×

IDFA at 30: Nick Broomfield Says ‘Independent Feature Film Is Almost Extinct’ and Docs Are Filling That Space

The festival celebrates its 30th edition with The Visual Voice, a 16-film sidebar celebrating documentary’s greatest films, chosen by its biggest names

AMSTERDAM — As IDFA turns 30, its organizers didn’t have to try too hard to pull in the big guns for a sidebar they called The Visual Voice. Made up of 14 films chosen by 16 filmmakers, the strand gave carte blanche to some of its most famous alumni, with picks by Pirjo Honkasalo, Kim Longinotto, Nick Broomfield, Jørgen Leth, The Yes Men, Maziar Bahari, Heddy Honigmann, John Appel, Hubert Sauper, D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Frederick Wiseman, Steve James, Victor Kossakovsky and Nishtha Jain.

IDFA veteran Nick Broomfield, who has returned to the festival many times since its launch in 1988, was only too happy to contribute – the festival, he contends, was a bold game-changer, and one that has since been vindicated for its beliefs.

“It was unusual when it started,” he says, “because it was a festival just for documentaries. Before that, most festivals had documentaries as a sort of an appendage to the feature films.”

Broomfield goes on: “I guess what we’ve seen is a big change – the independent feature film is really almost extinct, and documentaries have become very commercial.”

So, in an “enormous change,” documentary has evolved from “a sort of poor relation, with [films made on] very low budgets.”

With documentaries now, ·if you’re doing a Netflix or a HBO film, the budgets are pretty healthy and there’s a big audience for them too.”

For Broomfield, part of the appeal of IDFA is the city itself. “It’s always been a really interesting festival,” he says, “with lots of films that are worth seeing that you could only really see there.”

“But it’s also quite a social festival – Amsterdam is a great city to walk around- The cinemas are all pretty close to one another and there are a great many places for everyone to meet up and talk.”

The social aspects of the festival also appeal to ‘culture-jamming activist duo’ The Yes Men. Eggier “fond memories” include winning the Audience Award in 2003 (“a huge honor”), getting their next film funded in the pitching forum (“super fun) which ended up getting the Youth Award-

“But the thing that really is lasting is the great friendships and professional relationships we’ve developed over the years at IDFA.” Also, “unlike some of the big narrative film fests in small mountain towns, this is a festival where, as filmmakers, we can actually go see any films we want to that are in the program, and we can attend events and parties without having to prove that we are ‘worthy.’”

They describe that as “such a relief compared to what other festivals have become over the years.”

For the sidebar, The Yes Men have opted for Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2012 festival hit “The Act Of Killing.” “We’ve chosen it,” they say, “because it’s a powerful, inventive and shocking film that contributes to understanding the human condition.”

For his choice, Broomfield looked to the work of an old friend, Kim Longinotto, who overcame the direst circumstances – including having all her original footage wiped by an airport X-ray machine and catching cholera during the reshoot – to make the critically acclaimed “Sisters In Law” (2005).

“’Sisters In Law’ was a particularly important film for Kim,” says Broomfield. “Like a lot of her films, it’s about women’s issues, and it’s the story of a female judge in Cameroon, who delivers short, sharp shock treatment to these highly misogynistic guys who come into her court thinking they rule the world.”

He adds: “She very quickly pulls the rug out from under their legs, but in a very amusing way. It’s a great insight into the culture of Cameroon, made with a great deal of humor and wit – and very pertinent to the world we live in now.”

Longinotto herself recalls the film’s IDFA premiere as a career highlight. “We had huge audiences and we all enjoyed the festival buzz,” she says, and has returned the favour by selecting Nick Broomfield’s 2003 film “Aileen: Life And Death Of A Serial Killer,” which leads to the execution of murderer Aileen Wuornos.

“It’s an extraordinarily angry and heart-breaking film,” she notes. “Aileen is not a person who is easy to love and yet her execution feels like a betrayal, a murder.  When I first saw the film, I could feel how shaken and distressed Nick was, and how he transmits his feeling of helplessness to us, the audience.”

