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Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege directed by Abdallah Al Khatib
Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege directed by Abdallah Al Khatib

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) added 65 new documentary films to its festival lineup today, rolling out the non-competitive program sections Best of Fests, Masters, and Paradocs. The 34th edition of IDFA takes place from November 17 to 28 in Amsterdam.

The 46-film-strong Best of Fests selection includes highlights such as the quietly earth-shattering A Night of Knowing Nothing by Payal Kapadia, winner of the Golden Eye Award at Cannes, and The Velvet Queen, the lush, never-before-seen wildlife film by debut director Marie Amiguet.

Transcendent masterpieces such as Users, the mesmerizing exploration of humanity’s future by Natalia Almada, and Taming the Garden, the exquisite slow-cinema feature by Salomé Jashi, find a home in this year’s selection as do buzzy audience films such as Alison Klayman’s Alanis Morissette biopic Jagged and Bing Liu and Joshua Altman’s All These Sons, from the filmmaking team behind Minding the Gap.

The program section also pays tribute to the surprise gems from the festival circuit, including underdog award-winners The Silence of the Mole by Anaïs Taracena and Looking for Horses by Stefan Pavlović.

The Masters program selects 16 must-see titles from some of the leading filmmakers of our time. Several entries speak to the growing crossover between filmmakers working in both the fiction and documentary worlds, as seen in Andrea Arnold’s incredible bovine experience Cow and Karim Aïnouz’s Mariner of the Mountains, charting the director’s first trip to his father’s homeland, among other titles.

The Masters selection also presents new work by long-established documentary auteurs. World premieres include Helena Třeštíková’s René – The Prisoner of Freedom, the follow-up to her 2008 masterpiece on the titular protagonist; Mai Masri’s Beirut: Eye of the Storm, in which four young women document the recent uprising and lockdown in Beirut, leading up to the devastating port explosion; and Laila Pakalnina’s Homes, an ode to people, their houses, and making films that is rich with gently surrealistic tableaux vivants.

Sergei Loznitsa is back with Babi Yar. Context, exposing a blind spot in our cultural memory of World War II, while Futura brings together Italian masters Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi, and Alice Rohrwacher in a feat of collective filmmaking—a testament to the fact that cinematic mastery need not be individual.

The non-competitive Paradocs program returns with eight films that push the limits of the documentary form, showcasing some of the year’s best experimental documentary art.

Notable titles include Just a Movement by renowned artist Vincent Meessen, a stunning, complex portrait of Omar Blondin Diop, the Senegalese artist, freedom fighter, and Jean-Luc Godard actor. In The Belly of the Mountain, the abstract essay film from cross-disciplinary artist Stephen Loye, a deliberate plane crash in the alps gives way to an impressionistic journey into a place, its surrounding community, and the filmmaker’s own position. Shengze Zhu’s beautifully shot A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces explores the pandemic situation in Wuhan, subverting all expectations to deliver an atmospheric impression of a city, looking where others do not look.

Best of Fests

1970

  • Tomasz Wolski
  • 2021

Not the rebels, but the rulers are the “heroes” of this story about the Polish protests of 1970. Stop-motion animation and archive recordings of telephone conversations bring the machinations of the Communist crisis team to life.

All Light, Everywhere

  • Theo Anthony
  • 2021

Blending styles and different points of view, this cinematic essay explores the shared histories of image technology, weapons, and policing—from the earliest photos and pigeons fitted with cameras to modern combat drones and bodycams.

All These Sons

  • Bing Liu, Joshua Altman
  • 2021

On Chicago’s South and West sides, gun violence is destroying countless lives. Two men dedicate their lives educating, empowering and healing young Black men at high risk of becoming victims—or perpetrators—of shootings.

Anamnesis

  • Chris Wright, Stefan Kolbe
  • 2021

An original portrait of a murderer during his last year in jail. The film confronts us with questions about the impact of our past and whether there is such a thing as “the truth.”

As I Want

  • Samaher Alqadi
  • 2021

In January 2013, two years after the popular revolt on Tahrir Square, an explosion of sexual violence prompts rage and protests. What does it mean to be a woman in Egypt today? Filmmaker Samaher Alqadi exposes the ubiquitous sexism.

Constrain

  • Antoine Fontaine, Galdric Fleury
  • 2020

An experimental, politically charged animated film in which a voiceover confronts us with the restraints imposed on us on the basis of physical characteristics, nationality, and social conditions.

Courage

  • Aliaksei Paluyan
  • 2021

Despite mass protests, in August 2020 Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner of the Belarus presidential election. A portrait of the courage of the protesters, as seen through the eyes of three perceptive theater practitioners.

