The world premiere of Sunless Shadows (Mehrdad Oskouei) will kick off the 32nd edition of International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). Filmed in a small juvenile detention center, Sunless Shadows steps into the enclosed world of five young Iranian women, all accomplices in the murder of their abusive husbands, fathers, or brothers-in-law. Through breathtaking monologues and whip-smart interactions, the beauty, humor, and tragedy of the characters’ daily lives confirms that a murder story is never simple.
IDFA unveiled the competition lineups for Feature-Length, Mid-Length, and First Appearance films, the IDFA DocLab competitions and Spotlight. 64% of the competition titles are by female filmmakers, with 47% in the total program, marking the highest percentage of female filmmakers in IDFA’s history.
“We are on track,”said IDFA’s artistic director Orwa Nyrabia. “Reaching a fairer representation was much easier than it seemed to be. We only had to keep our goal in mind. The outstanding films that found their way to us this year was a humble reminder that we are in the presence of exceptional female filmmakers.”
The 32nd edition of IDFA will take place November 20 to December 1, 2019.
IDFA Competition for Feature-Length Documentary
IDFA’s flagship competition offers 12 world or international premieres from all over the world, with documentary films that put humanist filmmaking front and center. Several titles reconstruct personal histories through decades of filming: I Walk (Jørgen Leth) offers a personal, fever dream-like story of aging; In a Whisper (Heidi Hassan, Patricia Pérez Fernández) centers on two emigrated Cuban filmmakers whose passion for film, friendship, and freedom reunites them after years apart; Let’s Talk (Marianne Khoury) sees a mother and daughter, both filmmakers, reckon with each other amidst interwoven images from the family’s archive. Docufiction film Europa, “Based on a True Story” (Kivu Ruhorahoza) inverts the neocolonial gaze, offering a UK-based Rwandan filmmaker’s perspective on European life. La Mami (Laura Herrero Garvín) enters the moving world of the Barba Azul Cabaret dressing room, where hired dancers take refuge from patriarchal violence. Pearl of the Desert (Pushpendra Singh) takes the music documentary to new heights with a twelve-year-old Indian singer, the first in his village to spread his people’s spirit abroad.
Europa, “Based on a True Story”
Kivu Ruhorahoza – 2019
A hybrid film by the Rwandan director, who’s making a fiction feature set in London about a mysterious Nigerian man, his mixed-race British lover and the lover’s white husband.
Valentina Pedicini – 2019
The sect members at an Italian monastery are training hard so they can combat evil. It’s all about openness and blind devotion in this intimate look at an isolated existence.
Jørgen Leth – 2019
Filmmaker, sports journalist and poet Jørgen Leth survived an earthquake in Haiti, but since then he has shuffled unsteadily through life. A fascinating personal documentary about dealing with old age.
In a Whisper
Heidi Hassan, Patricia Pérez Fernández – 2019
Best friends Patricia and Heidi lose touch when they both move from Cuba to Europe. Years later, they send each other video letters. A beautifully designed, sensitive and frank account of two lives.
Marianne Khoury – 2019
A mother and daughter film each other in intimate conversation about identity and modern life. These scenes are interwoven with images from the family archive and excerpts from the autobiographical feature films of Youssef Chahine.
Laura Herrero Garvín – 2019
Doña Olga worked for more than 40 years in Mexico City’s nightlife. Now she is “La Mami,” the caretaker of the women’s restroom at the Barba Azul Cabaret—a safe haven remaining in a nocturnal world that’s being transformed.
Mother and Son
Hilal Baydarov – 2019
In rural Azerbaijan, a mother welcomes her adult son, who left home eight years earlier. In the calm rhythm of rural life, reflective silences punctuate their personal, philosophical conversations.
Pearl of the Desert
Pushpendra Singh – 2019
Twelve-year-old Moti grew up with the musical tradition of his Manganiar caste. He becomes the hero of his Indian village when he gets cast in a musical and goes on a world tour. For the talented singer, it’s part of a journey to find where he belongs.
Maasja Ooms – 2019
An intimate and sincere portrait of problem teenagers who are placed under temporary supervision. The challenging conversations with a counselor are meant to lead to a better life, but their past won’t leave them alone.
The Sea Between Us
Marlene Edoyan – 2019
Filmmaker Marlene Edoyan follows two women with strong views who grew up on different sides of the same civil war, thus painting an insightful portrait of Beirut: a divided city in an explosive region, balanced in a precarious peace.
Seung-Jun Yi – 2019
Ryun-hee Kim is North Korean, but she has been living in South Korea since 2011—against her will. Returning to South Korea’s northern enemy proves extremely difficult. An unsettling tale that turns our ideas about North and South Korea on their head.
Mehrdad Oskouei – 2019
A picture of life in an Iranian juvenile detention center, where a group of adolescent girls serve their sentence for murdering a male member of their family. Alone with the camera, they reveal their thoughts, feelings and doubts.
