Four Journeys, the lyrical and intensely personal debut feature by Louis Hothothot (Louis Yi Liu) will open the 34th edition of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). A first-person narrative of a filmmaker born in China in 1986 as an “illegal” second child, Louis and his family suffered devastating consequences at the hands of the authorities, with painful reverberations still felt to this day. After relocating to Amsterdam in his twenties, the filmmaker returns home to reunite with his parents and sister after a five-year hiatus, where he attempts to disentangle his densely knotted family history. Unfolding as a soft and sorrowful stream of memories, absences, and lingering shadows, Four Journeys premieres at IDFA bearing the mark of a new documentary poetics to come—one laden with wonder, nuance, and spirit.
As of today, the festival lineup of 264 titles is now complete. IDFA 2021 runs from November 17 to 28 in Amsterdam.
“The works of filmmakers from over 80 countries will be presented at the 34th edition of IDFA, and they are showing us how artistic freedom, courage, and engagement with the world come in many different languages, styles, and viewpoints. The documentary field is being confirmed as a future-proof art form that is unapologetically open, diverse, and continuously developing. IDFA’s new program structure, as much as IDFA’s Filmmaker Support and Industry activities, is changing to reflect this. Today, we present a program that is worthy of our return to cinemas,” said Artistic Director Orwa Nyrabia.
After A Revolution
- Giovanni Buccomino
A look into the lives of a brother and sister who fought on different sides of the uprising in Libya in 2011: he supported Gaddafi, she was one of the “rebels”. As war flares up in the years that follow, their fervor for justice is challenged.
The Beach of Enchaquirados
- Ivan Mora Manzano
A sense of unfulfilled longing intermingles with irresistible, liberating warmth in this poetic portrait of the Ecuadorian fisher Vicky and the local transgender community she’s part of.
Children of the Mist
- Diem Ha Le
In the misty mountains of northern Vietnam, a Hmong teenage girl faces the challenges of growing up. In Di’s traditional culture, girls marry as early as 14. But at school she learns there are alternatives.Nominated for the IDFA Award for Best First Feature.
- Kamar Ahmad Simon
The Rocket is a century-old paddle steamer still regularly transporting passengers along the river delta of Bangladesh. All aboard for this philosophical and kaleidoscopic film in which rich and poor, young and old, and East and West come together.
- Eduardo Crespo
At Las Delicias agrotechnical boarding school in the Argentine countryside, high school students find their way through friendships and boyhood adventures, against an inviting backdrop of dogs and chickens, fields, greenhouses, and meadows.
How the Room Felt
- Ketevan Kapanadze
A gentle and intimate portrait of a small community of young queer people in a Georgian city, formed around the local women’s football team. Here in this self-made family, shielded from outside threats, they can share love and friendship.Nominated for the IDFA Award for Best First Feature.
Journey to the Sun
- Susana de Sousa Dias, Ansgar Schaefer
Archive films bring to life the bittersweet memories of Austrians who as preschoolers were sent to stay with host families in Portugal to recuperate after the Second World War.Nominated for the Beeld en Geluid IDFA ReFrame Award.
- Sergei Loznitsa
Singing even a peaceful song can unleash a revolution. Lithuanian politician Vytautas Landsbergis looks back on his country’s independence struggle in this captivating masterclass on the collapse of the Soviet Union by the great chronicler Sergei Loznitsa.
The One Who Runs Away Is the Ghost
- Qinyuan Lei
Two young sisters spend most of their time at an electronics market in Shenzhen. Their gaze transforms the impersonal world of electronics into a universe full of ghosts and monsters.
- Seydou Cissé
Faith, hope and harsh reality: Taamaden is an original story about the everyday lives of West African immigrants and their ties with mystical and religious fortune tellers—African occultism reaches to Europe via the smartphone. Nominated for the IDFA Award for Best First Feature
A Thousand Fires
- Saeed Taji Farouky
Understated, poetic portrait of a Burmese couple who drill oil from the ground by hand. They hope this grueling work will yield them enough money to give their children a better future.
