LOOKING FORWARD IDFA’s DocLab programme celebrates its 5th birthday on Sunday with the Interactive Documentary Conference, exploring the future of documentary storytelling across a variety of disciplines.
It has been a turbulent year. The organization has already changed its name once, and is about to do so again. Nonetheless, The IDFA Fund (previously the Jan Vrijman Fund and soon to be the IDFA Bertha Fund) begins this year’s festival in far ruder health than anyone could have anticipated earlier this year, when its very survival was under threat, Geoffrey Macnab reports.
The Fund, set up in 1998 and dedicated to supporting docs in developing countries, has long been an essential part of IDFA’s activities. Reduction in government support – which traditionally accounted for 60% of its financing – had left the Fund looking very vulnerable. There was alarm in the summer, when the Fund cancelled its second selection round. Contingency plans were being drawn up. “The trouble we were having to deal with was that, in an organization as small as we are, is we cannot afford to lose our personnel”, says Fund manager Isabel Arrate. “That’s our knowledge.” However, thanks to support from the London-based Bertha Foundation, its future now looks assured. “The collaboration with Bertha comes at a moment when we really needed it”, says Arrate. “It makes it possible for us to continue.”
CLOUD NINE Arrate tells the story of how she and Festival director Ally Derks were summoned to London to meet Bertha representatives in mid-September. “We were about 10 or 15 minutes into the conversation and they said, ‘Yes, we want to support you and we were thinking of €300,000 for three years.’ We were like, ‘What!’” As Arrate notes, normally when you apply for financing, you need to fill in countless forms and write endless proposals. This money, though, had few strings attached. “When Ally and I were flying back, we were still on cloud nine. We couldn’t believe what had happened.” The Bertha money, which is there for a minimum of three years, ensures that work of the Fund over 15 very successful years won’t be forgotten. “We share very much the same view of what docu-
PHOTO: NADINE MAAS
mentary can do, what we think of documentary”, Arrate notes. In return, Bertha has asked that its name be “attached to ours and visible – that’s why we’re changing it to the IDFA Bertha Fund.”
NEW AVENUES An added bonus is that Bertha is setting up a network of new venues to show documentary in London – and may provide films backed by the Fund with new possibilities of distribution. Changes to the EU Media Programme may mean that the Fund is eligible for support from Brussels too. The new Creative Europe Programme (2014-2020) is expected to invest in initiatives that foster coproduction between European funds and developing countries. Meanwhile, Arrate and her colleagues at the Hubert Bals Fund in Rotterdam are continuing to apply for national lottery funding. (Their previous joint applications haven’t been successful, but they continue to try. “It’s a wildcard”, Arrate says.)
RICH HARVEST In 2013, with the Bertha support, the Fund should have a budget of around €600,000 – not quite as much as in previous years, but enough to allow the organization to operate at full throttle. This year’s ‘harvest’ of Fund-backed titles in official selection appears as rich as ever. There are 14 new films in IDFA – and several older titles are also being shown. In the feature-length competition, the Fund backed Kesang Tseten’s Who Will Be a Gurkha. In the mid-length competition, its titles include Red Wedding and Camera/Woman. The Fund is also attached to some projects being pitched in the Forum, among them Da Tong (about a Chinese mayor’s attempt to save his city) and South African gang doc The Devil’s Lair. As for Jan Vrijman (1925-1977), the journalist and cineaste who inspired and co-founded IDFA, his name may be gone from the Fund but he certainly isn’t forgotten. Arrate believes he would have approved of the measures IDFA has taken to ensure the Fund survives. “It was pragmatism. If you look at how and why this whole thing started, it is very much related to who Jan Vrijman was, what his values were and what he wanted in life and in film.”
“What with it being IDFA’s 25th anniversary and DocLab’s 5th birthday, we felt it was a good time to take stock of recent developments as well as look to the future”, says DocLab curator Caspar Sonnen. “The morning session will feature keynotes from a digital pioneers working in a variety of disciplines”, he continues. “We thought it would be interesting to see how people are pushing boundaries in other spheres. There is a lot the documentary scene can learn from the museum scene, for example.” Speakers will include interactive graphic novel guru Daniel Burwen of Cognito Comics, Andrew Devigal of Second Story and Jane Burton of Tate Modern. Burton will discuss recent interactive Tate Modern projects including The Gallery of Lost Art, devoted to major works of modern and post-modern art that have disappeared – either as a result of theft, modification or negligence, and Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin’s The Exquisite Forest, co-produced by Google and The Tate. The latter initiative, which is currently on display at Tate Modern as an installation, is an online collaborative art project allowing users to create short animations that build off one another to create a collection of branching narratives resembling trees. DeVigal will talk about the work of the new interactive agency Second Story, pioneering new forms of storytelling across a variety of digital channels including web, mobile and installations. DeVigal was previously multimedia editor at The New York Times. The afternoon session will be devoted to the practicalities of the digital age, featuring “people who’ve got their feet in the mud”, says Sonnen. Former Arte interactive chief Joel Ronez, who green lit early webdocs such as Gaza Sderot, will present his ‘Top Three Worst Crossmedia Ideas’. Now head of new media at Radio France, he will also unveil some of the projects he is working on there. Dutch producer Bruno Felix of Amsterdam-based Submarine will talk about the photography-based webdoc Keep on Steppin’ and perhaps some of the issues he is having in getting their ipad documentary accepted into the Apple appstore.” Alexandre Brachet of Paris-based web agency Upian will talk about the rise of the slow web. “There’s a move toward more contemplative works on the web that the user gets immersed in for a longer amount of time – it’s no longer only about multitasking, interaction and speed”, says Sonnen. “Some of the best interactive documentaries show us how the web isn’t only about everything at once, click-click-click and non-stop status updates. Like the Slow Food movement did for food, the Slow Web is teaching us to enjoy the more contemplative and reflective possibilities the web has to offer. Kind of like documentary cinema has also been the slow and more timeless counterpart to the daily news.” The day will wrap up with a discussion on the ‘Funding Future of Storytelling’ which is expected to focus on the role these new hybrid forms of documentary play in re-inventing documentary storytelling for the web and creating new business models for documentary content in the digital age. Melanie Goodfellow
FLAMENCO TIME Flamenco dancer Karime Amaya, niece of the legendary Carmen Amaya, will give a unique performance after the screening of Eva Vila’s Bajarí. Gypsy Barcelona, this evening in the Brakke Grond (22.30). IDFA – 1
FLANDERS DOCS OUT IN FORCE AT IDFA Five documentaries as well as two projects from Flanders have been selected for this year’s 25th IDFA. The five docs are Rain by Gerard-Jan Claes and Olivia Rochette, The Sound of Belgium by Jozef Devillé, Expecting by Fabio Wuytack, Snake Dance by Manu Riche and Patrick Marnham, and The Wave by Sarah Vanagt and Katrien Vermeire. Projects from two Flemish documentary makers – The Shadow World by Johan Grimonprez and White Elephants by Kristof Bilsen – are also selected for the IDFA Forum.
