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Laura Poitras
Laura Poitras (Credit – Jan Stürmann)

Academy Award-winning director Laura Poitras will be honored with the Retrospective and Top 10 programs at the 35th edition of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam taking place in person from November 9 to 20, 2022. The festival will host two curated focus programs, Around Masculinity and Playing Reality, in addition to the IDFA DocLab theme of Nervous Systems – IDFA’s new media section of in-person digital and XR programming.

In her Top 10 program, Poitras curates ten films key to the human condition, including reflections on political imprisonment (Hunger by Steve McQueen; This is Not a Film by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb), incarceration and psychiatry (Frederick Wiseman’s Titicut Follies), and genocide (Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah), among other interventions so influential on Poitras’ own view of the world, and film’s place in it. As part of the Top 10, Poitras will be in conversation with several of her selected filmmakers during the festival’s public talks program.

In the Retrospective section, IDFA presents all seven films directed by Poitras from 2003 to today. Alongside titles that made Poitras a household name, the program includes lesser-screened films such as Risk, the years-in-the-making portrait of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and her first feature Flag Wars, a cinéma vérité film on the gentrification of a working-class African American neighborhood at the hands of wealthy gay men. In celebration of the filmmaker, the festival will hold a public master talk with Poitras and IDFA’s artistic director Orwa Nyrabia in Amsterdam’s historic Pathé Tuschinski cinema.

From the alpha male to toxic masculinity, the Focus program: Around Masculinity interrogates the problematic social construct that is masculinity from a variety of perspectives. The curated section homes in on a blind spot in film history, inviting audiences to take a hard look at their heroes by re-reading classics such as Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams and the Maysles Brothers’ Meet Marlon Brando. Fragility comes to the fore in Heddy Honigmann’s Crazy, as do the inherent paradoxes of masculinity in Pirjo Honkasalo’s The 3 Rooms of Melancholia. Elsewhere in the program, Anand Patwardan’s Father, Son and Holy War takes up the subject through its relation to religion and nationalism, while lesser-seen titles such as Bitch Academy by Alina Rudnitskaya turn to the institutional domination of women by men.

Bringing the drama of documentary film center stage, the titles in the Focus Program – Playing Reality creatively reimagine the concept of theatricality. Clio Bernard’s The Arbor, on renowned playwright Andrea Dunbar, foregrounds the performativity of language and voice. Werner Herzog’s Little Dieter Needs to Fly iconically uses re-enactment as a documentary film instrument, while Lola Arias’ Theatre of War experiments with mise-en-scène as its protagonists revisit memories of the Falklands War. Eduardo Coutinho’s Moscow, on the other hand, deals directly with the physical space of the theater. Playing Reality is the result of a special collaboration between IDFA and Internationaal Theater Amsterdam (ITA), with more details to be announced.

Laura Poitras – Top 10

The first titles in the program are below; the remaining films are forthcoming.

The 3 Rooms of Melancholia
Pirjo Honkasalo – 2004
Shot in St. Petersburg, Grozny and Ingushetia, this multilayered, poetic film in three chapters reflects a range of fundamental human feelings and mental states that war invokes.

Steve McQueen – 2008
Steve McQueen’s intensely physical, multi-award-winning feature debut. On 1 March 1981, IRA member Bobby Sands—a prisoner in a Northern Irish jail during the Troubles—went on a hunger strike to protest his brutal treatment. He died 66 days later.

Return to Homs
Talal Derki – 2013
A remarkably intimate portrait of a group of young friends in Homs, Syria, dreaming of a peaceful revolution that will free the country of Assad’s dictatorial regime. When the national army starts destroying their city, the boys turn into armed rebels.

Claude Lanzmann – 1985
This 9½-hour film is a milestone in the history of Holocaust documentaries. Testimonies from survivors, perpetrators, collaborators and bystanders provide detailed descriptions of the perverse machinery dedicated to the extermination of Jewish people

This Is Not a Film
Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb – 2011
Jafar Panahi, who was put under house arrest and banned from making films in 2011, is currently imprisoned by the Iranian government. In spite of these restrictions, he’s made a defiant ode to both the art and the freedom that were taken from him.

Titicut Follies
Frederick Wiseman – 1967
Wiseman documentary debut is a shocking depiction of the treatment of convicted criminals in a psychiatric hospital. There is no attempt to make people better—instead, it’s all about power.

Laura Poitras – Retrospective

Beauty and the Bloodshed
Laura Poitras – 2022
Nan Goldin earned fame for her intimate and often intense photos of subcultures she was part of. Now she’s fighting the Sackler family, whose wealth comes from selling the addictive painkiller OxyContin. A moving, visual story about love and pain.

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 reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill.

Flag Wars
Linda Goode Bryant, Laura Poitras – 2003
A film in cinema verité style about the gentrification of a Black working-class neighborhood in the US. Tensions rise when wealthy gay white people start buying up dilapidated but charming houses, at the expense of the original residents.

My Country, My Country
Laura Poitras – 2006
Following the 2003 US invasion, can Iraq move towards a democratic future? The run-up to the first parliamentary elections since the invasion are problematic from the start. Poitras stayed in Iraq for eight months filming this incisive account.

