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IDFA special (1): 28th International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam opens with intriguing family history

"The truth? Forget it!" At a documentary festival, that is definitely a provocative remark. In IDFA opening film A Family Affair director Tom Fassaert elicits that sobering rebuke from his scheming grandmother, former diva and femme fatale Marianne Hertz.

With Paris still in mind, it may feel a little surreal that IDFA Wednesday kicks off with such a highly personal family history. But rest assured, reflections on the current world turmoil are also amply covered.

Apart from that, A Family Affair is a strong festival start, and not only because of the completely unexpected turn in the relationship between the filmmaker and his subject. It is a whimsical, moving and also wry exploration of multiple generations, which will appeal to a wide audience and force the viewer to reconsider judgements formed too quickly on several occasions.

The grandmother Fassaert tries to get to know here was a well-known fashion model in the 1950s. Unexpectedly, she placed her two sons in a home and left for South Africa herself. Grandson Tom is now trying to unravel her history surrounded by myth and conflict, with results both surprising and poignant.

Fassaert, by the way, is not the only one who was inspired by a striking life history. A striking number of portraits and family stories this year in the international competition and also in addition.

In Sonita, for example, an illegal Afghan refugee residing in Tehran dreams of a career as a rapper. In Clear Years, a man watches his family disintegrate through the eye of the camera.

Also A Strange Love Affair With Ego by Ester Gould, the second Dutch film in the main competition, has a similar premise. The admiration that Ester felt as a child for her seemingly invincible older sister Rowan now gives rise to a fascinating exploration of self-aggrandisement and self-centredness in today's society.

Given recent events, the most important IDFA event at the moment is probably Benjamin Barber: Jihad vs McWorld. The plan for this arose shortly after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. This thematic programme brings together films that illustrate the book written by the American philosopher and political consultant Benjamin Barber on globalisation and radicalisation. Barber himself will be present for introductions and follow-up discussions.

New this year is the competition for international youth documentaries Kids & Docs. Youth docs and related educational activities have long been in IDFA's package, but the promotion to competition confirms that it is an adult genre. This brings the total number of IDFA competitions to eight.

Also new is that the juries award two prizes at each competition. In addition to the main prize, there will now also be a special jury prize. This eliminates the nominations.

Chief guest is the lauded grandmaster Errol Morris, known for, among others, The Thin Blue Line and the Oscar-winning The Fog of War. Morris compiled his Top 10 for IDFA and will give a master class.

A special retrospective is dedicated to Robert Frank, the unorthodox photographer and filmmaker whose work is closely related to that of the Beat Generation. His rarely screened and rather disconcerting Stones documentary Cocksucker Blues is a one-off at The Milky Way.

Up-and-coming talent gets an extra boost this year from media company VICE, which was also involved in the production of Sam de Jong's Prins. Among the eight titles which VICE selected are two Dutch Film Academy graduation works: I'll Fly Higher by Isabel Lamberti and My Silicone Love by Sophie Dros. In the former, a walk by two gypsy children becomes a metaphor for exclusion. Dros created a sensitive and humorous portrait of a man who surrounds himself with dolls as if they were real women. Both worth reading.

IDFA 2015 will take place from 18 to 29 November.

The awards ceremony will be on Wednesday evening, 25 November.

A Family Affair, in addition to its screenings at IDFA, will be released in cinemas from 19 November.

Leo Bankersen

Leo Bankersen has been writing about film since Chinatown and Night of the Living Dead. Reviewed as a freelance film journalist for the GPD for a long time. Is now, among other things, one of the regular contributors to De Filmkrant. Likes to break a lance for children's films, documentaries and films from non-Western countries. Other specialities: digital issues and film education.View Author posts

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