IDFA unveils opening film and main competition selections

    With the 34th edition of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) just over two weeks away, the festival unveiled its highly anticipated opening film during today’s press conference: Four Journeys by Louis Hothothot (Louis Yi Liu). Ushering in its revamped program structure, IDFA also announced the films selected for the newly minted International Competition, Envision Competition, and cross-section awards. Finally, the festival presented the immersive and interactive artworks selected for the IDFA DocLab Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction and the IDFA DocLab Competition for Digital Storytelling. As of today, the festival lineup of 264 titles is now complete. IDFA 2021 runs from November 17 to 28 in Amsterdam.

    “The works of filmmakers from over 80 countries will be presented at the 34th edition of IDFA, and they are showing us how artistic freedom, courage, and engagement with the world come in many different languages, styles, and viewpoints. The documentary field is being confirmed as a future-proof art form that is unapologetically open, diverse, and continuously developing. IDFA’s new program structure, as much as IDFA’s Filmmaker Support and Industry activities, is changing to reflect this. Today, we present a program that is worthy of our return to cinemas,” said Artistic Director Orwa Nyrabia.

    Opening film

    IDFA 2021 will open with Four Journeys, the lyrical and intensely personal debut feature by Louis Hothothot (Louis Yi Liu). A first-person narrative of a filmmaker born in China in 1986 as an “illegal” second child, Louis and his family suffered devastating consequences at the hands of the authorities, with painful reverberations still felt to this day. After relocating to Amsterdam in his twenties, the filmmaker returns home to reunite with his parents and sister after a five-year hiatus, where he attempts to disentangle his densely knotted family history. Unfolding as a soft and sorrowful stream of memories, absences, and lingering shadows, Four Journeys premieres at IDFA bearing the mark of a new documentary poetics to come—one laden with wonder, nuance, and spirit.

    International Competition

    Fourteen singular films are selected for IDFA’s new International Competition: a manifestation of classical documentary at its most sublime, yet still full of surprises. These are films that use a clearly defined frame, but inside it, anything can happen. Artistically confident, well-rounded, and universally relevant, each of these titles express an unparalleled cinematic mastery that is at once both intricate and effortless.

    Beginning with a particular entry point—a story limited to a certain time, space, or context—the filmmakers of the International Competition incite us to find a link between ourselves and these seemingly alien specificities of other ways of being. Microcosms become entire universes of truth, but always with care, creativity, and passion. Together, the selection opens onto a rich world of human experience, full of survival, dreams, disappointment, growing up, and above all, beauty.

    Envision Competition

    Fifteen exploratory, risk-taking films of the highest caliber shine in IDFA’s new Envision Competition. This is filmmaking that defies all expectations, rewriting the definition of documentary with radical artistic choices of every stripe. From the tenderest introspective journeys to the most demanding encounters with rhythm, tone, and form, the films selected for Envision plunge us into the worlds of their directors, leading us on a naked journey of discovery we won’t soon forget.

    Several films in the selection home in on images, objects, and creations as the foundation for a narrative; carrying a cinematic flow that isn’t driven by people moving through space. Others confront trauma in creative ways, unearthing difficult human experiences but never approaching them head on. Collectively, the selection unleashes the human act of creativity to make the invisible visible and resonate with experiences beneath the surface; whether by subverting foreground and background, shining the spotlight on undiscovered narratives, or paying homage to lives who have been forgotten.

    IDFA DocLab Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction

    Ten experiential projects by some of the world’s top immersive and interactive artists are selected for the IDFA DocLab Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction. A testament to the power of exceptional non-fiction storytelling across media and technologies, the selected works reveal the full spectrum of immersive art—from stunning in-headset experiences that dive deep into an artist’s psyche to soft-robotics installations that tickle your tastebuds through to immersive films that challenge the boundaries of documentary cinema and VR cinema.

    Within the selection, projects journey into speculative worlds, engaging all our senses as they transform us into a post-human being; others merge augmented reality with the harsh texture of our current reality in crisis; several projects redefine live performance as immersive, shared experience; and still others take us literally outside, into nature, to reconnect with the world around us.

    IDFA DocLab Competition for Digital Storytelling

    The ten selected projects in the IDFA DocLab Competition for Digital Storytelling illustrate all the different ways to create stories and what these stories tell us about our current reality. Together, the selection explores the liminal space between tangibility and tactility, documentary and speculation, and self and community. By drawing on technologies such as the Internet, the browser, the smartphone, and the computer game, the projects both appeal to the household devices around us and breakdown the established formats we know.

    In addition to some of the leading new media artists of the last decade, the selection welcomes storytellers from fields such as performance art, game development, radio, and interactive media. All find new ways to innovate and re-imagine the potential of interactive storytelling, often moving between the digital and the physical. In turn, users are invited to not only follow a narrative, but become an active participant in it. Themes at play include speculative fiction, artificial beings, control of the self versus others, how we relate to our environment, and the extent to which technology extends our bodies.

    Alongside the two DocLab Competitions, IDFA has announced the ten projects selected for the non-competitive IDFA DocLab Spotlight section, including interactive and immersive highlights, full dome experiences, and a one-off cinematic experience by a very special guest.

    Cross-section awards

    The films in the running for IDFA’s newly expanded cross-section awards are now known, having been shortlisted by the IDFA programmers. From the International Competition, Envision Competition, Luminous, and Frontlight, three international juries will choose the winners of the IDFA Award for Best First Feature, the IDFA Award for Best Dutch Film supported by VEVAM Fund, and the FIPRESCI Award. From across the program, an international jury will choose the winner of the Beeld en Geluid IDFA ReFrame Award for Best Creative Use of Archive.

    Additions to previously announced sections

    With the entire festival lineup now known, IDFA has added six films to The Future Tense, five films to unConscious Bias, two projects to IDFA on Stage, four films to Masters, and nine films to Best of Fests.

    About IDFA 2021

    The 34th edition of IDFA will be an in-person event, celebrating the art of documentary film from November 17 to 28 in cinemas across Amsterdam. In accordance with the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and Environment (the RIVM), the festival will feature comprehensive health and safety measures, prioritizing the wellbeing of all in attendance and updating attendees as soon as the situation changes.

    As of 15:00 CET today, tickets are on sale for Friends of IDFA and accredited guests. General ticket sales for all audiences begin November 3 at 15:00 CET. Accreditation for industry professionals remains open.

    IDFA’s competition program is supported by Ammodo.

    The IDFA Award for Best Dutch Documentary is supported by Vevam fund.

    UnConscious Bias is supported by VSBfonds.

    IDFA's audience program is made possible by Vriendenloterij, VPRO, Fonds 21, de Volkskrant, Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds, WeTransfer, Ammodo, NPO 2DOC, Oxfam Novib, and IDFA Vrienden/DikkeVrienden.

    IDFA DocLab is supported by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy of the Netherlands, CLICKNL, Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds, Netherlands Film Fund, Flanders Audiovisual Fund, VIVE, VIVEPORT, A Lab and Special Friends+.

    Four Journeys

    • Louis Hothothot
    • 2021
    • 112 min

      Amsterdam-based filmmaker Louis Hothothot was born in China, a second child in the era of the one-child policy. His birth had devastating consequences for his parents, and when he visits them he discovers other distressing events in the family as well.

      More info

      Related

      International Competition

      • November 1, 2021

      Envision Competition

      • November 1, 2021

      IDFA DocLab Competition for Digital Storytelling

      • November 1, 2021

      IDFA DocLab Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction

      • November 1, 2021

      IDFA DocLab Spotlight

      • November 1, 2021

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