GRIMONPREZ PITCHES SHADOW WORLD AT FORUM The Shadow World, a new feature project from Johan Grimonprez, will be the first to pitch at the IDFA Forum, the festival’s co-production market. This is great for the producing team, but raises the stakes as well. “Johan already has the experience, but going first is still a bit nerve-wracking,” says Emmy Oost of Onomatopee Films, the director’s regular producer in Belgium and co-producer of this project. Grimonprez is as much an artist as a film director, best known for his highly creative treatment of archive images. In Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y he combined 1960s and 1970s news footage of plane hijackings with a disco soundtrack, while in Double Take he explored the iconic screen presence of Alfred Hitchcock. The Shadow World is slightly different, since its starting point is a book. Written by acclaimed author Andrew Feinstein, a former ANC member of the South African parliament, it reveals how the international arms trade fosters corruption, undermines democracy and causes suffering on a global scale. “It’s a tremendously credible basis with very long reach, and as Johan’s work has always been politically engaged and engaging, it suits his interests and his gifts very well,” Oost explains. The story will be brought to the screen with a strong narrative through line that includes interviews with insiders and whistleblowers around the world, accompanied by archival and found footage. “Johan’s personal style will be incorporated in the storytelling and will bring the film to another level.” Grimonprez works by editing images rather than writing, and thanks to funding from the Bertha Foundation, Cinereach and the Sundance Institute he already has a 25-minute edit covering some of the interviews. This will still be under wraps at IDFA, however. The project will be pitched by Grimonprez and Feinstein, along with producer Joslyn Barnes of Louverture Films in New York. Besides Oost, US producer Anadil Hossain of Dillywood will also attend. Their aim is to build the European side of the co-production, in particular by bringing major broadcasters on board. Sales agent Wide is already attached. Ian Mundell
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Rain by Gerard-Jan Claes and Olivia Rochette features in the First Appearance competition (see separate story) and follows a ballet production from initial auditions right up to opening night. Producer is Bart Van Langendonck for Savage Film. The Sound of Belgium by Jozef Devillé and produced by Visualantics is part of the Music Documentary competition and explores the rich, untold story of Belgian dance music. In Expecting, which is selected for the IDFA Panorama, director Fabio Wuytack portrays an Afghan-Kosovan refugee couple as they struggle through their daily lives (see separate story). Both Snake Dance by Manu Riche and Patrick Marnham and The Wave by Sarah Vanagt and Katrien Vermeire are presented in the Paradocs sidebar. Snake Dance, a coproduction between Manu Riche for Riche, Riche & Riche and Geneviève De Bauw for Thank You & Good Night productions, tells the story of the invention of the atomic bomb and its unintended consequences in today’s world. It offers a reflection on the Promethean dimension of nuclear power and the A bomb. In The Wave, the gaze of the camera is unflinching as it focuses on a mass grave from the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.
RAIN DANCE Rain, which is competing for IDFA’s First Appearance award, follows choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker as she brings one of her most famous creations to the Paris Opera Ballet. The challenge is to teach her contemporary choreography, with music by Steve Reich, to classically trained ballet dancers.
The Sound of Belgium
This short is co-directed by Katrien Vermeire and Sarah Vanagt (who also produced for Balthasar). There are also a number of coproductions with minority Flemish input: The Gatekeepers by Dror Moreh, which is co-produced by Anna Van der Wee for Wild Heart Productions, in Feature-Length Documentaries competition; Mussels In Love by Willemiek Kluijfhout (co-prod: Bram Crols and Mark Daems for Associate Directors); Anton Corbijn Inside Out by
Klaartje Quirijns (co-prod: Savage Film); Guerilla Grannies – How To Live In This World by Ike Bertels (co-prod: Ellen De Waele for Serendipity Films); and The Only Son by Simonka de Jong (co-prod: by Eric Goossens for Off World). The IDFA Forum will also see two projects from Flemish documentary makers: The Shadow World by Johan Grimonprez (see separate story) and White Elephants (working title) by Kristof Bilsen. Henry Womersley
own company, Rosas, the atmosphere in Paris was quite different. “When entering the impressive building, you arrive in a different, almost magical world with a strict hierarchy and rules.” The film follows the ballet dancers as they take on this challenge, contrasting rehearsals for Rain with their performance of a classical ballet from company’s repertoire. But it also observes the effect on De Keersmaeker. “She asked us to make this documentary as she
wanted traces of this project to be preserved,” says Rochette. “It was the first time that she had another dance company perform one of her creations.” Claes and Rochette have been working together since studying film at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, and their graduation film, Because We Are Visual, competed at IDFA in 2010. This weaves together fragments of video gathered from the internet, combining moments of personal intimacy with simple observations for the world. Rain unfolds in a different world, but draws on their experience of making Because We Are Visual, for example by combining security camera footage and telephone conversations with discrete observational camerawork. “It’s a documentary, but it has to be an experience as well,” says Claes. “We have a very cinematographic approach.” The film is produced by Bart Van Langendonck of Savage Film. Ian Mundell
“They start dancing aged eight or nine and their bodies are conditioned, whereas with Anne Teresa it’s more about the individual expression of a dancer,” explains Gerard-Jan Claes, co-director of the film with Olivia Rochette. Compared to De Keersmaeker’s
THE COMPLEXITY OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION Expecting is about a couple, Jawed from Afghanistan and Dashurije from Kosovo, struggling to start a new life in Belgium. As they wait for news of their application to remain in the country, they are also expecting their first child. The 30-minute film screens in IDFA’s Panorama section, which is devoted to films that are thought provoking in their form and theme. Director Fabio Wuytack started with the idea in abstract rather than this particular story, drawn to the way having a child cuts through the complexity of illegal immigration. “An audience can connect directly to the story and its reality, instead of always ending up in ideological discussions,” he says. With the help of refugee support organisa-
tions he was able to find Jawed and Dashurije, and persuade them to take part in the film. From the outset he made it clear that he was there to help. “We were connected, but not just as filmmaker and characters. It was more like we were on the same side.” This part of his philosophy as a filmmaker, developed through projects such as Persona Non Grata, which screened at 2008’s IDFA where it ended second in the Audience Award charts. “I try to cut the distance in my films as
much as I can.” Expecting, produced by Bram Crols and Mark Daems of Associate Directors, is the ultimate part of the six-part Poverty Rules series. Ian Mundell
SHADOWS OF EMPIRE
Kel O’Neill and Eline Jongsma spent three years travelling the world to create Empire, a multiscreen installation looking at the modern-day reverberations of Dutch colonialism. The work is premiering at the Brakke Grond as part of IDFA’s Paradocs selection exploring productions on the periphery of documentary making. “We wanted to present human-scale stories showing how events in the past still impact people today”, comments O’Neill. The pair visited seven countries – Ghana, Brazil, Suriname, South Africa, India Indonesia and Sri Lanka – in search of communities whose modern realities can be directly linked to the Dutch colonial activities. In Sri Lanka, they visit a home for a group of mixed-race old ladies, descendants of Dutch colonizers who have been ostracised by mainstream society since Sri Lankan independence in 1948. A second Sri Lankan segment looks at the Netherlands Welcome Village offering shelter to the homeless, set up by an elderly white man who is revered by the thankful residents and described by Jongsma as a sort of “kindly Colonel Kurtz.” Another three-screen section focuses on the impact of the Dutch West India Company’s slavery activities, visiting dis-
