For the 24th consecutive year, the Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam will transform the Dutch city into a nonfiction film wonderland. The world’s largest fest devoted to docs, and the premiere place to sell them, IDFA plans to unspool 343 titles spread over 20 programs, running Nov. 16-27. Docs were selected from over 3,645 submissions and include 90 world preems.

This year, the festival features a special sidebar recognizing documentary cinema from Brazil, and it introduces the IDFA Play Competition for Music Documentary.

In addition to the fest’s lineup of docus, IDFA consists of three industry components: the Jan Vrijman Fund, which supports docu filmmakers and festivals in developing countries; the online market, which presents 500-plus films, called Docs for Sale; and the three-day Forum, the fest’s international co-financing market for documentaries. This year’s Forum program contains 17 docus that were presented as projects at past Forums, including Liz Garbus’ “Bobby Fischer Against the World” and Steve James’ “The Interrupters.” The highly selective fest brings seasoned filmmakers as well as the next wave, along with television buyers, sellers, distributors, fest programmers, broadcasters and journalists from all over the world, making it a prime spot for documentaries in need of an international audiences. “Thirteen of our feature length documentaries, including ‘Food, Inc.’ and ‘Waiting for Superman,’ have screened at IDFA,” says Diane Weyermann, exec VP of Participant Productions Documentary Films. “It’s hugely important.”

This year Participant will shop their latest doc, Andrew Rossi’s “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” which screens in the Reflecting Images: Best of Fests program.

“It really is the gateway to the European market for filmmakers,” seconds Thom Powers, Toronto Film Festival’s documentary programmer. “It’s a vital component of the doc market.”

IDFA, founded by Ally Derks, began in 1988. It was a time when documentary cinema in the Netherlands needed exposure.

“My goal was to create a professional stage for creative docs and get as many people as possible to come and see them,” says Derks. “Every year we try to renew our audience and get younger people enthusiastic about documentaries.”

One way Derks and her IDFA colleagues help to build auds is through the new program IDFA Play Competition for Music Documentary, in which 17 films compete for the music kudo.

“I think this new addition might really interest younger audiences and also convince them to go see to less popular (docu fare),” says Derks. While she is keen on introducing and inspiring youth through docus, IDFA is not lacking in auds. Last year, the fest added an extra day to its previous 11-day run and tacked on more screenings per film. In 2010, attendance figures rise by 10.3% to 180,000 tix sold.

Those packed theaters are just one reason why two-time Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple decided to bring her latest film, HBO’s “Gun Fight,” about the impact of firearms in America, to the fest. In addition to its exposure in the fest’s Masters section, pic was selected to participate in the Docs for Sale program.

“Typically, I don’t have any say in the foreign sales of my films — the funder or broadcast partner has those rights,” says Kopple. ” ‘Gun Fight’ is different in that we do have control of foreign sales. When I thought of where to screen this film abroad to shop it for overseas broadcast partners, IDFA was one of the first venues to come to mind. Doc for Sales is one of the biggest marketplaces for documentaries, so being a part of it opens many doors for international distribution.”

Kopple will be joined by Werner Herzog (“Into the Abyss” and “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”) and Frederick Wiseman (“Crazy Horse”).

“They are like rock stars here,” says Derks. “For audience members, when they see someone like Wiseman or Kopple, it’s like they are seeing George Clooney or Julia Roberts at a fest like Toronto. The audience just adores these guys. They love to hear them discuss their films.”

Aimed at filmmakers but also the public, the fest offers the opportunity to talk shop with behind-the-scenes talent from around the globe. Instead of exclusive parties, audience members can partake in extensive post-film conversations with directors including Nick Broomfield (“Sarah Palin: You Betcha!”), Joe Berlinger (“Paradise Lost 3: Lost in Purgatory”) and Marina Goldovskaya (“A Bitter Taste of Freedom”).

“It’s not only important for us to try and keep the quality (of programming) high, but we also think it’s very important to set aside a lot of space for discussion and debate,” says Derks. “Our audience is not an easy one. They can ask some nasty questions, but that’s part of the fun. The documentaries we select make an intelligent contribution to societal debates. Docs at our festival communicate with a wide audience not just the elite.”

For Powers, IDFA has “laid the groundwork” for all documentary festivals that have surfaced in the past 24 years, including Hot Docs, Copenhagen and Sheffield documentary festivals, SilverDocs, Full Frame and Docs NYC, where Powers serves as artistic director.

“When it started out in the 1980s, it was such a novel thing,” says Powers. “Ally proved to everybody that it was possible.”

Derks says she’s happy not to have the only docu fest on the block, and doesn’t mind the competition.

“We are a much bigger festival than most other doc festivals, plus we work together with Hot Docs and Sundance,” she says. “IDFA is really a league of its own, which is a luxury position that I’m very much aware of.”

It’s a position that owes a lot to the city of Amsterdam.

“We are kind of spoiled,” Powers adds. “People love coming here. We don’t have to fight for the buyers and producers and directors to come. They just do.”



The winner of the VPRO IDFA Award for best feature-length documentary will be announced on Nov. 25 at the fest.

The following 17 docus are in competition:

  • “5 Broken Cameras,” Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, Palestine/France/Israel/Netherlands.

  • “About Canto,” Ramon Gieling, Netherlands

  • “The Ambassador,” Mads Brugger, Denmark

  • “Bad Weather,” Giovanni Giommi, Germany/England

  • “Bayou Blue,” Alix Lambert and David McMahon, USA

  • “Cinema Jenin,” Marcus Vetter, Germany/Israel

  • “Five Star Existence,” Sonja Linden, Finland/Sweden

  • “Gozaran – Time Passing,” Frank Scheffer, Netherlands/Germany

  • “Into the Abyss,” Werner Herzog, Germany/England/USA

  • “Letters from Iran,” Manon Loizeau, France

  • “Mama Illegal,” Ed Moschitz, Austria

  • “Pink Ribbons, Inc.,” Lea Pool, Canada

  • “Planet of Snail,” Seung-Jun Yi, South Korea

  • “Putin’s Kiss,” Lise Birk Pedersen, Denmark

  • “Six Million and One,” David Fisher, Israel/Germany/Austria

  • “Songs,” Eduardo Coutinho, Brazil

  • “They Call it Myanmar – Lifting the Curtain,” Robert H. Lieberman, USA

Steve James honored at IDFA