A guided tour through IDFA's new selection process

    • Festival
    • July 15, 2021
    • By Nico van den Berg

    The summer period is no time for IDFA's programming team to sit back and relax. In the week before the submission deadline of July 15, hundreds of films are still being submitted by filmmakers. And that's before all the submitted films are even viewed and assessed. Joost Daamen, Senior Programmer at IDFA, explains how he and the team evaluate more than 3,000 documentaries and arrive at the final festival selection.

    Competition structure

    One of the biggest changes this year comes not from filmmakers, but from the festival itself. Starting with the 2021 edition, a new competition structure will be launched, with the different program sections distinguished from each other by their artistic approach. This has led to the International Competition and the Envision Competition. Whereas the former is mainly for balanced films that can appeal to a wide audience, the latter is for films with a more daring form, in which filmmakers have an inquisitive attitude towards non-fiction filmmaking.

    New selection method

    This new competition structure also affects the way films are selected, says Daamen. "In previous years we divided the different competitions among the programmers. This year, for the first time, we really put together the total premiere program as a team (International, Envision, Luminous, and Frontlight). That really meant a different way of working where the artistic director together with all the programmers discusses which film should be selected for which section."

    Eyes and ears

    Every year IDFA receives thousands of documentaries from filmmakers who want to present their film on the Tuschinski stage in November. But the IDFA team also scouts for special films themselves. Programmers closely follow what is being screened at other film festivals and what is worth bringing to Amsterdam. Because the number of eyes and ears is too limited to follow everything that is being made worldwide, IDFA also has a number of associate programmers who are active in certain regions.

    "They are our 'eyes on the ground,'" says Daamen. "They live and work there and have a good network. In addition, they also represent IDFA at various festivals and events in their region.

    In addition to the new program structure, IDFA is also striving for a more compact selection. According to Daamen, "this means that we will now have around 225 documentaries and 50 DocLab projects. Previously, there were several dozen more."

    Physical locations

    The program structure for IDFA 2021 was already established earlier this year, including the Top 10, the Retrospective, and the Focus programs. At the moment, it's mainly about filling out the various programs. This was mainly done from home last year, but with the Cannes Film Festival now physically held again in the French seaside resort, people are slowly watching more in cinemas and screening rooms again. And IDFA is also getting ready for a festival where audiences can once again watch films in the cinema and experience the immersive and interactive works of DocLab, which is also celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.

    Daamen can't wait to bring out the selection and special guests. "After such an intense year, it feels extra special to present a beautiful festival on location with a new set-up."

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