Orwa Nyrabia • Artistic director, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam
"During the process of watching the films, we started to see our world as it is today"
by Chris Frieswijk
- We chatted to the IDFA’s new artistic director, Orwa Nyrabia, about how he curates the world’s largest documentary film festival
Orwa Nyrabia’s first year as artistic director of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (14-25 November) is in full swing after he picked up the baton from IDFA founder Ally Derks and interim director Barbara Visser. The Syrian-born producer is a household name in the industry and has been welcomed with open arms. We had the opportunity to catch up with him on festival highlights, changes to the programming and the responsibilities of being the largest documentary festival worldwide.
Cineuropa: What are some of the highlights that IDFA 2018 has on offer?
Orwa Nyrabia: I think there are the obvious highlights – the world re-premiere of Dziga Vertov’s first feature-length film, for example. Anniversary of the Revolution had been lost since 1922, but was found recently and restored, and is ready to be premiered on 20 November. This is a very important event; it is a statement on the value of documentary heritage. The film we picked for the opening night is also a highlight: Kabul, City in the Wind by Afghan-Dutch filmmaker Aboozar Amini. To me, it’s one of the most joyful events when we find a young filmmaker with a very ambitious cinematic approach, who is not just trying to report on what is happening or make a film that works in the market, but goes beyond these things and tries to discover a cinematic language.
We are trying to be more open to different forms, styles and intersections between documentary films and other arts. Therefore, we have made a few changes to the way the festival is curated. We’re introducing the new Luminous, Frontlight and IDFA on Stage sections, and taking out the former Panorama and Music Docs sections.
How did the ideas for these sections arise?
The concept is simply to look at it from an artistic or stylistic viewpoint, and not from a subject-orientated viewpoint. Frontlight tries to explain and shed light on different opinions, while Luminous takes you there for yourself to judge. The trick is to get people to also explore another style and discover something they didn’t expect would be interesting. After programming, we started this other experiment, an attempt to read into what's happening in the world of these filmmakers. We again received 4,000 films this year. During the process of watching and discussing them, we started, in a way, to see our world as it is today. It is a collective report of themes and stories that filmmakers from different parts of the globe were working on at the same time; a polyphonic current state of the world. By looking at the programme and seeing these intersections, we created a new part of the website that we call “programme pathways”, where you can see some sort of a zeitgeist.
IDFA also boasts many industry events; is there anything new there?
This year, the biggest change is in the Industry Talks. IDFA is the biggest gathering of industry professionals in the world. It is a special opportunity, a responsibility even, to discuss the situation of documentary film today and tomorrow. There's a thematic programme, one element of which is discussing filmmakers at risk. I believe that in the past few years, the level of aggression shown towards directors has been growing to an unacceptable degree. It stems from me being a filmmaker who was detained for political reasons and who was released thanks to his colleagues, but it’s getting worse and worse. After the terrible murder of our Russian colleagues Alexander Rastorguev, Orkhan Dzhemal and Kirill Radchenko in the Central African Republic several months ago, IDFA was the only festival that made an official statement about this [read it here]. We should be looking at the right mechanisms that will enable us to have each other’s backs, collectively. It’s a collective risk, not a personal risk.
Are there any specific long-term changes you have in mind as new artistic director?
We are working on more geographical inclusion and gender inclusion. IDFA should be for filmmakers from the four corners of the world, literally. The other thing is gender. If we compare ourselves to the big fiction festivals, we are doing great: the worst case of gender inequality at IDFA was much better than at Cannes and Venice, but still not fair. Two months ago, IDFA was the first documentary festival to sign the 50/50 in 2020 pledge, to commit to working towards inclusion. It is important to realise that a festival like IDFA is not only a showcase of films; it is also the largest co-financing platform for documentaries, as well as a fund and an academy. Altogether, it is an ecosystem that has a responsibility to boost a female talent’s chances of growing into the master she has the potential to become.
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