Edinburgh International Film Festival Documentary Programmer Xosé Ramón Rivas on his recent trip to Amsterdam, seeing the best new docs and and making connections at IDFA

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) came to an end just a few days ago in the beautiful and always welcoming capital of The Netherlands, running from 16 to 27 of November. The largest documentary film festival in the world (out of the 3,500 submissions, a total of 300 films, multimedia projects and installations won a place in this year’s edition), IDFA also consists of three industry components: the IDFA Bertha Fund, the FORUM and Docs for Sale - the leading marketplace for creative documentaries, now in its 21st year.

This was my first trip to an international festival representing EIFF since I took my role as Documentary Programmer, so excitement was big! I arrived in Amsterdam on the second day of the festival, in a very rainy and windy day. The busy schedule started right away, as I had a ticket reserved for my first film in just three hours after my arrival, so one train, a metro and a speedy check-in at my lovely apartment after, I was already seated in one of the dark rooms of Pathé de Munt. Thankfully, most of IDFA’s cinema and industry venues are located within a walking distance in the city centre, which facilitates the delegate’s experience and creates a film festival hub around Rokin street and canal. One thing that Amsterdam offers like no other is the array of truly remarkable cinema venues, like the impressive Art Nouveau/Deco Pathé Tuschinski - considered one of the most beautiful cinemas in the world - or the modern and futuristic EYE, home of the Film Institute Netherlands and Filmmuseum, the only festival venue which is a bit further away, but well worth a visit!

During my first three days in Amsterdam, I focused primarily on seeing films as a good programmer but from Sunday IDFA’s variety of social events kicked off and I joined the daily Guests Meet Guests and Docs for Sale Happy Hour to meet fellow industry professionals, filmmakers and sales agents. Sunday was also the day for most night events including the famous Scandinavian party (with best food on offer!), the Polish Reception and, of course, our own Scottish Whisky Tasting, organised by our friends at the Scottish Documentary Institute to celebrate the European Premiere of Where You're Meant to Be at IDFA, which was the most enjoyable, relaxed and warmest party of the festival (and I'm not biased!).

One of the most anticipated festival dates for me was Monday, when the Programmers Brunch took place, a great opportunity to enjoy coffee and food with fellow festival programmers at the cosy and hidden Kapitein Zeppos Café (highly recommended if you want to escape from the touristic madness of other city centre cafés). Organised in the same place for many years by Docville’s Head of Programming Frank Moens, it isn’t an “official” IDFA activity, but rather and informal gathering of programmers (this year include people from Tribeca, Krakow, Encounters and Hot Docs to name just a few) to connect with each other. One of the highlights of the brunch was the voting for the Programmer’s Award that each year is given to a film on the IDFA programme (new and old), which in 2016 went to Machines, by Rahul Jain.

The world’s best and latest documentary films are shown in Amsterdam during IDFA, and as expected within the documentary realm and with the current political climate worldwide, there were many films in the programme with a strong social aspect, delving into the current refugee situation, the world’s inequality or human rights that made my festival viewing experience a bit hard sometimes. After seeing some of these films, I found it quite difficult to move onto a networking event or reception right after… Partnering with OXFAM to present the screenings, the films were followed with extended discussions and Q&As with the filmmakers and experts in the subject which places IDFA as a conscious and consistent event.

But IDFA 2016 was also the opportunity to meet many lovely people, an opportunity to put faces to names, and to create networks which, in the end, is what makes this profession what it is!

By the time I had to leave Amsterdam, the feeling of being part of a “festival family” was real, bumping into the same people over and over again, discussing films in the Industry Office while buying tickets or getting a quick coffee before rushing to another screening… I can't wait until next year to go back to Amsterdam and be part of the IDFA family again, and I look forward to it!

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EIFF Documentary Programmer


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