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Gender Parity, Inclusion and Young Talent Take Center Stage at IDFA Opening

The 32nd International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) opened Wednesday with gender parity, inclusion, and young talent front and center.

Twenty-one year-old Canadian-Vietnamese director Carol Nguyen — whose short “No Crying at the Dinner Table” screens at the festival — kicked off the evening, reflecting IDFA’s commitment to young talent and women filmmakers. Nguyen said that she was optimistic about the position of women in film.

“Within the last few years alone, we have seen a rise of diverse representation in mainstream media,” Nguyen said. “Society and our audiences are more conscious than ever about the lack of gender and racial parity in film. Film festivals have even set gender parity goals for themselves. We are all demanding it.” Nguyen added that there is still a lot more work to be done, and that everyone must act together to achieve parity.

In his opening speech, Orwa Nyrabia, IDFA’s artistic director, focused on the choices people face when confronted by issues such as racism, exclusion, injustice, oppression, global warming, and the rise of populism. “We can choose to escape reality by watching a fun romantic comedy in order to forget. Or we can choose to lose sleep, fall into the trap of continuous draining panic, and watch a sensationalist commercial documentary,” Nyrabia said. “But, in fact, we do have a third way: we can protect our sanity, our balance, and our integrity while we face such a reality. This is where good cinema comes in.”

Over the 11 days of the festival, IDFA will present 329 films and new media projects, coming from 85 countries, and will welcome more than 3,000 professional guests from more than 90 countries, 17 national delegations, and host 147 world and international premieres.

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Shoring up Nyrabia’s commitment to showcasing more women’s stories and platforming more women’s voices, this year’s festival features the highest percentage of female filmmakers in the event’s 31-year history: 64% of competition titles and 47% of the total program.

“Reaching a fairer representation was much easier than it seemed to be,” Nyrabia had said when unveiling the festival lineup last month. “We only had to keep our goal in mind. The outstanding films that found their way to us this year was a humble reminder that we are in the presence of exceptional female filmmakers.”

The festival opened with the world premiere of Mehrdad Oskouei’s “Sunless Shadows,” which depicts five young Iranian women complicit in the murders of abusive husbands, fathers, or brothers-in-law. Oskouei’s film competes in the Feature-Length Documentary Competition alongside Jørgen Leth’s “I Walk”; Heidi Hassan and Patricia Pérez Fernández’s “In a Whisper”; Marianne Khoury’s “Let’s Talk”; Kivu Ruhorahoza’s “Europa, ‘Based on a True Story’”; Laura Herrero Garvín’s “La Mami”; and Pushpendra Singh’s “Pearl of the Desert.”

Rounding out the selection of 12 world or international premieres are Valentina Pedicini’s “Faith”; Hilal Baydarov’s “Mother and Son”; Maasja Ooms’s “Punks”; Marlene Edoyan’s “The Sea Between Us”; and Seung-Jun Yi’s “Shadow Flowers.”

There’s an equally global flavor to the debut titles competing for the First Appearance Prize, many with themes of family, place and belonging. The list comprises Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s “Aswang”; Alejandro Salgado’s “Barzakh”; Ilia Povolotskiy’s “Froth”; Eva Marie Rødbro’s “I Love You I Miss You I Hope I See You Before I Die”; Carol Benjamin’s “I Owe You a Letter About Brazil”; and Małgorzata Goliszewska and Katarzyna Mateja’s “Lessons of Love.”

Completing the First Appearance lineup are Tali Yankelevich’s “My Darling Supermarket”; Meng Han’s “Smog Town”; Lucy Parker’s “Solidarity”; Marija Stojnić’s “Speak So I Can See You”; Simón Uribe Martínez’s “Suspension”; and Nino Orjonikidze and Vano Arsenishvili’s “A Tunnel.”

The festival runs until Dec. 1.

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