Happy Returns: Bertha Fund Turns 20

    • Festival
    • November 18, 2017
    • By Geoffrey Macnab

    The IDFA Bertha Fund turns 20 with 15 films at IDFA, including festival opener Amal.

    The IDFA Bertha Fund is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with 15 films in official selection, including Egyptian director Mohamed Siam’s Amal, which opened the festival on Wednesday evening.

    “We funded the development of his previous film (Whose Country?),” the Fund’s managing director Isabel Arrate Fernandez says of IDFA’s links to Siam, who has also taken part in the IDFA Summer School and the Forum. Amal was conceived during the shooting of Whose Country?, when Siam met the 14-year-old political activist whose story he tells in the new documentary.

    In Praise of Nothing

    This is the second occasion on which a Bertha Fund-supported film has opened IDFA, following Return to Homs in 2013. “Amal is an amazing film, I am very proud to be able to give it this platform at the festival and have it as an opening film,” Arrate Fernandez enthuses. Amal was submitted to IDFA very late on, but the festival programmers immediately selected it for the competition, quickly choosing it to open the festival too.

    Many Fund titles screen this year in Best of Fests, arriving in Amsterdam having premiered in festivals such as Berlin, Cannes, Locarno and Toronto. The 2017 ‘harvest’ includes films from Bolivia (Violeta Ayala’s Cocaine Prison), Morocco (Tala Hadid’s House in the Fields), Democratic Republic of the Congo (Dieudo Hamadi’s Mama Colonel) and Serbia (Boris Mitic’s In Praise of Nothing), among many others.

    “The variety is enormous,” Arrate Fernandez comments of the films the Fund has backed. Several are directed by first-timers. The Fund is also involved in four projects being pitched at the Forum, including Chilean director Maite Alberdi’s The Mole Agent and Chinese director Siyi Chen’s People’s Hospital.

    The IDFA Bertha Fund (formerly known as the Jan Vrijman Fund) has helped kick-start the careers of some very prominent figures. Two of the big-name directors invited to choose their favourite films in the Visual Voice celebration – Nishtha Jain and Maziar Bahari – were helped by the Fund when they were starting out.

    House in the Fields

    Thanks to the support from the Bertha Foundation (which will last until at least 2019) and from Creative Europe MEDIA, the Fund is currently on a relatively stable footing. The Fund is now offering European co-producers support through the IBF Europe scheme. “That’s something from which we are now really seeing the results. We’ve been doing it since 2015. Last year, we had the first few films. Now, the second crop is coming.”

    However, Dutch government backing has dried up completely. “We are getting a new government in the Netherlands, so we’ll have to see what their policy towards culture and the foreign ministry will be,” Arrate Fernandez notes.

    The Fund wouldn’t have come into existence at all without the intervention of IDFA co-founder Ally Derks. “For starters, without her, the whole Fund would never have existed. The Fund is her brainchild,” Arrate Fernandez acknowledges. “It has always been very close to her heart.”


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