“This year’s films and themes are broader, although the personal sphere may still be a starting point”

– The head of programme of the world’s largest doc festival talks us through this year’s line-up, its new venue and the creation of the Signed strand

Joost Daamen  • Head of programme, IDFA

Just prior to the start of this year’s International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), Cineuropa caught up with head of programme Joost Daamen. The world’s largest festival celebrating non-fiction filmmaking will unspool in the Dutch capital from 8-19 November. Daamen delved into this year’s programme (see the news) and the new Signed section, among other topics.

Cineuropa: What are the highlights of this year’s international competition?
Joost Daamen: If you look at the international competition, it’s a mixed programme, with a few renowned names like Anand Patwardhan with The World Is Family (India), Midi Z with his new film The Clinic (Taiwan/Myanmar) and Mohamed Jabaly returning to IDFA with his latest, Life Is Beautiful (Norway/Palestine), along with new filmmakers who will screen their works here for the first time. For example, [we have] 1489 by Shoghakat Vardanyan (Armenia), The Last by Sebastian Peña-Escobar (Paraguay/Uruguay/France) and the Dutch film Selling a Colonial War by In-Soo Radstake.

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What you see a little bit more here is that we’ve left the COVID times behind us, [so we’ve also left behind] films that were very small and which took place within family environments, homes or nearby places. This year’s movies and themes are broader, although the personal sphere may still be a starting point. […] And filmmakers don’t seem to be afraid to speak out on bigger themes. They have finally left their houses, and there’s a curiosity to get to know the world around them and face the unknown again. Besides, visually and conceptually, it’s a very diverse line-up, with some fine examples of very mature filmmaking.

Could you tell us a bit more about the new Signed strand?
We used to have the Masters section, and Signed is a sort of revamping of that strand. However, we have broadened it. We wanted to get away from having a large filmography as a criterion [for a filmmaker to be included in the section]. We looked for directors with very strong and interesting “signatures”. [It doesn’t matter if] it’s their third, ninth or 20th film. This has allowed us to diversify the programme, so we didn’t have to focus on big names only, but also on how [other] filmmakers “write” with their own cinematic language. That’s what we did with Signed. I think we’ve succeeded, and in the end, the programme is even larger than we expected. It’s been an interesting learning process for us – not only from a sort of formalistic approach, but also from an artistic and conceptual one.

Have there been any changes in terms of the venues? What about the audience experience?
One of the big changes is that two months ago, we moved to a new venue in the city. We moved our offices there, and the place also hosts a new cinema and a new, multi-purpose space. We moved to the old film museum while we were very busy with the selection process. The building was opened in March, and it’ll be one of the main festival locations this year. We’re proud and happy to present this new hub for documentary to our international guests. With this new cinema, we won’t only programme [titles] during the festival’s 12 days, but also all year round, and in the coming months, we’ll find ways for that to work out. It’s a new, exciting chapter for IDFA.

In terms of the audience experience, we’ll have a few sensory-friendly screenings, with brightened light levels and no music in the foyer when the audience arrives, and these are really aimed at an audience that can’t handle all [of these] impulses, so we try to reduce them as much as possible.

We have a few films that we’ll show with closed captioning, we’ve got a dedicated offering through an app as well as accessibility guides. […] We’ve put a lot of effort into accessibility [in order] to make our offering available to as many people as possible. It’s a learning process for us, and we’re happy to be assisted in this by specialist organisations.

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