Turn Your Body to the Sun
- Aliona van der Horst
The powerful story of a Soviet soldier who was a prisoner of war during the Second World War and afterwards sent to a gulag. His daughter never got to hear the whole story. Archive footage and personal sources evoke the past in subtle but potent ways.Nominated for the IDFA Award for Best Dutch Documentary and the Beeld en …
- Claudine Bories, Patrice Chagnard
A year in the life of Vedette, a cow with a feisty personality who has to face the agonizing truth that she’s no longer Queen of the Swiss Alps. An affectionate documentary about aging that offers an alternate perspective on animals.
Where Are We Headed
- Ruslan Fedotow
The imposing, theatrical corridors of the Moscow Metro form the backdrop to a continuous tragicomedy. Small incidents and conversations create a colorful picture of this underground society in miniature.Nominated for the IDFA Award for Best First Feature
- Sanshou Hu
In keeping with tradition, the filmmaker and his family build a tomb for his grandparents. This carefully composed portrait of a village—with scenes of the work, personal memories, and philosophical reflections—is a mirror of existence itself.
Darkness There and Nothing More
- Tea Tupajic
Bosnia-born director Tea Tupajic invites two Dutch war veterans who served during the fall of Srebrenica to spend a night in her company. She wants answers to painful questions, but also tries to discover something in the two men that can give her hope.Nominated for the IDFA Award for Best First Feature and the…
Eat Your Catfish
- Noah Arjomand, Adam Isenberg, Senem Tüzen
The hell of ALS filmed with brutal honesty from the point of view of ALS patient Kathryn, who is completely paralyzed. The disease has destroyed everything, from Kathryn’s muscles to her marriage, but her sharp wit remains unaffected.
- Adeline Neary HAY
Fourty years after their flight from the Khmer Rouge, filmmaker Neary Adeline Hay hopes her mother will break her silence. She follows the trail back from France, in this very personal, elegantly filmed journey through their memories.
For Your Peace of Mind, Make Your Own Museum
- Pilar Moreno, Ana Endara Mislov
The late Senobia was an endearing woman who transformed her house in a Panamanian village into “The Museum of Antiquities of All Species.” Pilar Moreno and Ana Endara capture her personality and creation in a quirky, conceptual documentary.
- Louis Hothothot
Amsterdam-based filmmaker Louis Hothothot was born in China, a second child in the era of the one-child policy. His birth had devastating consequences for his parents, and when he visits them he discovers other distressing events in the family as well.Nominated for the IDFA Award for Best First Feature and the IDFA Award for …
- Nidal Al Dibs
After filmmaker Nidal Al Dibs fled to Cairo from Syria, he started filming his Egyptian friends working to get a local community cinema reopened. A film about cinema as a symbol for the hopes and dreams of ordinary people in the Arab world.
- Oeke Hoogendijk
Scenes which seem very ordinary—filmmaker Oeke Hoogendijk’s elderly mother in her living room, watching television with her cat—gradually develop into the portrait of an astute woman who has to live each day with the Holocaust as her housemate.Nominated for the IDFA Award for Best Dutch Documentary
locks & keys, water, trees
- Penny Andrea
A moving journey through the life and mind of artist Penny Andrea, based entirely on her drawings. By studying her sketchbooks, she hopes to learn how a brain tumor shaped both her and her art.
The Mirror and the Window
- Diego Gutiérrez
Diego Gutiérrez is asked to film the final phase of life of two loved ones: his mother and his best friend. On the threshold of death, events that have shaped their lives emerge.Nominated for the IDFA Award for Best Dutch Documentary.
O, Collecting Eggs Despite the Times
- Pim Zwier
A fascinating archive film about the oologist Max Schönwetter, who devoted his life to the study of birds’ eggs. He collected 19,206 beautiful specimens, from birds ranging from the tiny warbler to the rhea. In the meantime, WWII was looming.Nominated for the IDFA Award for Best Dutch Documentary and the Beeld en Geluid IDFA …
- Karim Kassem
The aftermath of the explosion that took place at the Port of Beirut in August 2020 is revealed in quiet stillness, from the destroyed buildings and the despair of local residents to the cautious first sounds of reconstruction.