The Oath
Laura Poitras – 2010
Laura Poitras casts doubt on American anti-terrorism policy through the experiences of brothers-in-law Abu Jandal (Bin Laden’s ex-bodyguard) and Salim Hamdan, one of the first Guantanamo Bay detainees to be put on trial.

Laura Poitras – 2016
As tense as a spy thriller, as claustrophobic as a hostage drama and as disturbing as the recollection of a corrupted ideal, Laura Poitras’s revealing portrait of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange details the degeneration of idealism into megalomania.

Terror Contagion
Laura Poitras – 2021
Research collective Forensic Architecture and Oscar winner Laura Poitras analyze the chilling consequences of Pegasus, the virus-like spyware that takes control of smartphones owned by political dissidents and those in their network.

Focus program: Around Masculinity

The first nine titles in the program have been announced.

12th & Delaware
Rachel Grady, Heidi Ewing – 2010
In Fort Pierce, Florida, women who’ve decided to terminate their pregnancy might accidentally step into the anti-abortion Pregnancy Care Center opposite the abortion clinic. A shocking and sometimes absurd look at two contrasting worlds.

The 3 Rooms of Melancholia
Pirjo Honkasalo – 2004
Shot in St. Petersburg, Grozny and Ingushetia, this multilayered, poetic film in three chapters reflects a range of fundamental human feelings and mental states that war invokes.

Bitch Academy
Alina Rudnitskaya – 2007
How should a young woman with big ambitions survive in the new Russia? The answer is Bitch Academy, a course for the most determined gold diggers. With merciless candor, this short film provides a jarring portrait of a society adrift.

Burden of Dreams
Les Blank – 1982
A disconcerting account of the insane circumstances surrounding the filming of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. Set up as an ethnographic chronicle, this documentary shows us the real Herzog, hysterically defying the impossible.

Der Busenfreund
Ulrich Seidl – 1997
A portrait of a former math teacher with a passion for women with large breasts. His explanation of the mathematical laws of sine and cosine merges into a paean to female curves.

Heddy Honigmann – 1999
Dutch U.N. soldiers speak about their experiences in various conflict areas around the world. The vehicle for their recollections is the music they played at the time, which has become forever tied to their memories of war.

Erase and Forget
Andrea Luka Zimmerman – 2017
An intimate portrait of James “Bo” Gritz, the most decorated US veteran of the Vietnam War, and the inspiration for Rambo. He exposes the interlocking dynamics of Hollywood’s fictional battlefields and America’s secret wars.

Father, Son and Holy War
Anand Patwardhan – 1994
A daring two-part documentary that explores the notion of manhood as it relates to violence, religious traditions, the Hindu-Muslim conflict and the Bombay Riots in the early 90s.

Meet Marlon Brando
Albert Maysles, David Maysles – 1966
Marlon Brando shows his most charming and most reticent side in an session with journalists. Demonstrating how the actor resists the interview format, Direct Cinema pioneers David and Albert Maysles also call into question the phenomenon itself.

Focus program: Playing Reality

The first eight titles in this focus program have been announced.

The Arbor
Clio Barnard – 2010
In 1980, when Andrea Dunbar was only 18, her semi-autobiographical play, The Arbor, was performed in London. Director Clio Barnard made an impressive reconstruction of Dunbar’s short life, using the voices of people from her circle.

Every Little Thing
Nicolas Philibert – 1996
A delightful feel-good predecessor to the classic Être et avoir. The camera follows staff and patients at a remarkable French psychiatric facility during rehearsals for the annual stage show—this year it’s an operetta.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Werner Herzog – 1997
Werner Herzog tells the life story of Dieter Dengler, raised in post-war Germany. His dream to become an American test pilot lands him in Vietnam, where he was shot down and captured by the Viet Cong on his very first mission.

Eduardo Coutinho – 2009
The Brazilian theater group Galpão is in Moscow, working on their production of the Chekhov play Three Sisters. During rehearsals, filmmaker Coutinho captures the increasingly blurred boundaries between fiction and reality.

The Not Dead
Brian Hill – 2007
The gripping accounts of three British soldiers who served in violent conflicts and returned to an indifferent homeland with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Through poetry, their nightmarish experiences are elevated to a universal level.

Salaam Cinema
Mohsen Makhmalbaf – 1995
A casting call in Iranian newspapers to find actors for a film on the centenary of cinema yields thousands of candidates. Makhmalbaf used the filmed auditions to create a comical look at a hidden part of Iranian culture.

Theatre of War
Lola Arias – 2018
Visual artist and filmmaker Lola Arias brings a number of British and Argentine veterans of the Malvinas/Falklands War together in short, theatrical setups to confront their memories, each other and the war that binds them.

You Have No Idea How Much I Love You
Pawel Lozinski – 2016
During a mother and daughter’s intimately filmed sessions with a psychotherapist, blame, grief and anger gradually make way for reconciliation. Their uniquely personal relationship ultimately reveals itself to be deeply universal.

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