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The annual IDFA press conference began Wednesday with some seemingly abstract visuals that artistic director Orwa Nyrabia revealed formed a key part of this year’s marketing campaign. Inspired by the work of Dutch photographer Maurice Mikkers, the images are close-ups of human tears—pretty apt for a year that Nyrabia described as “exciting, painful, and joyful at the same time.”

He also noted that the festival, at 33, had passed the first flush of youth and was yet to enter middle age. “Thirty-three years of age is certainly a special number,” he said. “I think, in humans, we consider it to be the ultimate age, right? That’s the age when we are most mature but still energetic, when we have a future to look to, and to shape, but we are not too young to acknowledge that.”

As previously reported, the festival will go ahead—as far as possible, under pandemic conditions—with a cinema-first strategy, meaning that every film will receive a theatrical premiere, no matter how small the audience. Nyrabia also acknowledged that there would be fewer films this year, although he insisted that this hadn’t narrowed the festival’s broad international focus.

“The total number of films and new media projects is 258,” he said. “This is smaller than last year and the years before. However, and gladly, this did not affect our overall coverage of the world map. We take inclusivity very seriously. It is a very central part of our commitment at IDFA. We have films that come from the four corners of the world—literally. We have exceptional films from Africa, from Latin America, from Asia, from Eastern Europe, from all over, and in these films, we will go on a journey that will challenge each one of us. It is a journey that has an extra value this year. It is a journey that, we believe, takes us a bit further from the overwhelming moment of the pandemic and reminds us that, despite the pandemic, there is so much more to see, so much more to think about, and so much more to be concerned about. It is a way, maybe, to find our center, to find our balance amidst such a painful, strange moment.”

This year, he pointed out, is also the delivery year for IDFA’s signature on the “50/50 by 2020” pledge, an initiative to drive gender parity in the film industry. “And we are delivering,” he said. “There is still a lot of imperfection in the delivery, but it is a delivery. We have, in the overall program this year, 48.5% of films [that were] made by women, and we have one filmmaker who identifies as non-binary. In the competitions of IDFA we have, I think, 58.29% of films made by women. That is a bit more than the delivery expected, and we are very happy with that. There are still problems, however—there are still parts of the festival where it’s not full parity, but we will keep on working on that.”

Opening Night Film

IDFA 2020 will open with Arami Ullón’s “Nothing but the Sun” (Switzerland/Paraguay), a study of memory and community in which a Paraguayan man named Mateo Sobode Chiqueno records the voices of the Ayoreo, an indigenous people that were violently uprooted from their ancestral territory by white missionaries. Nyrabia said, “It’s going to be a film that will raise a lot of discussion, a film that will be remembered. It’s a film that tries to tackle very complex realities without losing pace, without losing coherence.”

IDFA Competition for Feature-Length Documentary

Including the aforementioned “Nothing but the Sun,” 12 titles will compete in the main competition. In Vitaly Mansky’s “Gorbachev. Heaven” (Latvia Czech Republic) we see the former Russian leader, now 89, reflecting on his life and country, while Claire Simon’s “The Grocer’s Son, the Mayor, the Village and the World…” (France/Belgium) shows a group of French entrepreneurs in their quest to set up a streaming platform for independent documentaries.

Filmed by an anonymous collective, “Inside the Red Brick Wall” (Hong Kong) goes behind the headlines of Hong Kong’s 2019 demonstrations; Nantenaina Lova’s “Morning Star” (Madagascar/Reunion) offers a portrait of life on a sacred beach in south-west Madagascar; and Thomas Imbach’s “Nemesis” (Switzerland) finds its director watching Zurich’s oldest train station being bulldozed to make way for a new police station and prison. Milo Rau’s “The New Gospel” (Germany/Switzerland/Italy) shows the making of last year’s radical passion play in the southern Italian city of Matera; Yoichiro Okutani’s “Odoriko” (Japan/U.S./France) offers a rare glimpse of the shrinking world of Japanese strip clubs; and in Firouzeh Khosrovani’s “Radiograph of a Family” (Norway/Iran/Switzerland) the director weighs up the effects of the 1979 Iranian Revolution on her family.

