IDFA is in Town

The International Documentary Festival Amsterdam in the Netherlands opens tomorrow. Many great films, and quite a few about curious borders and statehood. The festival will take place from November 9 till 20 in cinemas across the city. De Facto selected one installation and three movies.

Border Birds
Bieke Depoorter, Dries Depoorter
Belgium, 2022
Installation at DocLab: Nervous Systems program at the Brakke Grond.

While humans erect more and more physical boundaries around the world, birds just carry on cheerfully ignoring them. The brother and sister team Dries and Bieke Depoorter took thousands of photographs of these winged border-crossers by first training artificial intelligence to recognize them in video footage. With this AI, they monitored publicly accessible surveillance cameras at several politically sensitive borders: between Mexico and the United States, Morocco and Spain, Greece and Turkey, and France and England.

The duo captured 3,747 images of birds from these cameras between March 10 and April 10, 2022, and then selected 100 of them for this project. Border Birds was commissioned by The World Project, for which 138 photographers each submitted 100 images as non-fungible tokens. Half of the proceeds from Border Birds will be donated to the European Network for Migrant Women (EMN) and the Red Cross, for the support of refugees.

R 21 aka Restoring Solidarity
Mohanad Yaqubi,Palestine, Belgium, Qatar, 2022

IDFA
The growing struggle for Palestinian self-determination between 1960 and 1980 was supported by radical left-wing movements worldwide, also in Japan. This is illustrated by a collection of 16mm films by militant filmmakers from various countries, which were dubbed and screened in Japan. The Japanese audience felt oppressed by the US after World War II, and not only sympathized but also identified with the Palestinians.

Stylistically, the films vary widely. They includes interviews with PLO leaders, documentary impressions of life in refugee camps, experimental films, and instructional films for tourism purposes. Mohanad Yaqubi has drawn on this material to create a film that might be seen as a conclusion or epilogue. He shows how two very different peoples can feel connected through images, and also raises questions. Where is the line between support and propaganda? And to what extent can a local struggle be translated internationally?

Port Desire
Juan Manuel Bugarín, Argentina, 2022

How long can you stay frustrated over a lost war? This is what you wonder when you see Marcelo Wytrykusz, an Argentinian veteran of the Malvinas War—better known elsewhere as the Falklands War. Forty years on, he still hasn’t resigned himself to Argentina’s defeat by the United Kingdom.

He comes across as sensible, a well-intentioned father and a husband who leaves little to complain about. But he’s stuck with an obsessive plan: to refurbish his old pleasure yacht and sail across to one of the islands to plant the Argentinian flag.

For the family, it’s not always easy to cope with Wytrykusz’s compulsion for revenge. Some of his former comrades in arms say he’s crazy. But the veteran is blinded by his mission to right the wrongs of the past — against his better judgment, and despite his deteriorating health and the changes that have since taken place in international relations.

Shangri-La, Paradise Under Construction
Mirka Duijn, Nina Spiering, Netherlands, Sweden, 2022

IDFA
Does Shangri-La really exist? Mirka Duijn goes in search of the answer in this travelogue-cum-investigation. She travels to the mountains of Tibetan China and digs into the archives to unravel the history of this mythical place. At first sight, the answer is obvious: British author James Hilton invented Shangri-La for his 1933 novel Lost Horizon, in which four characters crash land in the Kunlun Mountains and later find a magnificent monastery—a paradise on earth.

It’s pure fiction, and Hilton never even set foot in China or Tibet. Nonetheless, this Tibetan region in China now claims to have rediscovered this utopian haven: in 2001, China’s Zhongdian County was renamed Shangri-La, and a brand-new “historical” center was built for tourists to visit. Duijn discovers that the people living in Shangri-La firmly believe Hilton was writing about their city, explaining that an airplane really did crash in the area. Her curiosity aroused, the filmmaker picks apart the many strands to this surprisingly rich and complex story.

Nominated for IDFA Award for Best Dutch Film