PHOTO: NICHON GLERUM
placed communities in Ghana, Brazil and Suriname. O’Neill says that he was surprised how people on both sides of the colonial divide tended to see colonialism as a thing of the past, with no links to the present day. “It’s not just people belonging to the former colonising nations”, he comments. “Even some of the subjects would say, ‘We’re done with colonialism, this has nothing to do with us.’ To which I would reply, ‘Really?’” “The kids we interviewed digging for gold in Suriname wouldn’t have been there if their ancestors hadn’t been forcibly transferred there to dig for gold in the first place, to dig for gold in mines which were then abandoned only to recently reopened due to the rising price of gold”, he continues. O’Neill and Jongsma have decided to present their work in a multi-screen format rather than pulling it all together into a single linear feature, in a format they refer to as an “exploded feature film.” “History is fragmented, there are so many stories, untold stories”, says Jongsma. “Sometimes, we follow two stories at once and let them contradict and agree with one another. The visitor creates the narrative, picking up the strands of the work in which ever order they want.” Empire is one of 16 films being presented in the Paradocs selection. Melanie Goodfellow
TASKOVSKI LOOKS ABROAD London-based sales and production company Taskovski Films has rolled into Amsterdam with a handful of IDFA titles already added to its slate. Among the company’s pick-ups are Kesang Tseten’s Who Will Be a Gurkha?, a world premiere in IDFA’s feature-length competition. This is about The Brigade Of Gurkhas, the renowned special unit in the British army made up of villagers from Nepal. Taskovski discovered the project at Docedge Kolkata (India), the Asian forum for Documentary, and eventually came on board as a co-producer. Also new on Taskovski’s slate is Where The Condors Fly (screening in Reflecting Images – Panorama). A self-reflexive affair, this doc was made by director Carlos Klein about his fellow filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky as Kossakovsky was making his recent film Vivan Las Antipodas! Also on Taskovski’s Amsterdam slate is Timo Novotny’s Train of Thoughts, screening in Reflecting Images – Best Of Fests. Another Taskovski title, The Girl From The South, from director Jose Luis Garcia, also screens in Reflecting Images – Best Of Fests. Company founder Irena Taskovski has recently revealed her plans to open new offices in Germany and Norway as the company looks to ramp up its coproduction activities further and to work more closely with leading broadcasters. “The market is very tough at the moment. We choose to work with creative, artistic films. One other business model would be to start doing
more purely TV-oriented films”, Taskovski commented of the increasing emphasis on coproduction as well as sales. “In order to keep the quality and profile of the films we worked with, we needed to look for something else.” Geoffrey Macnab
The Girl From The South
LOOK BACK AT IDFA The Netherlands Film Fund’s Head of Documentary Pieter Fleury has been coming to IDFA since the beginning, and still appreciates the art of storytelling the festival facilitates. When did you first start coming to IDFA? The first year I visited IDFA was 1988, as a documentary filmmaker. What was the first film you sold/brought to/picked up at IDFA? How did it perform? My first IDFA entry was Mene Tekel in 1995. It had a screening at 10 am on a Thursday morning with 8 people in the cinema, but got some very good press reviews. Which of your films have picked up IDFA prizes over the years? Personally none. But the Fund’s films must have picked up many, many awards over the years. If IDFA were a wine, what would have been its vintage year for you? And why? 1945 – liberation! What’s changed most in the doc industry over the past 25 years? From a technically specialised profession it has become a means of expression available to almost anyone who has access to a phone. Now have access to computers that can edit as easily as they play music; cameras mounted on helmets or microphones that capture sounds at the lowest levels without additional cost. Doc-making has gone to the people. Storytelling, however, is still unchanged and always related to talent. Which IDFA events over the past 25 years stand out most, and why? The Forum, because it has brought together a world that before was separate and has generated doc-making at a unique level – cooperation between cultures has become normal instead of exceptionally hard. How many of Fred’s Bitter Balls have you eaten over the years? Few – seeing films prevails.
BLACK OUT FOR AUTLOOK In one of the first deals announced at Docs For Sale, Austrian-base outfit Autlook Film Sales has swooped to handle international rights on Eva Weber’s Black Out (a world premiere in IDFA Competition for Mid-length Documentary). The deal was negotiated between Autlook’s Peter Jäger and Andrea Hock and producers Weber (Odd Girl Out), Kat Mansoor (Animal Monday) and Claire Neate James (HIS London). Black Out examines the plight of the 10 million inhabitants of Guinea (where only one fifth of the population has access to electricity. Every day during exam season, hundreds of school children begin a nightly pilgrimage to the airport, petrol stations and wealthier parts of the city, searching for light. The documentary explores how children reconcile their lives in one of the world’s poorest countries with their desire to learn, in the face of the country’s own struggle for change. Director Eva Weber commented: “We had strong interest from several sales agents, but Autlook’s strategy and reputation convinced us.” Autlook’s current slate also includes crowd-pleasing mollusc-themed doc Mussels in Love and Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Danube Hospital. GM IDFA – 3
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DANISH DOCUMENTARIES AT IDFA 2012
MY AFGHANISTAN NAGIEB KHAJA
MONA ELDAIEF, JEHANE NOUJAIM
A NORMAL LIFE MIKALA KROGH
FIRST APPEARANCE COMPETITION 10 P+DFF_IDFA 115x170
MERCY, MERCY KATRINE KJÆR
FIRST APPEARANCE COMPETITION
DANCE FOR ME KATRINE PHILP
THE GHOST OF PIRAMIDA ANDREAS KOEFOED
REFLECTING IMAGES: MASTERS
FREE THE MIND PHIE AMBO
REFLECTING IMAGES: PANORAMA
THE RECORD BREAKER BRIAN MCGINN
SPECIAL FOCUS: WHY POVERTY?
STEALING AFRICA CHRISTOFFER GULDBRANDSEN
FIGHTING THE DRUG WAR
The House I Live In (winner of The Grand Jury Prize in Sundance) is both a polemic about the war on drugs in America and a deeply personal film inspired by events in its director’s own life. “This all began in my childhood, growing up with a number of features in my life that made the film inevitably emerge,” Jarecki observes of the origin of his film. “I grew up the child of Holocaust refugees on my father’s side and refugees from Tsarist Russia on my mother’s side. We were all children of flight, as we were led to understand as young people. That gave us a special affinity for persecuted people anywhere.” As a young child, Jarecki was looked after by Nannie Jeter, a black American woman he regarded with as much affection as his parents. The director was startled by Jeter’s recent observation that she belonged “to a generation that she felt was the first generation in American history of black Americans that was better off than her children.” In spite of the battles supposedly won in the Civil Rights era, Jeter’s own children and grandchildren have struggled with the scourges of poverty, addiction and imprisonment. “Immigrant populations and underclass populations in America have always wanted to do better for their children. The idea that she was having to live with a sense of failure about that was extremely angering to me”, Jarecki says. His film argues very forcefully that the so-called war on drugs waged over the last 40 years in the US is, in fact, a war on an especially vulnerable section of American society. Politicians talking tough on crime are, in fact, simply currying votes. They have put in place a set of laws that can put young black Americans behind bars for the most minor of misdemeanours.
