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IDFA: the world’s true stories in Amsterdam

In culture, film on November 30, 2009 at 4:10 pm

I applied early to help at International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) 2009 – another useful tip from my film tutor – and stated a preference for volunteering on the Press Desk.  As it happened there were, I think, nearly 50 applicants after these coveted places and only six volunteers would be needed. We had a rather surreal group interview to state why we thought we were better candidates than the others sitting next to us. Embarrassed as we were, a few of us were happy to talk ourselves up and I must have impressed as I made it to the final six.

So for two weeks in November I racked up to Rokin to help run the pop-up Press Centre. We mostly spent our days welcoming international journalists, cooing over filmmakers and shooing away any walk-ins looking to use our free wi-fi (nb. the Dutch pronounce it wee-fee).

'Viewing Boots' sign before the spelling mistake was corrected, blame the poster dept...

And of course I made it to a few films.

Monsieur Advertising (France): Almost an infomercial for a French advertising agency, fawning beyond excuse. 5/10

Soundtrack for a Revolution (US): How music and songs fortified the civil rights movement. Thoughtful use of archive footage and lovely looking talking heads. 9/10

Colony (Ireland): This beautiful film followed several great characters all involved in identifying and resolving threats to America’s bee colonies. The bee-keeping brothers from an intense religious family were especially endearing. “We need bees”, one brother’s simple statement, delights me whenever I think of it. 8/10

Monica & David (US): A little schmaltzy, which is just my thing. A cute couple, both with downs syndrome, get married and move apartment. The sharpness of their wit and bantering is enlightening, as are their ambitions and desires, but at the heart of it is a good old love story. 10/10 monicaanddavid.com

Iron Crows (South Korea): Beautifully shot documentary about workers on a ship scrapyard in Bangladesh. The film follows their dangerous work, literally following their bare-footed climb up the rusty hull of an old tanker. My absolute favourite of the festival. 10/10

Last Train Home (China): I  felt a lot of scenes had an unnatural feel and stiffness which affected my empathy for the subjects’ dire situation. This actually won the festival’s main prize, so what do I know? 6/10

The Yes Men Save the World (US): The funniest documentary of the festival. Two guys pulling audacious, topical pranks on corporate giants.  What they do takes a lot of nerve, and you can really see blind panic in their eyes sometimes. Or maybe just insanity? 8/10 theyesmenfixtheworld.com

A Hundred Patients of Dr Jia (China): A camera was set up at Dr Jia’s desk, facing the patient’s chair and basically just left recording for a year (obviously they had to change the tape once or twice). Great for an insight into the community life and banter of this busy clinic – the doctor smokes during consultations and patients jostle for his attention like playful kids. Simple but charming. 8/10

Crude (US): The story of an Ecuador village and its fight with a big US oil company for compensation after heavy pollution. Fascinating moments of slimy, corporate wriggling contrasted with poor but determined villagers who believe that with truth on their side they will prevail. 8/10 www.crudethemovie.com

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