One Take Grace
- Lindiwe Matshikiza
Life has been hard for South African domestic worker Mothiba Grace Bapela, and she’s lived it in service to others. In between, she pursued a career as an actor. A poignant portrait of social inequality and the oppression of women.Nominated for the IDFA Award for Best First Feature
Portraits of the Future
- Virna Molina
A creative and futuristic visual essay in which the Argentinian director, trapped at home during lockdown, connects social issues with a personal investigation of the past and future of her generation.
- Marcos Pimentel
The walls in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte are inundated with painted pictures and words: from stunning murals to old-school graffiti, and from enigmatic cries from the heart to furious cursing.
IDFA DocLab Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction
Messages to a Post Human Earth
- May Abdalla
An interactive, multi-sensory journey through a beautiful garden. You and your travel partner embark on an evocative audio journey featuring augmented reality (AR) to reimagine your relationship with the natural world. Only two-person tickets available.
- Joanne Popińska
In this interactive VR experience, you talk to Kristen about her choice to have an abortion and the painful attempts by the health care system in her home state of Texas to deprive her of that choice.
- Anna Fries, Malu Peeters
Why is the stereotypical image of pregnancy a glowingly blissful young woman? Take a trip into this interactive womb and you’ll see a world where the concept of pregnancy goes beyond the cliché, freed from the constraints of gender and age.
- Marcel van Brakel, Mark Meeuwenoord
This VR experience for multiple users and multiple senses transports you to a post-human future in which Homo sapiens have been absorbed into a biotope teeming with mixed life-forms: human, animal, and technological hybrids. Not suitable for pregnant people.
- Alexandra Barancova, Jae Perris, Luna Maurer, Roel Wouters
An interactive and playful VR experience about the fascinating relationship between our body and games. The visitors’ own arms and hands become part of a virtual sculpture of limbs that’s constantly changing shape.
- Jakob la Cour
In this immersive VR performance, you are invited on a participatory tour into the virtual universe of a spiritually awakened artificial intelligence. An intimate ceremony, led by a virtually present performer, carries you to this mystical hyperspace.
- Mengtai Zhang, Lemon Guo
In China, internet gaming is described as “electronic heroin” and many parents of suspected internet addicts send them to re-education camps. One of them was the director of this VR experience that places you at the center of his haunting experiences.
Museum of Austerity
- Sacha Wares
Combining verbal testimony, original music, and volumetric capture, this mixed reality exhibition documents events from a decade of austerity measures in the UK, inviting audiences to explore what happens when state safety nets fail.
Water & Coltan
- Daniel Kötter
This VR film contrasts the depleted coal mines of the Ruhr region in Germany, which are now filling with water, with active coltan mines in DR Congo, revealing humanity’s ruthless exploitation of both the Earth and itself.
The City Was Asleep and It Had a Dream
- Mariam Natroshvili, Detu Jincharadze
A virtual tour shows how the city of Tbilisi has changed since the end of the Soviet Union. The old communist architecture is being overrun by new neoliberal construction projects. The clash of two ideological systems is giving birth to a new city.
IDFA DocLab Competition for Digital Storytelling
- Victoria Mapplebeck
A personal but utterly familiar audio experience about the effects of the global pandemic on family life. How did Victoria Mapplebeck and her teenage son get through the pandemic and lockdown, at home and outdoors?
- Tamara Shogaolu
An interactive documentary about the more than 150 cold case murders involving racist violence that have been reopened under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act. The stories are drawn together into a forest of symbolism.
- Mika Orr
A lighthearted web series taking a humorous and compassionate look at our desire to be seen as “normal.” Online interviews with people around the world explore the boundary between normal and deviant behavior.