Delphine’s Prayers

  • Rosine Mbakam
  • 2021

Delphine, now 30, tells the story of her life, which has been marked by sexual violence, starting when she was raped at the age of 13 and became pregnant. Intense and impressive testimony from a Cameroonian woman living in Belgium.

Les Enfants terribles

  • Ahmet Necdet Çupur
  • 2021

An intimate and gripping account of fierce generational conflict in a Turkish village. The filmmaker’s young sister Zeynep is struggling with her parents and their traditional values. The film won the Special Jury Award at Visions du Réel.

F@ck This Job

  • Vera Krichevskaya
  • 2021

In 2008, the Russian socialite Natasha Sindeeva embarked on an adventure with her well-to-do husband: she set up an independent TV channel. The Russian government proves to be less than pleased about this, and Natasha begins a long, exhausting battle.

Flee

  • Jonas Poher Rasmussen
  • 2021

The story of Amin, a gay man who fled Afghanistan in the 1980s, is told mostly in animation. Flee shows the unforgiving environment in which he lived, and the scars that remain from living as a second-class citizen.

Galb’Echaouf

  • Abdessamad El Montassir
  • 2021

A tragedy took place on a sandy plain scattered with ruins. The people who experienced it don’t want to talk about it. They are as silent as the cacti and the stones—the eternal, mute witnesses to what occurred.

The Gig Is Up

  • Shannon Walsh
  • 2021

A wide-ranging documentary about the gig economy, focusing on several self-employed people working for online platforms. Experts analyze how this system works. Have the limits been reached or breached?

How to Kill a Cloud

  • Tuija Halttunen
  • 2021

Finnish scientist Hannele Korhonen has received a research grant from the United Arab Emirates to develop a way to make it rain in the desert. But all her time is being swallowed up by presentations, conferences, and political agendas.

I’m So Sorry

  • Zhao Liang
  • 2021

A prophetic panorama of nuclear power, with unexpectedly poetic moments. Moving encounters with returned residents offer a human counterweight to the silent threat of nuclear disaster areas.

In Flow of Words

  • Eliane Esther Bots
  • 2021

What does translating gruesome court testimony do to you? Three interpreters at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague discuss the disconnect between professionalism and the intense emotion generated by their work.

Jagged

  • Alison Klayman
  • 2021

Alanis Morissette’s album Jagged Little Pill hit the charts in 1995 like a primal scream. Morissette looks back on her career in the music industry, the questionable men she encountered, and the battle she fought to forge her own path.

Kalsubai

  • Yudhajit Basu
  • 2020

A visual poem on the legend of the Indian goddess Kalsu. Her story resonates in the contemporary lives of the women who live at the foot of Mount Kalsubai and still sing to her in the night.

Last Days at Sea

  • Venice Atienza
  • 2021

Reyboy’s world in the Philippine fishing village Karihatag is one of water, rocks, and sky. This film is an attempt to capture the beauty of his childhood. Just one more summer, and then he leaves for the city, and high school.

The Last Shelter

  • Ousmane Samassekou
  • 2021

At the southern edge of the Sahara, two brave teenage girls from Burkina Faso arrive at a stopping place for migrants on their way to Europe. Their dreams clash with the shocking stories of those who went before them and failed.

Listening to Kenny G

  • Penny Lane
  • 2021

Is he a musical mastermind or a soulless money machine? Opinions on Kenny G are sharply polarized. Both sides are represented, but the lovable artist himself is placed center stage. He’s charming, driven, and not averse to a bit of self-deprecating humor.

Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege

  • Abdallah Al Khatib
  • 2021

This insider’s report shows how a Palestinian refugee camp in a district of Damascus withstands Assad’s siege. As well as hunger and stampedes for scarce aid packages, there is pride, singing, and children’s dreams.

Looking for Horses

  • Stefan Pavlovic
  • 2021

In this personal experiment in film, Stefan Pavlović uses his camera to bridge the gaps between language, hearing, and verbal communication. A stutterer seeking connection, he befriends a deaf and nearly blind hermit in Bosnia.

Love, Dad

  • Diana Cam Van Nguyen
  • 2021

The discovery of letters written 15 years ago prompts Diana to renew contact with her absent father. Memory, recrimination, and yearning intertwine in this hybrid blend of animation and archive photography.

May God Be With You

  • Cléo Cohen
  • 2021

As the granddaughter of Jewish Arabs from Tunisia and Algeria, filmmaker Cléo Cohen is on a quest for her own identity. She looks to her grandparents for answers in this intimate and personal debut film.