The House I Live In
The director is “deploying” his doc as a polemical tool to challenge the current US drug laws. He is taking the film to “audiences typically overlooked by mainstream documentary distribution.” The House I Live In has already been shown in several prisons and at several churches. There are currently 2.3 million people incarcerated in the US and 6 million people “under some form of control by the criminal justice system.” This is the constituency Jarecki wants his doc to reach. “They represent the persecuted population of poor people who’ve been targeted by drug laws in America.” At the same time, Jarecki is determined to change the terms of the debate about drugs and criminality in American life. He describes the recent decisions by Colorado and Washington voters to pass referendums legalizing marijuana for recreational use as “a massive step forward for sanity in the drug war.” He likewise welcomes California’s Proposition 36, which revises the hugely contentious “three strikes law” so that Americans won’t be given life sentences for “stealing a slice of pizza.” Jarecki rails against “the out-of-control, insane sentencing” that has blighted American life over the last four decades. The laws governing mandatory sentencing, he contends, that have been put in place “trade profit for human dignity.” Some critics carp that Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002) sparked a huge debate about the place of guns in American life without seemingly doing much to change US gun law. Is there a chance the same might happen with The House I Live In? Jarecki thinks not. He argues that, even in the case of Moore’s doc, it’s far too early to tell what its impact really has been. Revolutionary change he points out, has never happened “at the speed of Fedex or a download. It’s a long, messy, counterintuitive and non-linear process.” He is urging the “long view” but argues that what Moore did in Bowling for Columbine “has surely contributed to the psyche Americans have about the senselessness of the gun lobby.” Now, the hope is that The House I Live In will do the same for the drugs debate. Geoffrey Macnab
DOGWOOF PICKS UP SPIRIT OF ’45 Leading UK independent doc distributor Dogwoof announced a deal last Thursday with producers Sixteen Films and Fly Film which will see the company handle all UK distribution for Ken Loach’s new film, The Spirit of ’45, including theatrical release in the UK and Ireland in early 2013, on iTunes and online via Dogwoof TV, as well as DVD distribution. “We’re delighted that Dogwoof are joining us on our Spirit of ’45 adventure. Their specific documentary expertise makes them the ideal partner for Sixteen Films and Fly Film and we’re looking forward to working with them over the next few months to help us reach a new audience for this very special archive-based film”, said producer Rebecca O’Brien. The theatrical release of The Spirit of ’45 will be supported by an interactive project in collaboration with the filmmakers commissioned by the BFI and Film 4.0, who have been spearheading creative new ways to support releases with the latest digital technologies and innovations. “We are excited to be working with Ken, his producers, our partners at the BFI and our friends at Dogwoof both on this most timely and thought-provoking film and also in the development of a great digital project to sit alongside it via our digital arm, Film 4.0.”, Katherine Butler, Senior Commissioning Executive, Film4, added.
IDFA HISTORY IN BRIEF
PART II: 1993 – 1997
This weekend, IDFA hosts an international conference on ‘Exploring the Future of Documentary Storytelling in the Digital Age’. Less than 20 years ago, the festival was coming to terms with the influence video was having on documentary making. In 1993, the festival allowed works shot on video for the first time. Up until then, selection had been reserved for documentaries shot on 16mm and 35 mm only. The competition selection, however, would remain 100% celluloid for some time to come. “We have made a first, cautious start with the programming of video documentaries”, wrote festival head Ally Derks in the preface to the 1993 catalogue. “It is an indisputable fact that, owing to the developments in technology and media, more and more filmmakers – particularly documentary filmmakers – are turning to magnetic recording and editing techniques. A phenomenon which is predominant in countries of the Third World.” The other innovation of the period was the first FORUM co-production market in 1993. At the time, the Forum was something very fresh and new – “it really kick-started things”, comments IDFA industry chief Adriek van Nieuwenhuijzen. “It was the first time commissioners from different broadcasters got together and started looking at ways they could collaborate to make things happen.” MG
DOCLAB KEEPS EXPANDING An interactive journal for insomniacs, mini documentary-making robots, a hybrid graphic novel reconstructing the CIA’s first major operation and a webdoc charting the life of a Canadian grizzly bear are just some of the many and varied projects on show at this year’s DocLab. The innovative programme, exploring the latest developments in documentary storytelling using new technology, turns five years old this year – a long time in digital terms. “Our aim from the outset was to look at how people were documenting the world and telling real stories using new technology. We didn’t want to confine ourselves only to film, but to explore what was going on across all industries to uncover the best artists telling real stories, regardless of their discipline”, says curator Caspar Sonnen. “One of the fun and sometimes nerve-wracking parts of the programme has been booking guests who are giants in their disciplines but not particularly known by the documentary crowd at IDFA… three years ago, for example, we had Ira Glass”, continues Sonnen, referring to radio personality and creator of the hit show American Life, which reaches some 1.7 million listeners in the United States every week.
Other highlights and discoveries in the first five years include the post-death exploration Thanatorama, one of the first works from French web agency Upian, which would go on to produce seminal webdocs such as Gaza Sderot and Prison Valley; Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar’s exploration of human emotion We Feel Fine, and early projects from the interactive arm of the National Film Board of Canada including Katerina Cizek’s HIGHRISE, a pioneering, 360° documentary which won the inaugural IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling in 2010. This year, 15 projects are in the running for the prize. They include Daniel Burwen’s interactive novel CIA: Operation Ajax; the gimmicky Pointer Pointer website, pulling up endless pictures of people pointing at the click of the mouse, which racked up a million views in its first week online; and more serious fare such as the contemplative Keep on Steppin’ capturing people coping with disaster, and Alma, a Tale of Violence, in which a repentant member of a deadly Guatemala street gang recounts her murderous past. Beyond the competition, DocLab has joined forces with the MIT Open Documentary Lab to create the interactive research installation Moments of Innovation – When Documentary and Technology Converge exploring the history of documentary innovation and contextualizing digital developments today. A fleet of small documentary robots which will also roam the
PHOTO: NICHON GLERUM
DocLab space in search of interesting subjects as part of the Robots in Residence installation created by Alexander Reben. Both projects will be at the heart of a live cinema event, Reality vs. Future on Wednesday evening. Melanie Goodfellow IDFA – 5
IN THE BEGINNING... … was the doc. Or not, as it seemed. Twenty five years ago, the Dutch could boast of a rich and wellestablished documentary tradition, but back then public access to quality documentaries was at an all-time low. The time was ripe therefore to launch an international event dedicated solely to the doc genre. Nick Cunningham talks to the three people instrumental to IDFA’s launch.
For Ally Derks, the penny dropped in 1987. She was working at the time with Utrecht-based Festikon, a worthy festival, pedagogical in its approach but severely lacking in audience numbers. Festikon could offer interesting programmes and assemble highly qualified juries to determine to whom prizes should be awarded, but Derks was not satisfied that the films – and especially the documentaries – were well enough served. “I saw these beautiful documentaries and one day one of the jurors, journalist Hans Beerekamp, said to me ‘there is no audience for these films, and the documentaries are so much better than the fiction’. So I decided then and there we had to start a documentary festival.” So together with Adriek van Nieuwenhuijzen and Willemien van Aalst – two friends not long out of university and themselves preparing to work as interns for the 1988 Festikon – she took the first steps on what was to be a long, hard journey.
FLEDGLING FLIGHT Immediately, the fledgling festival organisers got on the telephone to professionals within the Dutch and international documentary scene and it soon became obvious that the doc trade shared their enthusiasm. Derks then applied to the Ministry of Culture and the City of Amsterdam for money, and got it, before approaching broadcaster NOS who immediately wrote out a cheque for 50,000 guilders. “That really was a lot of money at that time”, declares Derks. At which point, the process of organising the first IDFA began in earnest. A name was decided upon and a date towards the end of the calendar year was fixed. The De Balie building, close to Leidseplein square, became the festival’s first home and the ALFA cinema was chosen as the main screening venue. But there was still much, much more to be done. “We stole from other festivals at first. We didn’t even know what the word ‘accreditation’ meant”, recalls Derks. “Yes, we were students, and we had no idea how to start a festival”, agrees Van Aalst, who now heads up the Netherlands Film Festival. “Of course, Ally was the boss but we did everything together. After a couple of months a few more people came to help. We were a small team, mainly women. We just got on with it. There wasn’t this typical dividing into roles. That came later, after the festival.”
