Time to Watch Documentaries - My First Visit to IDFA in Amsterdam
by Alex Billington
November 15, 2017
What's up next on the film festival tour? My next stop is at IDFA in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, in full known as International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. This is another film festival I've heard about for years, and I'm finally attending it for the first time. IDFA is known around the world as one of the premiere film festivals for documentaries. They only show and host documentaries at the festival (with a few exceptions) but that means it's all about truth and non-fiction and cinema as an important tool for telling stories from the real world. I'm very excited to be here, I love Amsterdam, and I'm happy to start watching more documentaries. I wasn't always a big fan of docs before, to be honest, but I am a big fan now.
We are living in the Golden Age of Documentaries, I am pretty damn sure of it. There are so many of them every year that are just jaw-dropping, blow-your-mind, so-real-they're-unreal docs made every year and it's hard to keep up with all of them. Even this year alone, we have some truly standout documentaries films between Faces Places, Chasing Coral, The Work, 78/52, Jane, For Ahkeem, Jim & Andy, Step, Promised Land, Last Men in Aleppo, Casting JonBenet, Icarus, Nobody Speak, Citizen Jane, The B-Side, Makala, Human Flow, Dawson City: Frozen Time, Kedi, Dina, and many others. There's always more to see, there's always more in my queue to watch, there's an endless amount films being made these days. But that is why I'm going to IDFA, of course – to keep watching more and more of them. Bring it on, I love watching films.
At IDFA this year my line-up includes a few other docs that have been playing but I need to catch up with them anyway. I'm most looking forward to seeing: Frederick Wiseman's Ex Libris about The New York Public Library; Sabaah Folayan's Whose Streets? from Sundance; Barbet Schroeder's The Venerable W.; Elwira Niewiera & Piotr Rosolowski's The Prince and the Dybbuk, Jonathan Olshefski's Quest, Greg Barker's The Final Year, and Koki Shigeno's Ramen Heads. I'm also planning to catch a screening of Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain, because why not, even though I don't exactly know why it's playing at the festival. It must be part of a retrospective series, because it's clearly not a doc (or is it…?). I'm just excited to see some films and hopefully discover a few that leave me in awe or moved or, well, both.
When I first started this site over 11 years ago, I wasn't the biggest fan of documentaries, believe it or not. I found them too boring or bland and never enjoyed watching them. The year it all changed was 2013, which I remember because it was the year of After Tiller. I took a chance and saw a bunch of documentaries at Sundance, and suddenly my mind was opened. They showed me how much potential they have, how many remarkably human stories there are to be told, and how to do it in elegant and exciting ways. I slowly began to open up to their power, and I think at the same time, we reached a point in filmmaking where more docs became even better than ever before. Technology has allowed for this, not only in editing, but in equipment such as drones and DSLRs that make filmmaking possible anywhere. Now, every year, I look forward to the latest documentaries at Sundance and Cannes because there are always a few that I fall totally in love with.
For now, I'm ready to get going and start watching docs at IDFA in Amsterdam. I will keep you updated on reviews and reports from the festival - follow me on Twitter @firstshowing or Instagram @abillington for more updates. You can find the full line-up of IDFA films here at idfa.nl. We'll see you in the cinema.