IDFA – International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam

Netherlands, November 18 - November 29 2020

Festival homepage

The jury

Živa Emeršič (Slovenia), Steven Yates (UK), Ruggero Calich (Turkey)

Awarded films

The 2020 Edition of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) took place in The Netherlands capital from 18-29th November, but of course this year the physical event was kept to a minimum. The second wave of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic has meant that it was greatly reduced in its physical capacity and was therefore predominantly an online event.

Although taking a somewhat surreal form, the opening ceremony on the evening of Wednesday 20th November had a welcome introduction and opening remarks by the festival’s artistic director Orwa Nyrabia from the almost empty Tuschinski Theatre in central Amsterdam. He then introduced Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister of Education, Culture and Science of the Netherlands who lamented, “Standing in an almost-abandoned Tuschinski theater in the heart of Amsterdam, looking at hundreds of empty red seats is a painful illustration of the impact of the pandemic.” However, she also went on to say that she was proud and happy that the festival was still able to go ahead.

On the screen in the background were approximately 100 international filmmakers, invitees of the festival, all present but, alas, in remote form from the safety of their more familiar surroundings. In a bitter-sweet way, this hybrid edition of IDFA therefore gave the festival the unique opportunity to unite dozens of countries on one screen. Meanwhile, a lone figure was sat in the audience; Paraguayan-Swiss director Arami Ullón who was specially invited to come on stage and present her film Nothing but the Sun (Apenas el sol, 2020) as the 2020 IDFA opening film and she gave a brief interview with Orwa Nyrabia before and after the screening. The opening night ceremony and the world premiere of Nothing but the Sun was available via live stream to both the local audience and international guests worldwide.

The Guest of Honor for the 2020 edition was Italian director Gianfranco Rosi. He is so far the only filmmaker to win top awards at two A-list festivals with documentary films: the Golden Lion at Venice with Sacro GRA in 2013 and the Golden Bear at the Berlinale with Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare) in 2016. Highlights of his work at IDFA also included his most recent film Notturno, the culmination of a three-year project that took him to the borders of Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, and Lebanon, and which premiered in competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival. 

The IDFA Main Competition winner for Best Feature-Length Documentary was awarded to Radiograph of a Family (2020) by Firouzeh Khosrovani, a co-production of Norway, Iran and Switzerland. The First Appearance Competition section contained a total of 12 films. The jury of this section awarded two prizes. The Special Mention went to The Last Hillbilly  (2020) by Diane Sara Bouzgarrou and Thomas Jenkoe, while the main award for this section went to the Ukrainian film The Rain Will Never Stop (Цей дощ ніколи не скінчиться, 2020) by Alina Gorlova. In the same competition, the FIPRESCI prize went to The Fifth Story (2020) by Ahmed Ab and was chosen as the winner, “because of its strong documentation about the effects of the war on human beings, containing an already mature cinematic style. It is a film that makes you understand what happens to civilians living in countries like Iraq, during and after the war, with a poetic approach that bewilders and gives the spectator the possibility to share in the feelings of the people.”

Despite the disappointment and also challenges of its first edition as an online event there were also the possibilities of presenting an event of this kind remotely. Accredited festival delegates and journalists were able to access the program of and events from their own Laptop without the potential problems of getting to and from events or being at a screening at a particular time, which meant there was also the flexibility in scheduling. A competition film could be viewed online at a time to suit, which meant festival attendees had the option of attending ‘Live’ events from their Laptop. Meanwhile, the IDFA festival this year is extended to further compensate its minimal physical event and continues online until 6th December.

Steven Yates