LEADING LIGHTS Key to Derks’ strategy was to receive the blessing, and guarantee the active involvement, of some of the documentary film world’s leading filmmakers. Dutch directors such as Bert Haanstra and Johan van der Keuken immediately pledged their support and, after a journey to the Paris-based festival Cinema du Reel, Joris Ivens, the godfather of Dutch documentary, gave the festival his approval and agreed to lend his name to its main prize, the Joris Ivens Award. Acclaimed US director Frederick Wiseman was on board from the beginning too, but while his first IDFA experience was memorable it was also somewhat lacking in creature comforts. “It was amazing”, points out Van Nieuwenhuijzen. “A young girl like Ally, and Fred just said yes to being head of the jury. So we set up screenings for them but we didn’t think it through. They
Willemien van Aalst, Ally Der
ks & Adriek van Nieuwenhu
were sitting in a screening room on very bad chairs, and then the heating stopped. Eventually Fred was lying on the floor covered in blankets because he couldn’t sit any more. He was there watching films, freezing. We were enthusiastic and naive, and it worked. Of course he was a bit pissed off, but I think he thought it was funny. Or maybe not.” Derks supplies a coda to the Wiseman tale: “Towards the end of the festival Fred came to me and told me that the jury had made their decision and wanted to divide the first Joris Ivens Award between two films (Karin Jungers’s Birthplace Unknown and Ruben Gevorksjanz’s Ksjsiner). I said that is impossible, I don’t want you to do that, it’s not that much money and we only have one statue, so no way. And then he asked to see the jury regulations. I said that we didn’t have any. So in the first year, two films won the main prize. He is a lawyer, so I lost, but the next year we drew up jury regulations.”
SPIRITUAL HOME Van Nieuwenhuijzen points out that from the start, despite (or maybe because) of its international status and outlook, IDFA immediately became a spiritual home for Dutch documentarians. Bert Haanstra made the first Top 10 selection and there was a Dutch (joint) winner of the top prize. “Dutch documentary filmmakers really appreciated our festival and what we did.” And, of course, the Russians came too. “We were there on the first night of the first festival when this Russian delegation turned up and I thought ‘wow, this is really happening’,” remembers Van Aalst. The Russian filmmakers delivered their films in cans – “we thought the cans may contain vodka or caviar but they didn’t, which was very disappointing”, muses Derks – and the films were subsequently screened in the Filmmuseum, with simultaneous translation. “The first contact with the Russian filmmakers and their Dutch counterparts was very interesting”, Derks continues. “But the Dutch could only talk about censorship and ask strange questions like ‘why don’t you make films about homosexuality or transgender relationships?’, and I can tell you at that time in Russia, those things were not on the filmmakers’ minds.” All of which illustrates how, back in 1988, the world was a very different place, very much in a state of flux, and the early years of the festival coincided with a series of events of enormous political and social significance. Derks argues that the subsequent growth in documentary production fed an increasingly voracious public appetite for serious content. “It was the time of perestroika, Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall – the end of the 80s were really turbulent times, and there was a need for personal points of view, discussion, debate. The news was black and white,
people wanted to see more than the 5-minute reportages that you see on television. People wanted to see good documentary.”
INNOVATION It was never intended that IDFA should be dedicated solely to the exhibition of documentaries. From the very start Derks, Van Nieuwenhuijzen and Van Aalst wanted to treat what they diagnosed as a serious malaise in the international documentary scene. “IDFA was always innovative”, points out Van Aalst. “We would sit in a cafe all night discussing what we can do to make the festival better. But the main thing was to make documentary itself better and to help documentary filmmakers not only in Holland, but internationally.” The launch of the Forum in 1993 addressed this dilemma headon, and two years later Docs for Sale was launched. 1997 saw the formation of the Jan Vrijman Fund (now IDFA Bertha Fund), dedicated to stimulating the documentary sector in the Third World. “We had a festival, a place to finance films and a place where those films could be sold”, underlines Van Nieuwenhuijzen, with some satisfaction. “And we started a fund to help filmmakers from countries where there is no film infrastructure.”
DIALOGUE Of course, mention of the festival’s first home at De Balie evokes feelings of regret in many a seasoned IDFA-ite, who remembers a location replete with life, soul and vigour. Van Nieuwenhuijzen is no different, but argues that De Balie served to build the foundations for an event that was bound to re-locate eventually. “Yes, I think the most important thing is that we managed to create an atmosphere in De Balie, and at the Paradiso where you really had the feeling that something was happening”, she says. “Everyone was hanging out at De Balie. You saw a great film or a shitty film, then you went to De Balie, you bumped into somebody and then you talked about the film. That was so crucial in the beginning years, but in the end it’s all about dialogue. Dialogue about the film you just saw or the one you were about to see. Dialogue is the most important thing. We were able to create a place that was safe, to talk about film. In France they have ‘un discours’. In Holland, we just have a chat.” Ally Derks is left to sum up the experience to date: “We have had great directors, great parties, great dancing, so many people, all the gang, and all the staff who did so much for this festival. I really believe that these documentary filmmakers over the years found a place in Amsterdam where they weren’t snowed under by fiction films, where documentaries were always of central importance. And we created that place.” IDFA – 7
MISS NIKKI AND THE TIGER GIRLS
In an era when primetime TV schedules are dominated by programmes such as X Factor, America’s Got Talent and other vain pursuits of instant stardom, Juliet Lamont’s IDFA competition selection will have particular resonance for international audiences. On the face of it, Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls is a film about manufacturing a girl pop band, with all of the tears, trauma and triumph inherent in that process. But what sets the film apart is its location, in a Burma undergoing slow political transition, and how the girls must overcome both religious-based conservatism and overt sexism in realising their dreams. Director Lamont follows entrepreneur Nikki, an Australian expat living in Burma (or Myanmar) as she endeavours to put the band together. Initially, progress is slow, not least because her first partner loses interest in the project, while retaining ownership of Tiger Girls brand exploitation rights. So the girls choose a new name – Me n Ma Girls, a play on Myanmar – which instils greater confidence in them, enabling them to take more control over
their future development. Their fear of the unknown remains a constant, however, as the prospect of cutting a record deal in the US becomes a possibility. “It’s a little bit of a cautionary tale”, Lamont explains. “It’s definitely about rags to riches, but there is a loss of innocence arc as well. When the girls find out they are going to Hollywood, there is a lot of fear there, about what freedom may mean to them. Yesterday the US visas were approved so they are going there in January to record for three weeks. They saw the film last week and are a little bit tentative; I think that for them the big Hollywood dream is a Western value. They would be just as happy to go to Singapore – a world that they know.” At the film’s core is the complex and emotional Nikki, who we see undertaking choreography and counselling duties in equal measure. When keeping her video diary, she is at times jubilant when assessing the girls’ future potential, or deeply depressed at the measures needed to get them there. Nikki was a friend of Lamont’s at art school and gave the director the idea for the documentary. “She said on Facebook that she was in Myanmar setting up a girl band – not long after that, I was straight over there”, stresses Lamont. “This was in 2010 and coincided with
MISSING IN THE LAND OF THE GODS Ryan Chambers walked out of an ashram in Rishikesh, India, at 5 am one morning in 2005 wearing just a pair of shorts. Since then, his parents have kept on searching for him. The one clue they have is a cryptic last message he left in his diary. “There are heaps of stories about young people travelling overseas”, says Davor Dirlic, director of feature-length contender Missing in the Land of Gods. “I was researching stories about young Westerners going to places like India, focussing on situations where things go wrong . In many ways Ryan Chambers was a typical young guy heading off to explore the world, a free spirit, and India was his choice. It was a microcosm, a typical story. Then he disappeared. But what made this story particularly fascinating was the message he left in his diary: ‘If I’m gone, I’m not dead. I need to free minds, but first I have to free my own’ – this was so dramatic, so surreal – it sounded like something from a fiction film. So all the ingredients were there, it was like this was a film just screaming to be made”, explains a slightly jet-lagged Dirlic, fresh off the plane from Australia. “It’s like an anti-suicide note”, adds producer Liz Burke. “It’s a mystery that just gets into your system and stays there.”