Mr. Bachmann and His Class

  • Maria Speth
  • 2021

A monumental portrait of a teacher whose students learn far more than the standard curriculum: the capacity for self-reflection, self-confidence, and a shaky but heartwarming rendition of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

A Night of Knowing Nothing

  • Payal Kapadia
  • 2021

An Indian film student writes letters to her forbidden lover. Her pain, dreams, and observations about the changing political climate reflect those of many of her fellow students. Fact and fiction intertwine in this Cannes award-winning film.

Nũhũ Yãg Mũ Yõg Hãm: This Land Is Our Land!

  • Isael Maxakali, Sueli Maxakali, Carolina Canguçu, Roberto Romero
  • 2020

A personal, first-hand account of the struggle of the Maxakali, a small group of indigenous people in Brazil. Although driven from their land, they keep the stories of their ancestors alive.

Ob Scene

  • Paloma Orlandini Castro
  • 2021

Film student Paloma Orlandini Castro revisits the images and words that tell the history of her sexual awakening. Making her own pornographic drawings opens up space for experimentation and ambiguity.

On the Other Side

  • Iván Guarnizo
  • 2021

How to bridge the gap between perpetrator and victim? Filmmaker Iván Guarnizo attempts to do just that in this harrowing reconstruction of his mother’s kidnapping by the Colombian guerrilla movement FARC.

Our Memory Belongs to Us

  • Rami Farah
  • 2021

Nearly 10 years after the start of the Syrian revolution, three Syrian citizen journalists come together at a theatre in Paris. There they are confronted with their own videos from this period, bringing suppressed memories to the surface.

Raising a School Shooter

  • Frida Barkfors, Lasse Barkfors
  • 2021

Three parents of school shooters speak candidly and movingly about their lives after the horrific and incomprehensible act of their child. How do you say sorry to the parents of dead classmates?

Reconciliation

  • Marija Zidar
  • 2021

An 18-year-old girl is shot dead in the remote highlands of Albania, the victim of a bitter family feud. Her grieving father is pressured from different sides to break the cycle of violence.

Revolution of Our Times

  • Kiwi Chow
  • 2021

An in-depth visual reportage on mass protests escalating in Hong Kong. The increasingly embittered battle brings heartbreak and despair, but also a powerful sense of fellowship among everyone from teens to seniors.

Searchers

  • Pacho Velez
  • 2021

Heartfelt, poignant, and humorous stories from single New Yorkers aged 20 to 90. We watch as they arrange dates online but struggle to answer the big questions like “What is love?” and “What am I actually looking for?”

Semiotic Plastic

  • Radu Jude
  • 2021

Human existence imitated by plastic toys. Striking and witty, but often also rather sinister tableaux vivants lead us from birth to death, with every recognizable banality of human life along the way.

The Silence of the Mole

  • Anaïs Taracena
  • 2021

A carefully composed portrait of the journalist Elías Barahona, also known as “the Mole.” In the mid-1970s, he risked his life by infiltrating the repressive regime running Guatemala and succeeded in saving many lives.

Taming the Garden

  • Salomé Jashi
  • 2021

Dozens of rare and ancient trees are transported across Georgia, destined for the private botanical garden of the country’s former prime minister. In absurd scenes, we see an operation that takes away the soul and oxygen from a powerless population.

Three Minutes – A Lengthening

  • Bianca Stigter
  • 2021

In found vacation footage from 1938, the Jewish residents of a Polish village wave cheerfully at the camera. Who were they? Bianca Stigter’s quest for answers postpones their inevitable fate, creating a cinematic Holocaust memorial.

Trenches

  • Loup Bureau
  • 2021

Film debut of war journalist Loup Bureau, who in aesthetic black-and-white perfectly captures how young Ukrainian soldiers experience the war in the Donbas region. Sometimes there’s gunfire, but there’s also downtime, resignation, and domesticity.

Users

  • Natalia Almada
  • 2021

When machines can do everything better than we can, will our children love their perfect devices more than their imperfect parents? This visual essay, winner of the U.S. Documentary Directing Award at Sundance, poses exciting, topical questions.

The Velvet Queen

  • Marie Amiguet
  • 2021

In the harsh landscape of the Tibetan Highlands, two adventurers go in search of the rare snow leopard. A moving film about a breathtakingly magnificent wilderness, the animals that live in it, and humanity’s lowly position in this hierarchy.

