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IDFA 2015: Premiere Doc Fest and Market Has Global Hustle, Intimate Vibe

Since launching in 1988, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) has remained the largest—319 titles this year—world-class documentary screening and market event on the calendar, pointing auds and attendees toward fresh ideas, forms, and funding models, and constantly fine-tuning programming that reflects the international hustle, intimate vibe, and cinematic beauty of the city.

The 12-day fest opened Wednesday with Dutch filmmaker Tom Fassaert’s world-premiering intrigue “A Family Affair,” one of 15 international titles competing for IDFA’s best feature doc—the marquee prize amongst eight juried competitions which, along with the aud award, offer cash prizes.

As of this year, the jury-awards ceremony (Nov. 25) shifts earlier in the schedule to attract a larger pack of international guests; IDFA has also dropped the nomination process and instituted a new special jury award category in its six main competitions, accompanied by an increase in the overall amount of prize cash.

Continuing its longstanding rep as the Euro launchpad for prestige US docs, IDFA 2015 screens 54 feature-length US theatrical and TV titles—among them, “American Epic,” “ Cartel Land,” “Hot Sugar’s Cold World,” “Live From New York,” “Mavis,” “Keith Richard: Under The Influence,” “This Changes Everything,” and two from Barbara Koppel (“Miss Sharon Jones,” “Hot Type: 150 Years of The Nation”)—across its regular, retro (an Errol Morris spotlight), and sidebar programs (strands exploring the art of sound, digital docs in the post-internet era, a special screening of Laura Israel’s “Don’t Blink—Robert Frank”).

U.S. presence at IDFA’s sprawling industry confab has, over the past decade in particular, significantly increased (up 12 percent from last year, according to IDFA head of industry Adriek van Nieuwenhuyzen), reflecting the rise in importance of international co-financing and idea-jamming in doc production.

IDFA’s recent emphasis on aud impact and outreach is mirrored in its industry activities, notably the facilitation of small sessions and consultancies that complement IDFA Forum (Nov. 23 to 25), its three-day flagship cofinancing and production market event. Sharpening and expanding guests’ intel of the global doc landscape is key.

“Besides networking, up-to-date market knowledge is important for filmmakers to stay tuned in to the rapidly changing documentary environment,” van Nieuwenhuyzen told Variety, adding that, this year, IDFA is drawing the attention of international casters and funders to children’s documentary, a genre that has found biz success in Holland.

“IDFA has always been truly international,” van Nieuwenhuyzen said. “This year we are hosting a big group from China for the first time, and we have seven Chinese films in various programs and in the Forum. We are also working with African institutes, as well as Arab organizations like AFAC.”

This year IDFA relocates its industry center to NH Carlton Hotel (spitting distance from its flagship screening venues), a move that puts existing (housing, press, press room, doc clinic) and new (topical industry sessions and meets) services under one roof.

Docs For Sale (Nov. 20 to 27)—a key global doc screening and market stop for TV buyers, agents, distributors, and programmers—introduces Rough Cuts Projects, a new strand showcasing 10 projects in the final stage of production.

IDFA has informed guests that the festival remains in close contact with Amsterdam police and officials, following the Dutch government’s increase in security levels throughout the country, including Amsterdam and all major events. The festival is not commenting on specific security measures.

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam runs from November 18 to 29, 2015.

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