which performed with aplomb theatrically and at festivals.

Additionally, Nyrabia is determined that the profusion of wider screening opportunities continues to be reflected in IDFA’s ”pluralist” programme approach. “IDFA will be more open and will work hard to find a very wide spectrum of filmmakers from all over the world, from all genders and ethnicity. This is going to be a clear priority.”

As producer of films like acclaimed Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait, which was selected for Cannes 2014 and did brisk business theatrically in France and internationally, Nyrabia understands the needs of filmmakers better than most, which should serve him well in his new post.

“Producing has always been about finding the right formula for each film so that each filmmaker gets the chance to come as close to their dream of how they wish to express themselves. I truly hope and think that this will be a very good asset for me in understanding how best to serve as a festival director. A festival has a wider reach than individual films. We have a clearer role in supporting the industry at large, not only each filmmaker. This is what I am enjoying trying to explore, and trying to achieve.”


SEE NL Magazine #31 May 2018 / Cannes & Annecy 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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