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IDFA Forum: ‘Documentary Makers Want To Go Behind The News’

An eclectic range of projects made life more interesting at this year’s pitching event

AMSTERDAM — The world’s geopolitical landscape may be changing on a daily and depressing basis, but a visit to this year’s Forum suggests it’s not all doom and gloom in the world of documentary. “Sunken Eldorado”, from France, offers a tale of modern-day piracy in the hunt for the Spanish Armada’s missing gold; Italian co-production “Maestro Morricone” tells the story of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite composer; and, from Norway, comes “Krogufant”, a film that takes a look at the emotional lives and intelligence of the animals we’re more used to eating than meeting.

In all, 58 projects came from 23 countries, each exploring different themes and formats. “It’s so wonderful to travel with all these filmmakers and see the world through their eyes,” says Adriek van Nieuwenhuijzen, the festival’s head of industry. “The variety is huge this year, and it’s not only political topics dealing with society. Last year, what was remarkable was that we got a lot of projects dealing with technology, so to speak – how technology influences society. And this year, we didn’t get many of those applications. We’ve chosen only one, I think, in the cross-media section, which is “The Internet Of Shit” by Brett Gaylor, a Canadian filmmaker. So that [topic] was absent, and that was one of the things that was remarkable.”

She continues: “But I didn’t see any big, new trends. Of course, the refugee crisis is still there, as is the investigative journalism type of documentaries that really cover big stories, as are the smaller, very personal stories.”

As was the case last year, VR continued to enter the fray, but it’s still hard to determine just when, or even if, the format will break out. “No one can look into the future,” says van Nieuwenhuijzen. “But what I find striking is that these VR filmmakers really are storytellers and they are looking for really serious content, in terms of dealing with, say, the refugee crisis or racial tensions – for example, in the U.S.” Here, van Nieuwenhuijzen is referring to Canadian VR project “The Racial Terror Project”, which deals with a notorious Florida lynching in 1934. “What I find interesting,” she notes, “is that these stories are becoming more bold, so the emotion, for the audience, is getting deeper.”

Not only that, VR has started to emerge from the most unlikely territories. “For instance,” she says, “I was really surprised to see one from Lithuania. Everybody was like, ‘Whoa!’ It’s a cross-media project and it’s titled “Killer, Penguin, Tom, Doll Face.” It’s a weird title, but it’s very fresh and new and surprising, especially coming from Lithuania. We never had [a VR project from there], so that in itself was interesting.”

As ever, there is a continued effort to find films in the recesses. “What we try to do here at the festival,” says van Nieuwenhuijzen, “not only in picking projects for the Forum but also in general at the festival, is that we really are trying to include filmmakers from the global south. We do that through the IDFA Bertha Fund, of course, where we support them, but we also have IDFAcademy, which is a training initiative. For us, it’s also very important that we work on capacity-building in these countries in various ways.”

The locations of these new and emerging filmmakers, however, is still not as important as their stories. Says van Nieuwenhuijzen, “Documentary filmmakers want to go behind the news, they don’t want to tell again the same story we’ve seen before. They want to go deep personal, show us different sides, different angles of our world – and we’re here to help them do that.”

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