IDFA Competition for First Appearance
The competition for debut feature films includes 12 titles, all world or international premieres, from engaged filmmakers with a remarkable creative vision. Pure cinematic energy abounds in Froth (Ilia Povolotskiy), a portrait of a tiny, idiosyncratic community in an abandoned Russian town. Barzakh (Alejandro Salgado), by the filmmaker known from the IDFA 2016 Mid-Length competition, explores the endless limbo of young Moroccan boys waiting to cross the water to Spain. Highly stylized concept films include My Darling Supermarket (Tali Yankelevich), which peeks inside the dreams and dilemmas of supermarket employees in Brazil, and Speak So I Can See You (Marija Stojnić), a poetic film on the daily life of Radio Belgrade, one of Europe’s oldest radio stations, as we witness its inevitable modernization. Aswang (Alyx Ayn Arumpac) gives a shocking account of the unprecedented violence and the moral bankruptcy in Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war.
Alyx Ayn Arumpac – 2019
Since President Duterte took office, the Philippine police have killed tens of thousands of drug addicts. The experiences of a journalist, a coroner, a missionary brother and a street kid show the despair and fear caused by lawless violence.
Alejandro Salgado – 2019
Hidden among the rocks and caves along the coastline of Melilla, a group of boys hope to make the crossing to Europe. The prospect of a better life is worth the endless waiting.
Ilya Povolotsky – 2019
A stylishly filmed portrait of a small, idiosyncratic community at the edge of the world. Whether stoical, rebellious or humble, the Russian protagonists determinedly chart their own course.
I Love You I Miss You I Hope I See You Before I Die
Eva Marie Rødbro – 2019
A harsh and dreamy story of a young girl and her longing heart, set in the American West. Through Betty we experience a tight family clan where love and dependency go hand in hand.
I Owe You a Letter About Brazil
Carol Benjamin – 2019
Filmmaker Carol Benjamin’s father spent years in jail during the Brazilian military dictatorship. It drove her grandmother to become a human rights activist. What scars has this era left on their family and country, and why is nobody talking about it?
Lessons of Love
Małgorzata Goliszewska, Katarzyna Mateja – 2019
Free-spirited Jola, after escaping from an abusive marriage finds herself thrust into a new romance at a latino dancing class. Will she embrace love for the first time in her life at the age of 69?
My Darling Supermarket
Tali Yankelevich – 2019
Between repetitive actions such as stocking shelves and scanning groceries, anonymous Brazilian supermarket employees reflect frankly on their lives, society, and the role they dream of playing in it.
Meng Han – 2019
Langfang is one of the most air-polluted cities. There, the interests of the local environmental protection bureau, which is under political pressure, clash with those of industry. A case study on China’s fight against pollution.
Lucy Parker – 2019
Investigations and interviews reveal shocking practices in the British construction industry, which for years kept a secret blacklist of workers who complained about working conditions. Multiple voices bear witness to an ongoing struggle for justice.
Speak So I Can See You
Marija Stojnić – 2019
The beauty of radio is the subject of this observational and abstract experimental film. The story follows Radio Belgrade, one of Europe’s oldest radio stations, as we witness its inevitable modernization.
Simón Uribe Martínez – 2019
Builders, rescue workers, engineers and curious day trippers each have their own view of the absurdity of a deadly road and an unfinished bridge in the jungle. The local community is paying the price for political arrogance.
Nino Orjonikidze, Vano Arsenishvili – 2019
As part of the Belt and Road Initiative, a new high-speed train from China is going to pass right through a tiny Georgian mountain village. Farmers see their fields crumbling as Chinese workers drill a tunnel. A surrealist parable about a changing world order.
IDFA Competition for Mid-Length Documentary
With 13 world premieres, the Mid-Length competition offers a constellation of diverse cinematic styles, defying expectations of the mid-length documentary format. Families navigate inner and outer turmoil in Sonny (Pawel Chorzepa), a gripping and visually stunning father-son drama, and Anticlockwise (Jalal Vafaee), a candid self-portrait of a political watchmaker’s family in Iran. Cutting-edge forensics meets investigative documentary in #387 (Madeleine Leroyer), on the search for the identities of at least 800 drowned refugees off the Libyan coast. The Whale from Lorino (Maciej Cuske), with a remote Siberian community that hunts endangered whales, subverts the anthropological genre while North (Leslie Lagier) shifts from panoramic views and archival footage to contemporary Indigenous perspectives on the abandoned mines of northern Canada. Mother-child (Andrea Testa) goes inside hospital walls where pregnant teens must make the decision of a lifetime through frank conversations before the camera.
Madeleine Leroyer – 2019
A compelling and empathetic investigative documentary about the passengers of a ship that sank off the Libyan coast during the 2015 refugee crisis. Through a variety of methods, researchers try to discover the identity of the victims.