“Australian TV Channel 7 actually filmed the second search for Ryan, carried out by his father and brother, but in the end they didn’t use it, because they didn’t find him. They wanted some kind of happy end”, Dirlic adds. “But it was precisely this mystery that attracted me – to have a chance to make a film about something open-ended. So in 2009 I went to India to research. I came back and cut a trailer, and on the basis of that got funding from Screen Australia to make the film.” Dirlic then returned to India with Ryan’s parents and spent a month there filming their search for Ryan, in the knowledge that, after all this time, it may be the last one. “The film is also very much about these two ordinary, middle-class people coming smack up against a completely different culture”, says Burke. “And in a very stressful situation. How do you deal with that? What do you choose to believe? It’s about dealing with hope. Life has to somehow go on.” Dealing with the Indian authorities was not always easy, but the presence of the camera did not seem to bother them, Dirlic says. “Often, I would just walk in with Ryan’s parents, not even introducing myself, with my camera under my arm, and start filming. Sometimes they would say I couldn’t film, and I’d have to negotiate, but usually it was fine. Their focus was on the parents, dealing with their grief and sorrow.” Inevitably, the filmmaker was drawn into the emotional rollercoaster such a search inevitably becomes. “I started to experience it in a way almost like Ryan’s parents”, he says. “You just can’t help hoping each time, maybe this is it… after we finished the film, the singer from a Finnish heavy metal band claims to have seen Ryan in Goa. He saw this guy speaking English, begging for food, over a period of a few weeks. He seemed really convinced. But he never took a photo of him.” Mark Baker IDFA COMPETITION FOR FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY Missing in the Land of the Gods – Davor Dirlic Sat 17/11, 10:00 Munt 12 (industry screening); Sun 18/11, 17:30, Tuschinski 4; Tue 20/11, 11:00, Brakke Grond Rode Zaal; Fri 23/11, 15:00, Brakke Grond Expozaal
the Burmese elections, and when I got there it was like arriving in another universe.” Despite its timing, Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls is not a film about politics; nevertheless the political situation informs the documentary’s progress throughout. “In terms of how the film was constructed, it was really clear initially that we couldn’t really address much of the political situation, and the girls were reluctant to talk about it”, Lamont points out. “It was only towards the end that they felt they could open up and talk about their country, so I suppose the focus was more personal than political. But it was a real revolutionary act in Myanmar at that point for a girl to write a song about the reality of her own life, or to wear Western clothes. So it was more about what freedom meant to them as girls, rather than the bigger political story.” Nick Cunningham IDFA COMPETITION FOR FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY Miss Nikki and the Tiger Girls – Juliet Lamont Sat 17/11, 15:45, Munt 11; Mon 19/11, 10:00, Munt 11; Tue 20/11, 22:30, Munt 13; Wed 21/11, 22:30, Munt 09; Fri 23/11, 20:00, Munt 09; Sat 24/11, 10:00, Tuschinski 1; Sat 24/11, 10:00, Tuschinski 2; Sun 25/11, 14:30, Brakke Grond Expozaal
BACK TO SCHOOL The IDFA 2012 programme features16 films developed over the past four years at the festival’s Summer School, the IDFA-Media Fund Workshop and the Kids & Docs Workshop. Graduates of the 2012 Summer School were specially commended with two films in Mid-length Competition (Camera/Woman, Karima Zoubir, Morocco and Red Wedding, Lida Chan & Guillaume Suon, Cambodia and France) and Dwi Sujanti Nugraheni’s Denok & Gareng (Indonesia) in the First Appearance Competition. The Summer School and workshops are organised under the aegis of IDFAcademy. The six-day Summer School offers first or second-time directors the opportunity to meet and work with highly esteemed filmmakers and professionals, with the focus on script development and editing consultancy. The IDFA-Media Fund Workshop is designed to foster new doc talent and, more specifically, to allow aspiring doc-makers to turn an original idea into a ready-to-go film plan. The Kids & Docs workshop is similarly structured but the objective is a complete plan for a kid-doc of 15-minute duration. Following the Dutch government’s decision to scrap the Media Fund from January 2017, a financial cloud looms on the horizon for the workshops, but of more immediate concern is funding for the Summer School 2013. IDFAcademy Education co-ordinator Meike Statema remains confident that this will be found, however. “I believe that the Summer School is very necessary because of its international character”, she commented yesterday. “We have to make a strategy during IDFA to see how we work it out from the IDFA budget, and to see which partners we can persuade to join. We just have to sit down and work it out. But I am still very optimistic, based purely on what we have achieved to date. Our contributions to the Summer School projects have been considerable. I’m not saying the projects wouldn’t have been completed without us, but we certainly helped a lot along the way.” NC IDFA – 9
Directed by Wille Hyvรถnen Producer Elina Pohjola: email@example.com www.pohjolaf ilmi.f i/mygodfat her
WHOSE LOVE IS REAL?
M Y G O D F A T H E R, HIS THAI BRIDE AND ME
Munt 13 (International Premiere)
Sat Nov 17
Brakke Grond Expozaal
Tue Nov 20
Thu Nov 22
Munt 09 Fri Nov 23 1:45 PM FTransit_IDFA_Affair-TheBaby-WrongTime_pub_Layout 1 12-11-07 9:46 AM Page 1
HARRY DEAN STANTON: PARTLY FICTION You’re not supposed to know their names. You may recognize their faces, but even that isn’t guaranteed. They trade on their ability to re-invent themselves from role to role. They are the foils to the stars and it is part of their job description that they shouldn’t venture too far into the limelight. They are the character actors.
BRAVEHEARTS In 2011, Norwegian filmmaker Kari Anne Moe set out to make a documentary about school elections in Norway, following four teenage political activists. Half way through filming, the 22 July attacks took place – profoundly changing her film and the lives of her characters.
“I wanted to show how special and exciting these school elections are in Norway – I saw the film as something like a mix of The Breakfast Club and Karate Kid. I wanted to show the development of these young people, wanting to take control of their lives and mean something positive in the world”, the director says ahead of today’s IDFA premiere. “I auditioned 135 young activists in and around Oslo”, she continues. “I put the camera in a room and made them go in one by one and talk to the camera. I had put questions up on the wall, but I wasn’t present – I didn’t want to influence or intimidate them, so I left them alone with the camera. This worked so well, they talked so freely, I decided to continue this method throughout the film, letting them speak directly to the camera without me being there.” This device has a particularly poignant (and unplanned) effect in the case of young Labour Party activist Johanne, who early in the film talks openly to camera about her nerves ahead of an election debate, in front of a frieze depicting a forest (her bedroom wallpaper). The next time we see her, she is in the same place, against the same background, but it is just three days after the massacre on Utøya and she is talking about how she looked into the gunman’s eyes as he roved around, killing.
