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Nature directed by Artavazd Pelechian
Nature directed by Artavazd Pelechian

International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA) announced the first films selected for its 34th edition: the Top 10 program curated by Guest of Honor Hito Steyerl, and a four-title program with the films of Artavazd Pelechian. Both directors will be in attendance at IDFA 2021, which runs November 17 to 28 in Amsterdam.

Hito Steyerl’s Top 10

With her curated Top 10 program, which in fact consists of fourteen titles, the multi-hyphenate filmmaker, media artist, and writer Hito Steyerl offers a window into her kaleidoscopic world of film and media art. Key to apprehending her own seismic body of work, Steyerl’s selection presents a lineup of dissident filmmakers who, each in their own way, have radically shaped the art of political documentary cinema.

Selected films include Videograms of a Revolution, the cult masterpiece by Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica, in a nod to Steyerl’s long-held admiration of Farocki, who she has written about, exhibited with, and studied under at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. Unearthing hidden stories of Japanese activism, the rare Yama: Attack to Attack will be screened on 16 mm, charting the consecutive assassination of the film’s directors, Mitsuo Sato and Kyoichi Yamaoka, as they document the conditions of local workers.

Germane to Steyerl’s own artistic methodology, several titles reimagine notions of truth and fiction, as seen in Stories of Destroyed Cities by the Rojava Film Commune, which sensitively illuminates the Kurdish cause—a returning subject in Steyerl’s writings. The fluidity of the real is again reimagined in Kenedi Goes Back Home, one of two selected films by Yugoslav Black Wave icon Želimir Žilnik, as well as in Peter Watkins’ acclaimed epic La Commune (Paris, 1871), remastered for cinema release under Watkins’ supervision.

Dissident filmmaking takes the form of avant-garde feminist art with titles such as Barbara Hammer’s Nitrate Kisses and Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen. Still elsewhere in the selection, Steyerl presents a mainstay of documentary journalism with Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning Edward Snowden film Citizenfour.

In accompaniment of her Top 10, IDFA will present an extensive Filmmaker Talk with Steyerl in Amsterdam’s historic Tuschinski 1 cinema, named by Time Out as the most beautiful cinema in the world. During the festival, the Guest of Honor will also moderate a special panel discussion with several filmmakers from her selection.

Black Film

  • Želimir Žilnik
  • 1971

What should filmmaker Želimir Žilnik do with the six homeless people he has temporarily housed in his own flat? He makes this worryingly topical problem the subject of this 1971 film.

Citizenfour

  • Laura Poitras
  • 2014

A real-time documentary thriller about the large-scale illegal surveillance practices of the NSA, disclosed in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden through filmmaker Laura Poitras and Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald.

La Commune (Paris, 1871)

  • Peter Watkins
  • 2000

A compelling and purposely anachronistic documentary reconstruction of the events that led to the Paris Commune. TV interviews and reports track how a people’s revolution flared up, only to be extinguished with blood.

Handsworth Songs

  • John Akomfrah
  • 1986

This hard-hitting, critical and poetic film essay places the UK race riots of the 1980s into a broader perspective, exploring the optimism and dashed hopes of Black immigrants.

Kenedi Goes Back Home

  • Želimir Žilnik
  • 2003

When he is deported back to Serbia, Kenedi, a young Serbian Roma man, starts a taxi service from Belgrade airport. His passengers are people like himself, who also have to find a new home.

Letter to a Refusing Pilot

  • Akram Zaatari
  • 2013

Archive footage, a Lebanese school class, and paper airplanes reminiscent of fighter jets. All this and more in a layered experimental work, inspired by an Israeli pilot who refused to bomb a school.

The Memory of Justice

  • Marcel Ophüls
  • 1975

In this monumental document, Marcel Ophüls examines the question of guilt relating to war crimes. Is morality universally applicable? And what is the relationship between collective and individual guilt?

