The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), which touts itself as the world’s biggest film festival dedicated to documentaries, is returning for its 36th edition next week with a line-up of over 250 titles spanning a diversity of perspectives. Over the course of 12 days, the festival’s programs will feature various film selections expanding the genre of documentary as well as honor the pioneering artists that helped bring the art form to where it is today.
Running from November 8 to 19, IDFA opens with A Picture to Remember (2023), directed by Ukrainian filmmaker Olga Chernykh. An examination of Russia’s war on Ukraine through the viewpoints of the director herself, her mother, and her grandmother, the film employs home video, personal audio recordings, and news archives to construct an intimate yet complex understanding of the ongoing violence in Ukraine and its impact on the country’s history. The film will compete against 11 other films in the festival’s Envision Competition, which also features Yaser Kassab’s Chasing the Dazzling Light (2023) — a film made across a distance with Kassab’s absent father through phone conversations and video calls — as well as Thunska Pansittivorakul’s Damnatio Memoriae (2023), a murderous portrait of human history stitched together with fragmented news and propaganda footage, animation, and other video clips.
In the festival’s International Competition, a lineup of 11 contemporary films will explore issues of conflict and personal turmoil. Examples include Basque filmmaker Juan Palacios’s As the Tide Comes In (2023), which looks at climate change from the perspectives of 27 residents living on the Danish Wadden Sea island of Mandø, and The Clinic (2023), a project directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Midi Z that casts a light on the personal lives, work, and artistry of a Burmese doctor couple.
Other highlighted programs at this year’s IDFA will include the Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction, featuring 13 titles expanding documentary film through interactive mediums including virtual reality and live performance; as well as the Competition for Digital Storytelling and the non-competitive DocLab Spotlight, which both feature projects that utilize new technologies such as gaming, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence.
With a specific focus on LGBTQ+ storytelling, the IDFA has curated a selection of various international films that expand the queer canon in film history through works like Tonny Trimarsanto’s Under the Moonlight (2023), which visits the now-defunct boarding school Al Fatah where the entire adult student body is transgender, and Simisolaoluwa Akande’s 25-minute experimental film “The Archive: Queer Nigerians” (2023).
The IDFA will additionally spotlight multiple individual filmmakers such as Chinese artist Wang Bing, who was selected as this year’s guest of honor to curate a selection of 10 Chinese cinematic works made from 1999 and after. In tribute to Wang Bing’s contributions to documentary film, the festival will present a six-title retrospective of the artist’s works made from 2002 to the present day. As the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, nonconformist British filmmaker Peter Greenaway will be another artist commemorated at this year’s festival with screenings of five of his films, including The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) and Rembrandt’s J’Accuse (2008).
During the IDFA festival, Amsterdam’s Eye Filmmuseum will pay tribute to American artist Garrett Bradley, the winner of this year’s Eye Art & Film Prize for her contributions to cinema. Known for works like America (2019) and Below Dreams (2014), Bradley will receive €30,000 (~$31,878) as well as an exhibition at the film institution.
Following the presentation of Bradley’s award on November 10, the film museum will host a question-and-answer session with the artist as well as a screening of her Oscar-nominated documentary Time (2020). The work follows Sibil Fox Richardson, who has spent decades fighting for her husband Rob’s release from prison after the couple participated in an armed robbery in the early ’90s.
For more information about the Eye Art & Film Prize and the IDFA, audiences can visit the events’ websites.