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Doc fest opens under cloud of helmer killing

IDFA unspools with Helmrich's 'Shape'

AMSTERDAM — While the 17th edition of the Intl. Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA) opened on a somber note — remembering the recent slaying of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh — the genre itself is basking in creative and business buoyancy.

In terms of box office pull, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” riding as it did on the Bush re-election gambit, drove expectations that the genre could not just inform and entertain, but might make some dosh.

The largest event of its kind in the world in terms of the number of visitors — last year IDFA pulled some 110,000 — opened with Dutch helmer Leonard Retel Helmrich’s tale of a widow in Jakarta, “Shape of the Moon.” The 10-day run includes some 270 films, including 59 world premieres.

Though dominated by northern European fare, especially Dutch pics, the program also pulls in an impressive array of projects from Central and Eastern Europe — mainly thanks to a Polish sidebar from the Lodz Film School — and close to some 30 pics from the U.S.

Only one U.S. doc, vet lenser Jonathan Stack’s “Liberia: An Uncivil War,” made it into the main awards’ feature-length doc event — the Joris Ivens Competition — for a E12,500 ($16,000) bundle.

Several other competitions and awards during the fest considerably sweeten the pot, including the $13,000 for the short-film Silver Wolf competish. IDFA also has been increasingly focusing on the newly emerging youth doc genre. In its DocU sidebar, seven films, among them Israeli filmmaker Eyal Avneri’s “Little Peace of Mine” was chosen by a panel of youth 14-18 years of age.

Pic is about a 12-year-old in Israel trying to solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

“Children clearly have a story to tell about the world around them, one of the reasons the youth doc genre has been not only growing but becoming increasingly sophisticated,” says Leontine Petit, a co-founder of Lemming Film, a co-producer on the pic.

Van Gogh had received death threats linked to his fictionalized film “Submission” about abusive treatment of women in Muslim society, and while it was not a docu, the implications of his Nov. 2 murder was not lost on some doc filmmakers.

First Hand Films CEO Esther van Messel noted that the tragedy upped the stakes for docmakers, who are often compelled to present facts that may be controversial.

Kees Ryninks, who heads up the documentary department of the coin subsid Dutch Film Fund says worry about such dire consequences “could certainly be a threat to freedom of expression.”

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