IDFA Reveals First Films: Hito Steyerl’s Curated Program, Selection of Artavazd Pelechian Docs

IDFA Reveals First Films: Steyerl’s Top Films, Pelechian Selection
Courtesy of Trevor Paglen, Raymond Depardon

International documentary film festival IDFA has revealed the first films selected for its 34th edition, which runs Nov. 17-28 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. These are the program curated by the event’s guest of honor, the German filmmaker, media artist and writer Hito Steyerl, and a selection of four films directed by Armenia’s Artavazd Pelechian, who will receive IDFA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Both helmers will attend the festival in person.

With her curated program of 14 titles, Steyerl offers a window into her world of film and media art. Helping us to understand her own body of work, Steyerl presents a lineup of dissident filmmakers who, each in their own way, have shaped the art of political documentary cinema.

Selected films include “Videograms of a Revolution,” the cult masterpiece by Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica, in a nod to Steyerl’s long-held admiration of Farocki, who she has written about, exhibited with, and studied under at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Unearthing hidden stories of Japanese activism, “Yama: Attack to Attack” charts the consecutive assassinations of the film’s directors, Mitsuo Sato and Kyoichi Yamaoka, as they document the conditions of local workers.

Germane to Steyerl’s own artistic methodology, several titles reimagine notions of truth and fiction, as seen in “Stories of Destroyed Cities” by the Rojava Film Commune, which sensitively illuminates the Kurdish cause — a returning subject in Steyerl’s writings.

Reality is again reimagined in “Kenedi Goes Back Home,” one of two selected films by Yugoslav Black Wave icon Želimir Žilnik, as well as in Peter Watkins’ epic “La Commune (Paris, 1871),” remastered for cinema release under Watkins’ supervision.

Dissident filmmaking takes the form of avant-garde feminist art with titles such as Barbara Hammer’s “Nitrate Kisses” and Martha Rosler’s “Semiotics of the Kitchen.”

Steyerl also presents a mainstay of documentary journalism with Laura Poitras’ Oscar-winning Edward Snowden film “Citizenfour.”

IDFA will also present an extensive “Filmmaker Talk” with Steyerl in Amsterdam’s historic Tuschinski 1 cinema, named by Time Out as the most beautiful cinema in the world. During the festival, Steyerl will also moderate a panel discussion with several filmmakers from her selection.

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Courtesy of IDFA

Nearly 30 years after the release of Pelechian’s last film, IDFA presents the European premiere of his 64-minute tour de force “Nature.” The film offers a “monumental cinematic experience,” the festival said in a statement, “returning to Pelechian’s characteristic fascination with human fragility in the face of nature’s titanic glory — this time through a swirling composition of found footage natural disasters.” This will be the first screening of the film that Pelechian has attended, with Andrei Ujica, his long-time collaborator and producer of “Nature,” also in attendance.

IDFA will screen three films from Pelechian’s career. One of the auteur’s earliest films, “We,” honors the people of Armenia and their tumultuous history, marking the birth of the filmmaker’s signature distance montage technique. In “Seasons of the Year,” the director “orchestrates a magnificent yet bittersweet symphony of human existence centering on an isolated community in the remote Armenian mountaintops,” the festival said. Finally, in “Our Century,” Pelechian turns to the 20th century space race of the U.S. and U.S.S.R., capturing “the terrific nature of humanity crossing a cosmic threshold.”