One-Fifth of the Earth’s Surface
- Hakeem Adam, Maxwell Mutanda
The Atlantic Ocean has affected countless lives. The makers of this online voyage of discovery take water as a dynamic source of inspiration to explore new ways of archiving, making maps, and sharing knowledge.
A Rest Guide for a Tired Nigerian Artist
- Rahima Gambo
What happens if we shift the focus from artwork to the people whose work is making art? In a series of illustrated guidebooks, Nigerian artists explain how they find peace in a troubled world.
Ravi and Emma
- Kylie Boltin, Ella Rubeli, Ravi Vasavan, Emma Anderson
A colorful and inventively designed interactive experience about the love between Ravi, who was born deaf, and Emma, who can hear. Experience sign language and use it to participate in this story in three short chapters.
- Sue Roh
An interactive storytelling project about the personal world of our digital gurus Siri and Alexa. How do they experience their own existence? What does your ever-obliging virtual assistant know about you? Everything! But do you know anything about her?
- Lauren Lee McCarthy
How far should we go in engineering the reproductive process? A multimedia installation about reproduction and parenthood, centering on the complete control of a surrogate’s body and the child carried within.
- Caroline Robert
In this interactive animation, you give a stranger a virtual brain massage. This intimate act evokes a stream of emotions and memories, and offers an original glimpse into the workings of the brain.
Gates of Aleppo
- Wolfswift, Georg Hobmeier, Joshua Hollendonner
In this minimalist game, four arrows and an “Action” button is all you get to survive in Aleppo, a city under siege. Experience short snatches from everyday life transformed into a deadly game.
IDFA DocLab Spotlight
The Cycle Club: A 10-Day Hormone Safari
- Eefje Suijkerbuijk
A taboo-breaking, ten-day crash course on the monthly hormone cycle and the biology behind it. In a Telegram “hormone safari,” the hosts dive into this wonderful world, talking to people about their experiences, and including input from gynecologists.
Goliath: Playing with Reality
- Barry Gene Murphy, May Abdalla
This VR depicts the disorienting experience of schizophrenia, and how Goliath finds his footing in the virtual world of online multiplayer gaming. The voiceover by Tilda Swinton reminds us that every reality is a mental construct.
- Jonathan Harris
Coming into the complicated inheritance of a family property in Vermont with a legacy of alcoholism, divorce, depression, and secret abuse, Jonathan Harris performed a series of 21 intensely personalized rituals to heal and transform his lineage.
- Felix Gaedtke, Gayatri Parameswaran
In this VR experience you get to speak out and join the campaign to revitalize Kusunda, one of the many dormant indigenous languages across the world.
The Miracle Basket
- Abner Preis
A pop-up book brought to life tells a fairy tale about overconsumption, thoughtlessness, and environmental damage. There is a happy ending, but the story has a moral—as befits a fairy tale.
Missing Pictures Episode 2: Tsai-Ming Liang, the Seven-Story Building
- Clément Deneux
The second episode of a VR series in which famous directors get the chance to envisage a film they never made. Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang transports us into his youth for a making-of film of his entire film career.
- Alexander Devriendt
This experience is an interactive, personal experiment that will determine whether you can become a member of the secretive organization TM. A series of questions and assignments push the participant’s moral boundaries.
Camille & Ulysse
- Diana Toucedo
The art of storytelling melds with science fiction, biology, and linguistics to explore the symbiosis between humans and non-humans. An experimental essay in the form of a narrative duet told by philosophers Vinciane Despret and Donna Haraway.
- Mourad Bncr, Sean Caruso
To the electronic sounds of the music project [indistinct voices over PA], a self-learning algorithm creates an endless morph of imaginary cityscapes in 360 degrees, like the fever dreams of an alternative intelligence.
- Pedro Rodolpho Ramos
A soundscape of voices, sounds, and noises of nature generate abstract visualizations, creating audiovisual music in a meditative dome film that merges multiple languages under a single roof.