Nitrate Kisses

  • Barbara Hammer
  • 1992

That which is kept, named, and shown is what matters. A dazzling historical essay by the pioneer of lesbian experimental cinema Barbara Hammer, about hidden visual histories and the importance of being seen.

On Three Posters

  • Rabih Mroué
  • 2004

An analysis of three video takes in which Jamal Salti, a resistance fighter against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon (1982 – 2000), rehearsed his video testimony, shortly before committing a suicide operation in 1985.

The Pixelated Revolution

  • Rabih Mroué
  • 2012

Rabih Mroué reframes and re-contextualizes a selection of found videos of clashes and confrontations, shot and posted on the internet by Syrian insurgents, highlighting the fragility of the human body and popular technology in the reality of war.

Semiotics of the Kitchen

  • Martha Rosler
  • 1975

A woman at a kitchen counter, Martha Rosler guides us through the kitchen from A to Z, giving a whole new layer of meaning to frying pans, measuring spoons, and an ice pick. Feminist video art as a parody of cooking shows.

Stories of Destroyed Cities

  • Sêro Hindê
  • 2016

Reality and fiction blend in stories of the destruction and reconstruction of three cities in the autonomous region of Rojava in Syria, recaptured by Kurdish fighters from IS. Will things ever be the way they were before?

Videograms of a Revolution

  • Harun Farocki, Andrei Ujica
  • 1992

How does a revolution come into being? From a meticulous analysis of amateur videos and Romanian state television footage, a reconstruction of the events leading up to Ceausescu’s removal and execution is distilled.

Yama: Attack to Attack

  • Mitsuo Sato, Kyoichi Yamaoka
  • 1985

Day laborers in Tokyo rise up against the Japanese mafia and local politicians in protest of their miserable working conditions. Just three copies exist of this activist film, which cost both directors their lives.

Artavazd Pelechian

Nearly thirty years after the release of his last film, IDFA presents the European premiere of Nature by the great Armenian director Artavazd Pelechian. A tour de force, the 64-minute triumph offers a monumental cinematic experience, returning to Pelechian’s characteristic fascination with human fragility in the face of nature’s titanic glory—this time through a swirling composition of found footage natural disasters.

Showing in Tuschinski 1, the European premiere will be the first screening of the film that Pelechian himself attends, with Andrei Ujica, Pelechian’s long-time collaborator and producer of Nature, also in attendance alongside other special guests.

On the occasion of his new film, IDFA will award Pelechian with the Lifetime Achievement Award and screen three treasures from his oeuvre, introducing a new generation to his unparalleled work. One of the auteur’s earliest films, We rousingly honors the people of Armenia and their tumultuous history, marking the birth of the filmmaker’s signature distance montage technique. In Seasons of the Year, the director orchestrates a magnificent yet bittersweet symphony of human existence centering on an isolated community in the remote Armenian mountaintops. Finally, in Our Century, Pelechian turns to the 20th century space race of the U.S. and U.S.S.R., capturing the terrific nature of humanity crossing a cosmic threshold.

Nature

  • Artavazd Pelechian
  • 2020

Artavazd Pelechian delivers an urgent work rooted in his own unique film idiom, using found footage sequences of volcanic eruptions, floods, and windstorms to shake us from the illusion that humanity can control nature.

Our Century

  • Artavazd Pelechian
  • 1990

The 20th century, characterized by a relentless race to go ever higher, further, and faster. Our compulsion for technological achievement is condensed into a stunning anthology of humankind’s rises and falls.

Seasons of the Year

  • Artavazd Pelechian
  • 1975

A reclusive community in the Armenian Highlands demonstrates the pure art of survival over the course of the four seasons. A stunningly beautiful, bittersweet symphony of human existence.

We

  • Artavazd Pelechian
  • 1969

The breathing of Armenia is captured in a vibrant piece of cinema. Everything—religion, industry, nature, people—is connected in a cycle of creative and destructive forces.

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