Sergei Loznitsa’s extensive documentary “Mr. Landsbergis,” clocking in at 246 minutes and depicting Lithuania’s “singing revolution” when the country finally broke away from the Soviet Union, has won the Best Film award in the International Competition section, as well as €15,000, at documentary film festival IDFA in Amsterdam.
It marks the second 2021 release for the prolific filmmaker, who has already shown “Babi Yar. Context” at Cannes Film Festival in July. The latter film was also noticed at IDFA and granted the Beeld en Geluid IDFA ReFrame Award for Best Creative Use of Archive’s special mention.
“On every level of craft, the winning film represents a monumental achievement that fully explores the role one man, one nation, and one historical moment can play in the still-unfolding story of the global struggle for freedom and self-determination,” argued jurors Arne Birkenstock, Claire Diao, Elena Fortes, Jessica Kiang and Ryan Krivoshey, admitting that while it’s not easy to bring history to life, “it is even more difficult to make it thrilling, urgent and totally enriching.”
A co-production between Lithuania and the Netherlands, “Mr. Landsbergis” – awarded also for Danielius Kokanauskis’ editing – was produced by Uljana Kim for Studio Uljana Kim, Maria Choustova and Loznitsa himself for Atoms & Void, and Current Time TV.
“This film is so long, but these four hours are full of meaning,” said Loznitsa during the ceremony, arguing that “Mr. Landsbergis” is “a very important film” not just for the Lithuanians, but the whole world. “The biggest disease is not the virus, it’s fear. It’s much more dangerous.”
The IDFA Award for Best Directing went to Hà Lệ Diễm for “Children of the Mist,” in which she explores the traditions of the Hmong ethnic minority in Vietnam, including the controversial practice of “bride kidnapping.” Finally, Belarusian director Ruslan Fedotow’s journey into the depths of the Moscow metro, “Where Are We Headed?,” was noticed for its cinematography.
“When I used to live in Belarus, taking the metro wasn’t just about getting from one point to another. I liked to observe people there,” Fedotow told Variety earlier this week. “It’s a public space, like a library, a whole different life happening underground.”
Fedotow’s film also scored the award for Best First Feature, with “Children of the Mist” getting special mention. It marked the first time the cross-section awards were presented at the fest, alongside Best Dutch Film (“Jason”), the FIPRESCI Award (“Makeup Artist”) and the Beeld en Geluid IDFA ReFrame Award for Best Creative Use of Archive (“Ultraviolette and the Blood-Spitters”).
In the Envision Competition, Karim Kassem’s “Octopus” (Lebanon, Qatar, United States) proved to be the winner, praised by jurors Andrea Arnold, Joe Bini, Charlotte Serrand and Akram Zaatari for its portrayal of the aftermath of the Port of Beirut explosion and its “language of mystery and loss.”
“It was made with great respect towards the subject matter and it felt like a story told from the inside. There are no answers presented, just the questions of life in the face of a disaster,” they added. The film was produced by Karim Kassem and Moustafa Kassem, with Elizabeth Potter handling the sales.
In the same section, Pim Zwier was named Best Director for “O, Collecting Eggs Despite the Times,” while the Award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution went to Lindiwe Matshikiza for “One Take Grace.” Special mention was given to “Skin” by Marcos Pimentel.
In the IDFA DocLab Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction, Sacha Wares and John Pring won with their project “Museum of Austerity,” while the Special Jury Award for Creative Technology went to Marcel van Brakel and Mark Meeuwenoord for “Symbiosis.”
The 34th edition of IDFA has run as an in-person event. To date, it has received more than 100,000 cinema visits, and had approximately 3,000 guests in Amsterdam and online.
“This virus wanted to kill us and yet here we are, safe and sound, responsible, trying to make the best of it and make sure that we don’t surrender, that we keep this commitment to documentary film and art alive,” said IDFA’s artistic director Orwa Nyrabia.
“We learnt again that the audience wants this, they need this, that what we do is meaningful to them. Lockdown or not, semi-lockdown, partial lockdown, we will go on and find our way.”
You can find the full list of winners here.