The 35th edition of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) opens today (9 November) with the world premiere of Niki Padidars Everything you see.
Laura Poitras is Guest of Honor 2022 and the subject of the 2022 Retrospective, in which all seven of her films will be shown. She has also curated 10 films and will be speaking to selected filmmakers in the festival’s public programme. Poitras will also give a master class and talk about her Golden Lion contender All the beauty and the bloodshed about artist Nan Goldin’s campaign to support the Sackler family, owners and founders of Purdue Pharma and major philanthropists in the art world, for the marketing and sale of the drug Oxycontin and the terrible epidemic of addition it helped create in the United States , to be held accountable.
Artistic director Orwa Nyrabia, who was born in Syria, has been at the helm since 2018. He speaks to you Screen about some of his key curatorial decisions, why IDFA is holding a debate called What Gender is a Film Festival? and the film he can’t see.
Please tell us about your opening film Niki Padidar everything you see which describes the treatment of immigrants living in the Netherlands. What should the audience take away from this?
Everything you see is a film that takes us to a place of introspection in a very elegant and very sincere and intimate way. This film shows what is happening in all parts of the world where people are seeking asylum. In countries that are the safest places on earth, we very easily blame the far right. We forget that the daily behavior of the most progressive can be quite hurtful to people from different backgrounds. Criticism of the extreme right is simple. The difficult thing is looking at ourselves in the mirror.
How did IDFA deal with the programming challenge related to showing films by Russian filmmakers after Russa’s invasion of Ukraine?
It’s a very big issue for us. We have partnered with the Open Society Foundation to dedicate a cycle of the IDFA Bertha Fund [support] this year only for Ukrainian projects. We invite a large group of Ukrainian film programmers to join us at the festival. We believe the lack of a Ukrainian voice in our curating and programming world is striking.
On the other hand, there are a few Russian films. We were extremely picky. In Envision we have a movie called manifest [by Angie Vinchito]. In the international competition we have a film produced in France, paradise [by Alexander Abaturov), and in Best of Fests, we have How To Save A Dead Friend [by Marusya Syroechkovskaya.] We thoroughly researched the funding and artistic sensibilities before selecting the films.
Stephane Malterre and Garance Le Caisne The Lost Souls of Syria, a French-German co-production, has its world premiere in Frontlight. It features deeply shocking images of those tortured and killed by Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria. Does the film have a special resonance for you, since you yourself were arrested by this regime?
I have to tell you that I still haven’t dared to watch the film. I trust the team… it’s very difficult for me personally to watch. This is not a movie for people like me. It’s a movie for everyone else!
What do you hope to address in the What gender are film festivals debate?
We often abuse the power we hold as festivals in ways akin to toxic masculinity. It’s in the programming and curation – in the way we understand our job of saying who is the “best” and what is the “best” film. Like filmmakers, we are subjective. We curate and program based on who we are as groups. The best we can do is form a very open and diverse group as a selection committee. Film is not a 100 meter race. There is no objectively “best” film.
Second, it’s the way we treat the filmmakers, either as partners or as subjects. We receive thousands of submissions. This year it was over 4,000. This is not just a question for IDFA, but for festivals in general. Each of these filmmakers has worked for years on these films that we are allowed to watch for two hours. Are we really taking this seriously? Let’s respect the years [taken] to make this movie?
This is about moving out of an old understanding of our work and into a space where we are more partners and have better camaraderie with the filmmaking community. To me this parallels the gender issue because we see that patriarchy is about suppressing the voice of the other.