Maria Alvarez’s “Le temps perdu” (Argentina) joins a group of elderly Marcel Proust fans at a Buenos Aires book club; Massimo D’Anolfi and Martina Parenti’s “War and Peace” (Italy/Switzerland) explores the extraordinary dynamics of the relationship between war and cinema; and Renzo Martens’ “White Cube” (Netherlands/Belgium/Democratic Republic of the Congo) sees what happens when a gallery space appears in the middle of a Congolese palm oil plantation.

IDFA Competition for First Appearance

Twelve titles compete in this category too, starting with “5 Houses” (Bruno Gularte Barreto, Brazil/Germany), in which the director pays tribute to five people who helped him through a painful childhood. “Divinations” (Leandro Picarella, Italy/France) follows a disgraced Italian fortune teller after he leaves prison, while “Everything Lost Will Not Be Fine” (Adrian Pirvu, Helena Maksyom, Romania/Ukraine) begins with a filmmaker looking for answers in Chernobyl and morphs into an unlikely, self-reflexive love story. “The Fifth Story” (Ahmed Abd, Qatar/Iraq) revisits the Iraq war of 2003; “The First Woman” (Miguel Eek, Spain) traces a woman’s first steps in the outside world after six years in a psychiatric institute; and “The Last Hillbilly” (Diane Sara Bouzgarrou and Thomas Jenkoe, France/Qatar) infiltrates the American underclass of poor white families in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky.

Filmed inside a small family apartment, “Nan”(Peng Zuqiang, China/U.S.) chronicles the daily life of the director’s disabled uncle Nan, who lives with his elderly parents; with “The Postcard” (Asmae El Moudir, Morocco), the filmmaker visits her mother’s hometown in a bid to understand her roots; and in “Showgirls of Pakistan” (Saad Khan, Pakistan/U.S.) we hear the stories of dancers from Pakistan’s Punjab province, who come under attack for performing the mujra, a centuries-old dance genre that is now considered vulgar by polite society.

“The Sky Is Red” (Francina Carbonell, Chile) reconstructs the events of December 2010, when 81 inmates died in a huge fire at San Miguel prison in Chile’s capital city Santiago; “This Rain Will Never Stop” (Alina Gorlova, Ukraine/Latvia/Germany/Qatar) attempts to reunite members of a family scattered across the globe by the war in Syria; and “A Way Home” (Karima Saidi, Belgium/Morocco/France/Qatar) sees the filmmaker documenting her mother’s final years in a care home as she succumbs to Alzheimer’s.

IDFA Competition for Mid-Length Documentary

Nyrabia vociferously voiced the festival’s support for films between 40 and 70 minutes before announcing the 12 titles that make up the Mid-Length competition. “Anny” (Helena Třeštíková, Czech Republic) is one of the director’s famous deep dives; it took 16 years to complete, showing the life of a former toilet attendant who became a sex worker at the age of 46. “Before the Dying of the Light” (Ali Essafi, Morocco) harks back to Morocco’s art scene of the ‘70s; “The Blue House” (Hamedine Kane, Belgium/Senegal) takes us into the Calais Jungle; and “A Boy” is a monochrome study of childhood in the Russia town of Arsenyev.

“Diving Horses” (Camille Grosperrin, France) looks at the fading fortunes of a family-run amusement park in upstate New York; and “Green Bank Pastoral” (Federico Urdaneta, U.K.) goes inside a wifi-free zone in rural America. Nyrabia made special mention of “Holy Bread” (Rahim Zabihi, Iran), a harsh study of Kurdish workers whose director was tragically killed in a car crash in May.

“Mothers” (Myriam Bakir, Morocco/France) explores the still-taboo subject of unmarried mothers in Morocco; “Rebel Objects” (Carolina Arias Ortiz, Costa Rica/Colombia) finds the filmmaker reconnecting with her homeland; and “Silent Voice” (Reka Valerik, France/Belgium) offers a portrait of a young martial arts fighter from Chechnya whose family have disowned him after he came out as being gay. “Ultimina” (Jacopo Quadri, Italy) shows an elderly woman reflecting on her life as the matriarch of a poor Tuscan farming family; and “The Wheel” (Nohim Lkhagvasuren, Mongolia) is a study of the surprising rise of suicide in Mongolia, where a third of the population lives in poverty.

Doclab and IDFA on Stage events will be covered in a later story.