Indian director Nishtha Jain chose Manie Kaul’s 1985 film “The Mind Of Clay”, about the craft of ceramics, which she describes as “a magical journey into the myths and fables surrounding the ancient art of terracotta pottery”.

Says Jain: “IDFA marked a turning point in my life. I came here for the first time with my film “City Of Photos” in 2004. I came not knowing what to expect, but IDFA opened up a whole world of non-fiction cinema. At first, we were overwhelmed. It was predominantly Caucasian men, and we didn’t think we would be noticed. But Peter Wintonick, who was the selector at the time and hosted many events in the evenings, highlighted our film along with those of many other new filmmakers. There’s been no looking back since then.”

Jain’s thoughts echo those of Broomfield, who suggests that IDFA is a means as well as an end. “Even if it’s not directly helpful to your career in terms of being given a satchel full of money,” he says, “it’s very helpful in just catching up with people and finding out how other people are dealing with the problems that you’re dealing with. I think that is what makes for a great festival.”

More Film

  • Josh Brolin, Kathryn Boyd. Josh Brolin,

    'Avengers: Endgame's' Josh Brolin: Thanos' Butt Is a 'Beautiful, Purple Peach'

    On the eve of “Avengers: Endgame’s” world premiere, everyone’s thoughts have turned to the one crucial detail that could be the difference between life or death for the Avengers: Does Thanos have a butt? “I don’t know what that whole thing is about! I really don’t!” Josh Brolin, who plays Thanos, told Variety‘s Marc Malkin [...]

  • Tessa Thompson'Avengers: Endgame' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    'Avengers: Endgame's' Tessa Thompson Says Valkyrie Would Spoon Captain Marvel, Thor

    Tessa Thompson, who plays Valkyrie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and upcoming “Avengers: Endgame,” had no problem addressing speculation about the character’s sexuality at the “Endgame” red carpet premiere Monday. The “Sorry to Bother You” actress explained that she played her Marvel character as bisexual. “In the canon, [Valkyrie] is bisexual. You see her with [...]

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    Writers Guild Says Over 7,000 Members Have Fired Agents

    Over 7,000 members of the Writers Guild of America have fired their talent agents, the Hollywood union said on Monday. As promised, the guild delivered a first round of termination letters to agents in a show of support for the WGA’s full-on war with the Association of Talent Agents. “Today the Guild delivered a first [...]

  • BRAZILIAN FLAGFRENCH OPEN TENNIS, PARIS, FRANCE

    Brazil’s Ancine Freezes Incentives, Threatening Film-TV Industry Paralysis

    Brazil’s Ancine agency, its foremost public-sector source of film funding, has frozen all of its incentive programs, potentially near paralyzing new production in Latin America’s biggest film-TV industry. The dramatic decision, which has left Brazil’s industry is a state of shock and intense fear for its future, comes as it has taken further hits. In [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez Reteams With STXfilms on Romantic-Comedy Co-Starring Owen Wilson

    Jennifer Lopez is reteaming with STXfilms on the upcoming romantic-comedy “Marry Me.” Kat Coiro is directing the film and Owen Wilson is in final negotiations to join the pic, which will likely shoot this fall. The script was written by John Rogers and Tami Sagher, with a rewrite by Harper Dill. Lopez and Wilson both [...]

  • Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer

    Steve Golin, Prolific Producer and Founder of Anonymous Content, Dies at 64

    Steve Golin, an Oscar-winning producer who was founder and CEO of Anonymous Content, died Sunday in Los Angeles of cancer. He was 64. Golin was a pioneer in blending the business of talent management with production. Anonymous Content, which Golin founded in 1999, worked with a stable of big name artists such as Steven Soderbergh, [...]

  • David Leitch Kelly McCormick

    'Hobbs & Shaw' Director David Leitch, Kelly McCormick Sign First-Look Deal With Universal (EXCLUSIVE)

    Universal Pictures is signing David Leitch, his longtime producing partner, Kelly McCormick and their recently founded 87North Production banner to a first-look production deal. “David and Kelly have established themselves as a distinctive, stylish filmmaking team who can do it all, from contained thrillers to franchise tentpoles,” said Universal’s president Peter Cramer. “We are confident [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content