The filmmaker herself was also on the island that day. “We filmed on Utøya on 21 and 22 July 2011”, the director says. “The scene where Johanne talks to her mother on the phone was filmed just a few hours before the massacre.” Moe left the island to film another of the characters in the centre of Oslo. “The bomb actually went off as we were setting up our camera”, she remembers. “At first I didn’t understand what it was. When the reports came in that a bomb had gone off I thought, now this is going to be a more important film. I never considered stopping for a moment – but of course I was dependent on my main characters.” Fortunately, all four were prepared to carry on. “It was very important that I already had a relationship with all four characters”, the director says. “For me, it was important to keep trying to tell the story through their eyes. I think it is a more international film now – people have heard about the attacks, but for me it’s important to realise what was actually attacked on 22 July. That is what I want to show in this film.” The four characters in Bravehearts didn’t know each other while the film was being made – “they kind of lived in parallel universes,” Moe says – “but now we have launched the film they have become friends. They told me they try to avoid discussing politics, but they like each other a lot and realise it’s important to respect one another as people, in spite of their different political views. This is like the opposite of what happened on 22 July, when someone had absolutely no respect for the views of others at all.” Mark Baker
IDFA COMPETITION FOR FIRST APPEARANCE Bravehearts – Kari Anne Moe Sat 17/11, 16:00, Munt 09; Thu 22/11, 19:30, Tuschinski 5; Fri 23/11, 11:30, Munt 13; Sat 24/11, 22:30, Munt 09
In 2002, Sarah Harkink was sent to juvenile prison. A decade later she returned there as a filmmaker. She talks to Nick Cunningham. The past decade has been formative for fledgling director Sarah Harkink, whose Alexandra plays in Dutch competition. The film, her graduation piece in which she returns to the eponymous Alexandra correctional institution, was made to prove a very specific and personal thesis: that the time she spent there had no beneficial effect, neither for her nor for her fellow inmates. It was also made to exorcise the persistent and violent dreams she had about the place. Harkink is the first to admit that she was no angel in her teens – heavily addicted to drugs and moved from home to home. An attack on her father with a pair of scissors was the final straw that led to her incarceration. Nor is she shy of revealing her current lifestyle choices within her film, as she snorts a line of coke at a nightclub. But she was never a criminal, she underlines. “People forget that sometimes. I just had a little bit of a troubled youth.” “The level of education there was very low, we had to take cookery and knitting classes, which I hated, and people there didn’t expect very much from you”, she continues. “They treated you like a criminal so you were not motivated to be anything more than that. So I had something to prove.” Her film focusses on three of her friends from Alexandra, who are trying rebuild their lives. Her best friend Marina is a party animal and working within the sex industry, and social services have threatened to put her daughter into care. But Marina feels that
she is still being judged for her misdemeanours as a youth, and vows to offer her daughter the protection she never received from her own mother. “I don’t want my own child to go through that. I’m going to fight for my daughter”, she proclaims tearfully. Karin, a victim of bullying at Alexandra (Harkink herself was one of the bullies), left the country to forget her past, and for much of the film successfully evades the filmmaker. The persistent Harkink, however, forces a showdown which is both revealing and touching. The one character who goes some way to countering Harkink’s assertion about the prison is Marina, who still suffers from acute depression. Now forced to make her own way in the world, she remembers Alexandra as a safe haven. “I was used to the structure. Not everything was bad. Once you get out, you fall into a deep hole”, she opines. Harkink’s trajectory was different from those of her friends, and she claims she hardly recognises the troublesome teenager she once was. What’s more, her family relationships have been reaffirmed, especially with her mother. A pleasing footnote is that Alexandra was of one three graduation films that won Wildcard finance from the Netherlands Film Fund, awarding each winner €40,000 to go out and make another documentary. Harkink intends to put this cash towards a doc about the sexual lure of vampires. “After Alexandra, I want to do something light and funny”, she concludes.
“I’ve been doing it for 50 fucking years,” 86-year-old Harry Dean Stanton (one of the best contemporary character actors) grumbles early on during Swiss filmmaker Sophie Huber’s new documentary about him (sold by First Hand Films). Stanton is a unique case, first appearing on screen in the 1950s and straddling the worlds of the old studio system and the brave new independent era. He has appeared in films from Cool Hand Luke (1967) to this summer’s blockbuster The Avengers and has been in movies for half a century without ever fully being noticed. Huber’s film makes a strong case that he is the quintessential character actor. “I’ve avoided success, artfully”, he tells the young Swiss director. He is obsessively self-deprecating, insisting that the secret of character acting is “doing nothing” and just being himself – again and again, in more than 200 film roles. Not that Stanton is quite as self-effacing as he makes out. “There is clearly something in him that wants to be seen”, Huber says. As his assistant Logan Sparks puts it in the documentary, he would never have made it to Hollywood unless he was ambitious. “If he had done nothing, he would still have been on a fucking rocking chair in Kentucky. That’s what doing nothing gets you – exactly nothing. He wanted to get out.” In the documentary, in between singing bluesy laments on his guitar, he tells Huber how his relationship with actress Rebecca De Mornay ended. “I got her on a movie with Tom Cruise and she ended up with Tom... Risky Business – an apt title!” Stanton claimed to be heartbroken at the end of the relationship. Huber, though, points out that Stanton was almost as prolific in his romantic life as in his acting career. “I think he got a lot of girls. I think he can’t really have or doesn’t really want long term relationships – but he had his fair share in getting the girls!” In the early 1980s, Stanton took a starring role in Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984). Wenders cast him precisely because he was a character actor. A bearded presence in a red baseball cap wandering out of the desert, Travis is utterly impassive. He doesn’t speak at all. There is none of the scenestealing schtick or mannerism you’d expect from a star. It was the typical character actor’s luck that Paris, Texas received rhapsodic reviews but, as soon as it was finished, Stanton’s name slipped straight down the credits again. “I think he thought he would play leading roles after that”, says Huber – who first met Stanton in a bar 20 years ago. “It just didn’t happen. I think that was quite hard for him to accept.” So it was back into the anonymity of the supporting cast. Character actors like Stanton have an uncanny ability to hide in plain sight. That, of course, is both their blessing and their curse. Geoffrey Macnab REFLECTING IMAGES – BEST OF FESTS Harry Dean S tanton: Partly Fiction – Sophie Huber Mon 19/11, 22:30, Brakke Grond Expozaal; Tue 20/11, 18:15, Munt 12; Fri 23/11, 13:00, EYE Cinema 1
IDFA COMPETITION FOR DUTCH DOCUMENTARY Alexandra – Sarah Harkink Sat 17/11, 15:15, Tuschinski 2; Wed 21/11, 17:30, Tuschinski 6; Thu 22/11, 22:15, Tuschinski 3; Sat 24/11, 11:00, Brakke Grond Rode Zaal
IDFA – 11
BY TONE ANDERSEN
SCREENINGS Saturday 17 november Sunday 18 november Tuesday 20 november Thursday 22 november Friday 23 november
20:00 Tuschinski 5 15:45 Munt 13 (industry) 16:45 Munt 09 (Q&A with director/characters) 20:00 Munt 09 (Q&A with director/characters) 21:00 Munt 10
WHO WILL BE A GHURKA From The Apprentice to The X Factor, we are used to seeing reality TV shows in which young hopefuls look for fame and fortune. Superficially, Who Will Be A Ghurka resembles such shows. But Kesang Tseten’s observational doc is about the annual selection process for the Brigade of Gurkhas in the British army. Young men from Nepalese villages compete to be recruited. They have to endure three gruelling rounds in a selection procedure that lasts several months. “I am interested in exercising dispassion and empathy, and in my ability to discern conflict and points of interest and yet of being fair to the subject, keeping in mind peoples’ humanity regardless of who and what they represent or work for, and also of being able to navigate a potentially fractious debate in a way that is fair and yet shows the thing for what it is”, the director has commented of his intentions in making the doc (which has a depth and thoughtfulness that reality shows conspicuously lack). In its own subtle way, the film touches on many sensitive issues and themes: the relationship (and tensions) between the Nepalese and the British, the lure of the army salary and the prospect of a British passport, the pride that the successful recruits feel combined with their wariness about what lies ahead. (As soldiers, the young Nepalese are likely to see action in Afghanistan or other troubled international hotspots.) Tseten shows the would-be recruits being interview by British officers. Some dissemble about their background. Others reveal their ignorance about the politics behind the war against the Taliban. A place in the British army is so highly sought-after that Nepalese villagers will pay often shady intermediaries for training and tips on how to pass the exam. Supported by the IDFA Fund, Who Will Be a Gurkha is represented internationally by Taskovski Films. The director, a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and of Amherst College, is an experienced writer as well as a filmmaker, his stories having appeared in various anthologies. Tseten’s previous films include We Home Chaps, about a boarding school for Tibetan refugees founded by a Scottish missionary in India and the award-winning On the Road with the Red God: Machhendranath, which investigates the real meaning behind a festival celebrating an ancient deity. IDFA COMPETITION FOR FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTATY Who Will Be A Ghurka – Kesang Tseten Sun 18/11, 10:15, Munt 12 (industry screening); Tue 20-11, 18:00, Tuschinski 2; Thur 22/11, 15:15, Munt 09; Fri 23/11, 12:45, Tuschinski
BAD BOY HIGH SECURITY CELL Paris-based Polish director Janusz Mrozowski has been working in prisons for more than a decade – first in France as part of an inmate filmmaking programme, and then in Poland where he has shot three feature-length documentaries on the subject.
