International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)

If you’re like me, you probably see a lot of movies. In the theater, streaming online, on DVD and Blu-ray (what’s that?), I can’t get enough. I love action, adventure, romance, horror, but my favorite genre is documentary. As they say, life is stranger than fiction, and it’s often the documentary, with its attempt to capture real-life drama, that carries the most emotional impact for me. And in today’s strange, confusing, and yet still hauntingly beautiful world, it’s the documentary that delivers the best thrills in the movie theater. That’s why I’m so excited about IDFA.

IDFA, or the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, now in its 31st year, will be running November 14th through to the 25th. With over 300 films on the program at 14 locations around Amsterdam, not to mention a slew of filmmaker talks, industry meet and greets, and special programs, there will be plenty to keep you busy.

 

Kabul, City in the Wind

The festival opens in Koninklijk Theater Carré with Kabul, City in the Wind by Aboozar Amini. The film is a sobering, intimate and warm account of daily life in Kabul during the silent intervals between suicide bombings. The bombings that occurred define life for the film’s characters; a father who works as a bus driver, and two young boys whose policeman father is away due to murder threats. IDFA Artistic Director, Orwa Nyrabia said: “Amini introduces himself as an original uncompromising artist of film, he absorbed the work of Abbas Kiarostami and made it his very own.”

 

Minding the Gap / Docs Around the Clock

Besides the films, all of which sound awesome, and which I’ll be highlighting in a minute, I’m really excited about two specific programs that sound like amazing experiences in their own right. First up is the IDFA x FC Hyena x Skatepark NOORD screening of the film Minding the Gap (Nov. 17, 21:00-1:08, Skatepark Noord). This skate documentary is about a group of skateboarders in Rockford, Illinois, and the program will take place at an actual skate park and includes an after party. The second experiential program I’m really excited about is Docs Around the Clock (Nov. 23, 21:00-9:00, Pathe Tuschinski), a documentary marathon featuring the highest rated films for the IDFA Audience Award, and includes breakfast for the diehards who stay all night.

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Feature-length documentaries

If you’re not interested in gimmicky (but fun) programs, there are of course the individual films. In the feature documentary category, I’m really excited about Up the Mountain, in which Artist Shen Jianhua gives drawing lessons in a remote mountain village, shown in stunning compositions and colors—every frame is a painting. Junha’s Planet, a tender and beautifully observed portrait of Junha, a sullen boy whose classmates avoid him because he might spit or throw punches at them without warning, and Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life, an intimate portrait of a gay porn star, who tries to escape the demons of his boyhood through extreme sex, hard drugs and superficial attention – talk about drama!

These three feature-length documentaries, along with nine more, are in competition for the festival’s top award, which in turn automatically becomes an entry for the Best Foreign Feature Documentary Oscar.

 

Extensive program

There is so much to see and do at IDFA, that one measly article could never do it justice. There are 47 Dutch-produced documentaries, dozens of medium and short-length documentaries, student documentaries, films for young audiences (even kids love docs!), interactive films and projects (using VR, AR, and other fun tech acronyms), and much more.

To find the best way to navigate the festival, and choose an experience that will be unique to your tastes and sensibilities, I recommend visiting the IDFA Program and either choosing films competing for awards or listing the films from A to Z and filtering by subject, country of production, or whether the movie is a premiere. At €11 (€8.50 for students) per screening (or buy the discount pass for €12.50 to make all ticket prices €8.50), the festival is a bargain for filmgoers of all types. I’ll be there watching a mix of features and shorts, some about lighter subjects and some that will definitely break my heart, and maybe I’ll see you at breakfast after a night of audience favorites!

IDFA | Nov. 14-25 | Amsterdam

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