Reality Check: The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) 2010

In order to complete my year of film festival madness I had also signed up for two weeks of volunteering at IDFA in Amsterdam, the European documentary mecca, so to speak. It is a festival that many festival programmers flock to in order to find the best films for their own events in the coming year. With around 300 documentaries of all shapes and sizes on offer it was easy to see why. I arrived the day before the festival and explored the festival venues during a beautiful, and a bit ghostly, night walk around the Grachten. I‘d been to Amsterdam before, but never in winter and the atmosphere was quite magical.

If you don’t speak Dutch, volunteering at IDFA is limited to a couple of jobs including the audience award team, which I picked. We were a well-organised, international bunch of volunteers who were responsible for the audience votes. Counting the votes for each film afterwards in the volunteer office was a great way of comparing one’s own perception of how good or bad a particular documentary had been with that of the other cinema goers. Judging from the films that made it into the IDFA audience award charts it became obvious that films with a ‘feel good’ topic or at least a positive ending did extremely well. This year’s winner was Waste Land, extremely closely followed by runner-up Autumn Gold. More information and a list of the other prize-winning documentaries can be found here.

I also took part in the IDFAcademy, a weekend of talks and networking events for aspiring and student filmmakers from over 20 countries. My favourite place during the festival was the IDFA tent on Leidseplein where they had excellent coffee, the free daily IDFA paper (imagine, a newspaper just about a film festival!) and where everyone usually hung out in between films. That‘s also where I ran into lots of familiar faces: filmmakers from Germany, festival organisers from Ireland, screenwriters from Finland and even Ophira Eisenberg, host of the New York storytelling event The Moth. In between the screenings there were plenty of master classes (Pirjo Honkasalo, Leonard Retel Helmrich) and other filmmaking talks on offer. So many in fact that scheduling yourself to actually see some films was the hardest part.

All in all, IDFA is certainly a ray of cinematic sunshine at this time of the year. It is a fantastic, international meeting place for everyone who is into documentary making, from students to seasoned filmmakers and commissioning editors. I certainly got a lot out of the festival, both on a professional as well as a personal level, and will be back for sure.

Some documentaries that I particularly enjoyed at IDFA 2010:
Waste Land
Pushing the Elephant (possibly my personal favourite, or at least the most emotional)
12th & Delaware
Mysterion (part of the Pirjo Honkasalo Retrospective, saw a few of her other films too, including fiction, all very well made, although maybe not everybody‘s cup of tea…)
Stand van de Sterren/Position Among The Stars
The World According to Ion B.


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