Bad Boy High Security Cell, the final film in the Polish trilogy, follows 28-year-old Damien, a convicted bank robber who has spent two years in solitary confinement in Tarnow Prison in southeast Poland. “With the arrival of the centre-right in power in France in 2002, I lost the funding for the prison programme I was running. So I went to Poland, where their prisons opened their doors to me,” says Mrozowski, who has lived in France since 1970. “Since 2003 I’ve been making these films in Poland using the digital camera the French penitentiary authorities gave me for my programme, but I was never allowed to take it into institutions in France,” says Mrozowski. The first film in the trilogy, Bad Boys Cell 425, followed a crowded group cell in a prison in Wolow and screened in Cannes in 2009 in the ACID selection. The second, Bad Girls Cell 77, captured the life of a female inmate. Mrozowski says he nearly abandoned his plans to make Bad Boys High Security Cell after an initial research visit to the high security wing of Tarnow prison. “After I got permission to shoot there, I went to have a look round; I only spent 30 minutes inside the unit but when I came out my legs were like jelly. I said to myself I was going to abandon the project because I would never have survived being locked up there myself”, he recalls. “A year later, I had forgotten the impact of this first visit and decided it would be a shame not to make the film,
as I had the access”, he continues. “I went back and did a sort of audition. There were about 20 inmates. I had access to 16 of them and seven of them agreed to do the film. I had planned to follow all seven – when I went back to talk to them in more depth I came across Damien’s cell first. I quickly understood I was going to focus only on him.” “The exceptional thing about his case was that he had no blood on his hands – he had never killed or injured anyone. That enabled me to establish a fairly normal relationship quite quickly – I think that would have been much harder if he been a murderer … it would have been a different film”, says Mrozowski. Mrozowski spent two weeks with Damien, who was under 24hour surveillance in his cell. The charismatic inmate opens up about this past, his hopes and his regrets, pacing up and down like a caged animal – all the time speaking candidly about every aspect of prison life, from the monotony to doing his own washing, the endless cabbage soup and how he has gotten over the embarrassment of masturbating in full view of a security. “I think Damien took advantage of my sympathetic ear to offer himself self-psychotherapy for 10 days. I went in every day at 7.30 in the morning and left at 6.30 at night. It wasn’t a one-way relationship – he told me about his life, but also asked me questions about mine”, says Mrozowski, whose voice does not figure, however, in the documentary. The director is now hoping to make a second documentary about Damien, charting his remaining years in prison and impending release, in five years’ time. Melanie Goodfellow IDFA COMPETITION FOR FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY Bad Boy High Security Cell – Janusz Mrozowski Sat 17/11, 15.45, Tuschinski 4; Sun 18/11, 17.15, Munt 12 (industry screening); Wed 21/11, 11.00, Munt 11; Fri 23/11, 22.15, Tuschinski 6
THE GATEKEEPERS Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers gives an unprecedented insight into the inner workings of Israel’s secretive internal security agency Shin Bet through the testimonies of six former chiefs, at the same time drawing some harsh conclusions on why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows no sign of abating after 60 years of bloodshed. “These people are highly influential and have never spoken before. If you want to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the inside, these are the people to listen to because this is what they dealt with all their lives”, says Moreh. “I wanted to make a film where the conclusion could not be doubted. The words of these men are unequivocal. They know what they’re talking about. The conclusion is that Israel didn’t really want peace with the Palestinians from the beginning; that there were possibilities for peace and there were Palestinian partners for peace, but that it was a problem with the leaders, on both sides”, he continues. Midway through this telephone interview with Moreh on Thursday, he cuts off the discussion abruptly to take another call. “That was my daughter, there have been missile attacks on Tel Aviv”, he announces on resuming the interview some five minutes later, referring to Palestinian missile attacks on the city’s southern suburbs in response to Israeli air strikes over the Gaza Strip. This brief interjection serves as a reminder of the timely nature of the documentary. “What is going on in Israel and Gaza right now is an example of how a situation can deteriorate without proper leadership on both sides”, he says. The six interviewees – Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin – all courted
controversy and criticism for their anti-terrorist operations during their careers. Shalom was accused of having ordered the execution of two captured Palestinian bus hijackers, without trial, in 1984. Gillon was the head of the agency when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 and was accused of having failed to provide adequate security for the prime minister as he attended a rally in support of the Oslo Accords in Tel Aviv. But speaking some 30 years after the killing of the bus hijackers, Shalom compares the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories to the German occupation of parts of Europe during WWII. “My inspiration for the film was Errol Morris’ The Fog of War”, says Moreh, referring to the US director’s 2003 Oscar-winning feature documentary combining a candid interview by retired US Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara with archive footage of key US military operations throughout the octogenarian statesman’s lifetime. Having come away with hundreds of hours of footage, Moreh is also now planning a television series, aimed primarily at Israeli audiences. “The hardest part of making the film was leaving so much great material on the cutting room floor, so to speak”, says Moreh. The director arrives at IDFA on Saturday from Budapest where he has been re-cutting The Gatekeepers for it US release early next year by Sony Pictures Classics, which also released The Fog of War. Before that, it will hit Israeli screens at the end of December, where Moreh is expecting an explosive response. Melanie Goodfellow
IDFA COMPETITION FOR FEATURE-LENGTH DOCUMENTARY The Gatekeepers – Dror Moreh Sat 17/11, 20.45, Tuschinski 2; Mon 19/11, 11.00, Munt 13 (industry screening); Tues 20/11, 19.15, Munt 09; Wed 21/11, 12.00, Tuschinski 5; Fri 23/11, 22.30, Tuschinski 1
IDFA – 13