The short documentaries were characterized by an extraordinary diversity of subjects, approaches, origins, and visions. They’ve shown us cinema going in every possible direction—from animation to lines of code, shot in the middle of the night and under the equatorial sun, people diving off cliffs and into the paths of bulls. And they have bravely taken on intensely personal topics such as abortion; the tenderness and trauma of teens reckoning with their own queer sexuality; the death of a partner; growing up without male role models; and the experience of everyday racism.
These documentaries often focused on characters more than issues, speaking with empathy and understanding more than analysis and exposé. At best, these documentaries let us into these otherwise unknown personal worlds; at worst, they tended more to tell than to show, often eschewing a complex visual language and cinematic structure for a seemingly more direct confrontation with character and experience. Why so shy? You have cameras! The jury suggests that these filmmakers trust more in cinema and the image as a medium for exploring and understanding the world, and exploit its capacities with more fearlessness and abandon. These lives are worth that risk.
In the intense political conflicts over abortion and reproductive rights, the personal experience of loss and mourning is often exploited but rarely confronted directly and honestly. How to defend individual freedom while also acknowledging that something has been lost? This requires a complex narrative, an appreciation of ambiguity, and a searching truthfulness.
For its richly hybrid visual language that takes a brave step forward, the Special Jury Mention goes to Katelyn Rebelo and Kira Dane’s Mizuko.
Cinema is an art of light. It's a challenge to make a film in the best of conditions—who would be bold enough to make a film when it's pitch dark outside? Shooting in the dark, though, teaches us that darkness is not just a natural occurrence. Darkness has a politics, and it is built through histories of power and corruption. In this film, the stories of those who are forced to live in the dark in Kinshasa are told with biting irony, rich sonic and visual texture, pointed critique, and exuberant resilience.
The IDFA Award for Best Short Documentary goes to Nelson Makengo's brilliant Up at Night.