Jalal Vafaee – 2019
A candid self-portrait of a politically engaged Iranian family, showing how drastically their world has changed. The father was once on the side of the Islamic revolution, but has since become a reformist.
Ira A. Goryainova – 2019
An intimate essay on the human body, disease and health. Departing from personal experience, filmmaker Ira A. Goryainova explores how we have looked at ourselves and our illnesses over the centuries.
Marina Meijer – 2019
A center in Rotterdam helps young men from problematic backgrounds to build a future. Hardened by the past, they struggle to find their way. Intense dialogues in close-up.
Elina Talvensaari – 2019
Filmmaker Elina Talvensaari tries to bring the previous occupant of her home back to life through the possessions she left behind after her lonely death. A fond tribute to an unknown woman who gradually becomes a treasured friend.
A Long Breath
Remi Itani – 2019
In a poor neighborhood of Tripoli, Lebanon, Ibrahim struggles with unemployment, the daily threat of war and his own demons. As an expectant father, he dreams of a devout Muslim life, but the appeal of pills, alcohol and gambling is strong.
Antón Terni – 2019
Moments in the lives of three blind friends from Uruguay, documented with warmth and humor. They go hiking, camping, swim in the sea and attend rock concerts, all with casual confidence and joie de vivre.
Andrea Testa – 2019
In the privacy of treatment rooms at an Argentine public hospital, teenage girls have to make a decision about the new life growing inside them. Conversations with the professionals caring for them reveal complex lives and fragile dreams of the future.
Leslie Lagier – 2019
A beautifully styled portrait of the Yukon in Canada’s far northwest. Once, people came here to find freedom and fortune, but years of intensive mining have inflicted immeasurable damage on the landscape.
The Season When Velvet Antlers Get Ripe
Galina Leontieva – 2019
In the Russian Altai Mountains, reindeer herders earn their living from the trade in antlers. Korean customers swear by their medicinal properties. Meanwhile, the herders complain that they lead a life of “slavery” in a declining economy.
Pawel Chorzepa – 2019
In this gripping family drama, 18-year-old Marcin, who’s been living in orphanages since the age of 12, returns to his alcoholic father. He feels caught between love and repulsion for a man who is incapable of being a decent dad.
The Whale from Lorino
Maciej Cuske – 2019
A keenly observed portrait of the remote town of Lorino, in the far northeast of Siberia. Endangered whales are still hunted here, due to tradition but mainly out of bitter necessity.
You Think The Earth Is a Dead Thing
Florence Lazar – 2019
The use of pesticides on banana plantations on the Caribbean island of Martinique has polluted large areas of land. Local people counter this toxic crisis by implementing new ways of land use, rooted in traditional local knowledge.
IDFA DocLab Competition for Digital Storytelling
The Digital Storytelling competition reveals 10 beautiful interactive stories and unexpected artistic applications for digital devices, including installations, games, 360 video, web docs, and more. Known from IDFA DocLab 2017, Tabita Rezaire returns with Mamelles Ancestrales, a cosmic video installation that fuses net art and West African spiritualism. 360 VR film The Inhabited House (Diego Kompel) lovingly reconstructs the house of the filmmaker’s grandparents from personal home videos. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Far Away From Far Away (Bruce Alcock, Jeremy Mendes) brings the story of one social entrepreneur to the smartphone. Puzzle-like web documentary Missing (Kylie Boltin, Matt Smith) invites users to help solve the case of a missing Aboriginal girl, whereas A.I. installation In Event of Moon Disaster (Francesca Panetta, Halsey Burgund) reveals Richard Nixon’s secret plan if the moon landing had failed.
IDFA DocLab Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction
The definitions of documentary are challenged in the Immersive Non-Fiction competition, with 10 site-specific projects such as audiowalks, live performances, room-scale mixed reality installations, and A.I. productions. Ali Eslami returns to DocLab with Nerd_Funk, a post-body virtual identity who draws from our collective online archives, co-created with Mamali Shafahi. From Vincent Morisset, DocLab selects Vast Body 22, an installation that sees, understands, and mirrors users’ movements. Room-scale VR piece Rozsypne (Nienke Huitenga-Broeren, Lisa Weeda) offers a vivid personal exploration of the MH17 crash. Only Expansion (Duncan Speakman), an audiowalk that live remixes the surrounding sounds of the city, transports users to the future climate.
IDFA DocLab Spotlight
Comprised of 16 titles, the non-competitive DocLab section offers a selection of documentary art across disciplines by masters and new talents, as well as special research projects. Highly anticipated titles include Artificial: Room One from theater collective Ontroerend Goed, co-commissioned by IDFA DocLab and the National Theatre Immersive Storytelling Studio; three notable Forensic Architecture installations presented in conjunction with the It Still Hurts focus program; Ayahuasca – The Shamanic exhibition presented with Eye and Diversion; and a series of immersive works presented with ARTIS-Planetarium and the Berliner Festspiele.