We

  • Alice Diop
  • 2021

Alice Diop stops at stations along the RER B train route and meets a car mechanic, a district nurse, a writer, and a band of hunters. All these slices of life ultimately form a compelling whole—creating a possible ‘we’.

When a Farm Goes Aflame

  • Jide Tom Akinleminu
  • 2021

A failed marriage, a return migration from Nigeria to Denmark, a husband with two families on two continents. Home videos, letter excerpts, and interviews tell the layered story of filmmaker Jide Tom Akinleminu’s mother.

Writing with Fire

  • Sushmit Ghosh, Rintu Thomas
  • 2021

In Uttar Pradesh, a local newspaper is run by women from the lowest caste, the Dalits—a unique situation in conservative India. Armed with courage, perseverance, and smartphones, they report on thorny issues.

Zinder

  • Aicha Macky
  • 2021

Returning to her home city of Zinder in Niger, Aicha Maki Amadou shows how her young compatriots are faring there. A powerful, candid, and surprisingly hopeful glimpse into the world of the local gangs.

Masters

A People’s Radio – Ballads from a Wooded Country

  • Virpi Suutari
  • 2021

An array of images of summery Finnish landscapes, in the city as well as the countryside, accompany cries from the heart from various listeners to a popular radio program, offering insights into the Finnish soul.

Atlantide

  • Yuri Ancarani
  • 2021

In Venice, city of water, teenagers like Daniele don’t have souped-up mopeds but powerful speedboats, or barchini. This atmospheric, hyper-realistic film progresses from a dreamlike beginning to an operatic climax.

Babi Yar. Context

  • Sergei Loznitsa
  • 2021

A reconstruction based entirely on archive footage of the mass execution in 1941 of some 33,000 Jews, in a ravine near the then German-occupied city of Kiev. From the lead up to the massacre to its aftermath.

The Balcony Movie

  • Pawel Lozinski
  • 2021

The sidewalk in front of his apartment is the stage at which director Pawel Lozinski directs his camera. Passersby stop for a chat, tell their life story, and collectively paint a picture of contemporary Poland.

The Banality of Grief

  • Jon Bang Carlsen
  • 2021

After his wife dies, the renowned Danish documentary filmmaker Jon Bang Carlsen starts work on a new film. But everything he sees reminds him of her absence. His film thus becomes “a little stammering love letter.”

Becoming Cousteau

  • Liz Garbus
  • 2021

In this chronological and richly documented portrait of Jacques Cousteau, we discover that his life was packed with plot twists. Cousteau was a pioneering diver, filmmaker, and climate activist, and his warnings have never been more urgent.

Paradocs

The Belly of the Mountain

  • Stephen Loye
  • 2021

In a remote Alpine town, a plane crash ends 150 lives. Filmmaker Stephen Loye zooms out from the world news to make a freely associated poetic essay about mortality and the meaning of life.

Bullet

  • Maya Watanabe
  • 2021

Video artist Maya Watanabe explores deep ravines, jagged-edged craters and bony reefs: the ominous “landscape” in the skull of one of the many unidentified victims of the 1980–2000 Peruvian Civil War.

The Grannies

  • Marie Foulston
  • 2021

A small group of gamers playing Red Dead Online embark on a virtual journey of discovery to the boundaries of its world—and beyond. These modern pioneers boldly go where no one has gone before.

In the Billowing Night

  • Erika Etangsalé
  • 2021

Myth and memory intertwine as the father of director Erika Etangsalé tells his story for the first time. His account is deeply marked by France’s colonial past and the dislocation it caused.

Just a Movement

  • Vincent Meessen
  • 2021

Stimulating, associative portrait of the Senegalese activist Omar Blondin Diop, who was deeply involved in the tumultuous 1960s and also had a small role playing himself in Jean-Luc Godard’s La chinoise.

Listen to the Beat of Our Images

  • Audrey Jean-Baptiste, Maxime Jean-Baptiste
  • 2021

Hypnotic archive footage of rocket launches accompanies the stories told by the indigenous inhabitants of Kourou, French Guiana, about the arrival of the French space center CNES. Pulsating stardust is all that’s left of their former lives.

A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces

  • Shengze Zhu
  • 2021

Along the banks of the Yangtze River lies Wuhan, a city that’s in constant motion. But in the calmer depths beneath the bustling surface, memories of halted lives linger.

Two Minutes to Midnight

  • Yael Bartana
  • 2021

Might female leaders be able to turn the tide in these times, when the world is in danger of being obliterated by hotheaded men? It’s a question that is gaining ever more complex layers in this tantalizing blend of fiction and political debate.

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