The Amsterdam International Documentary film Festival, held from November 20 to 30, is a shot in the arm for filmmakers who do not fit into the standard, commercial TV film formats. This year, the festival hosted a special section on India…
Documentary enthusiasts not only got to watch the best of documentaries from around the continents, they got to see and hear movie makers, directors and even personalities who were the subjects of documentaries as well.
The International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA) has grown, in its 11 years of existence, to be the biggest documentary film event of the globe. This year, between November 20 and 30, over 300 documentaries from all parts of the world were screened and this included a selection of 17 films on India under a special section titled “East Side Stories” which brought India into special focus at this colourful event.
Lots of related events
Besides screening of documentaries a number of related events such as talk shows, master-classes and debates were organised on each day of the festival dwelling on the themes and films of the day. So documentary enthusiasts not only got to watch the best of creative documentaries discussing myriad issues from around the continents, they got to see and hear movie makers, directors and even personalities who were the subjects of documentaries as well. After the screening, the legendary Senegalese singer, Youssou Ndour came on to the stage and sang, making the huge audience erupt into raptures. Youssou Ndour’s work and the release of his album “Egypt” are beautifully portrayed in “I bring what I love”. “Egypt”, while it caused a stir amongst orthodox Muslim circles which accused Youssou of making popular songs on Islam, Youssou himself insists that it is his tribute to his religion and that understanding and a personal response to Islam is nobody’s monopoly. If Youssou was emerging as a unique cultural ambassador, Gary Kasparov was the “spitfire” at his talk show. He was the subject of the documentary titled “In the Holy Fire of Revolution”. It talks about his vigorous campaign against eroding freedom and other problems in Russia. The chess maestro, who has now emerged as a focal point of opposition in Russia, drew large crowds and keen ears. From Iran to Denmark, Israel to Burma and from Turkey to Thailand a galore of documentaries was on offer. The organising committee, while explaining the selection process of films for the festival, talk of creative documentaries as being different from journalistic reportage. While the latter is presentation of news, in the former one gets a creative insight into the issues involved through the eyes of the filmmaker. The organisers take pride not only in putting together the largest event of its kind internationally but in the variety of genres and the politically committed programme of IDFA as well. As part of IDFA, there would be an academy too for aspiring filmmakers.
Amongst the fare were documentaries that discussed compelling issues of the day. Shelley Saywell’s “Devil’s Bargain” makes a passionate case, arguing that small arms such as pistols, revolvers and rifles are the real weapons of mass destruction. The filmmaker begins her journey at a weapon expo in the U.S. and follows the trade and that takes her to Somalia , South Africa and many other countries. The film tries to expose the deep seated interests in these weapons manufacture and trade and makes a passionate plea against it. The weapons trade has brought about the globalisation of death, it argues. And while all efforts aimed at banning the trade are being obstructed by lobbies and interests, plane loads of small arms are sold and moved across with impunity.
The East Side Stories, the selection of films on India, started with Anant Patwardhan’s “Father, Son and Holy War”. It includes such interesting titles as “The Shillong Chamber Choir and the Little Home school”, “Children of the Pyre” and “King of India”. Arvind Sinha in “King of India” talks about the travails of a family of carnival performers from the Nat community of North India. In “The Shillong Chamber Choir”, Urmi Juvekar narrates the moving story of a famous pianist who abandons a hectic and stressful life in London and returns to his home and beautiful hills in Shillong and starts up a children’s choir. “Children of the Pyre” is the sombre story of children who spend days and nights at the pyres and ghats of Varnasi. “Father, Son and Holy War” talks about notions of masculinity being possibly at the centre of violent religious conflicts. Anant Patwardhan, talking about the documentary festival at Amsterdam (IDFA), feels that the Festival, as an annual feature, has greatly helped the spread of television documentaries, especially in Europe and North America. Yet, he holds it has to do more to advance the cause of filmmakers who do not easily fit into standard television formats and politics. He adds that this year around there is plenty of good films to see.
The well organised festival, spread over several venues, drew large crowds and culminated with the awards night on November 29 at Amsterdam