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Vondelpark Pavilion becomes IDFA's Documentary Pavilion - meeting place for people and ideas

A touch of nostalgia with new and exciting. That's how it feels when you walk up the new stairs of that beautiful, nineteenth-century building in Amsterdam's Vondelpark, where the flamboyant opening week of IDFA's Documentary Pavilion will take place in a few days' time.

Until about 12 years ago, this was where the Film Museum welcomed audiences. In the meantime, broadcasters, notably AVROTROS, used it. Now IDFA is going to put a firm new stamp on it. And the doors will open again to the public, documentary lovers first and foremost. It promises to be a rather unique centre, where much more happens than just film screenings. A 'house for documentary', this new meeting place has already been called. Vondelpark pavilion will be Documentary Pavilion.

Kaleidoscopic programme

Under the heading Under construction IDFA has been giving previews for a few months now. Soon, from 16 to 23 March to be precise, is the real opening week with a kaleidoscopic programme. A programme in which the boundaries between art, technology and reality blur. From film to virtual reality, from classical to experimental. With screenings, introductions, encounters and follow-up talks.

How this could blossom like this is, well, a fortunate confluence of circumstances. The City of Amsterdam was keen for this venue to be more open to the public again. It brought it to the attention of IDFA, among others. At the time, that was just looking for new office space. And there lurked there the thought of having its own place for all those activities IDFA also already organises throughout the year alongside the festival. "Because," programme manager Wotienke Vermeer stresses with visible enthusiasm, "IDFA has long since grown into much more than a festival. It is an institution that brings people and ideas together."

Under construction

Thus, one plus one could become three. Renovation work started last spring. Last summer, the move already took place. From October, the pilot programme Under construction, with approximately weekly public or school performances as well as rentals. I happen to see an example of the latter when I take a look for this article. Employees of Who is the Mole are then hard at work turning one of the rooms into the studio for the broadcast of the final. Thus, that programme also supports the documentary.

Part of Under Construction was to learn a little about the building's capabilities and to engage partners in the process. The kick-off was on 4 October in collaboration with the Stedelijk Museum. The screening of All the Beauty and the Bloodshed by Laura Poitras on artist and activist Nan Goldin coincided with Goldin's solo exhibition at the Stedelijk. Another example was The Last Year of Darkness about one of the last sanctuaries for young and unconventional in China. Followed by a queer performance, organised together with the Darkmatter artists' collective. Or, more recently, with UvA students, Silence of Reason, about the horrific experiences of women during the Bosnian war, brought to light during the ICTY. But also simply a wonderful reprise of The flat jungle (1978) by one of the Netherlands' leading documentary makers Johan van der Keuken (1938-2001).

Opening week: docu in turbulent times

For the opening week, IDFA asked a number of filmmakers, artists and a group of students to each fill a day. This resulted in a multicoloured programme of films, talks and performances. "Fantasise with us. What would excite you. What can documentary mean in these turbulent times?" That was the invitation.

Shout, from programme Esther Gould (image: IDFA)

Ester Gould, known for the acclaimed series Classes and Guilty, kicks off on 16 March with three relatively short films, including Martin Scorsese's seminal film Italianamerican (1974). Followed by the talk Ways of looking, in which Gould gives an insight into ways of telling stories and making documentaries. "For me, it's about research. Documentary-research is a way of looking."

Emerging director Festus Toll explores colonial traces, inviting young artists whose work is rooted in the various diasporas. Filmmaker Vincent van Monnikendam showcases some personal favourites and discusses his distinctive, observational approach in a Talk. Aliona van der Horst celebrates memories, particularly how they relate to film, in its programme. The socially engaged collective Young Fruit of six young people presents their block of favourite short films. Multimedia artist Ali Eslami puts together a programme of short films and VR works about the many areas of the world affected by wars. What do and don't we know about them.

The Zoo Hypothesis, from programme Ali Eslami (image: IDFA)

Cultural living room

'A new cultural living room of Amsterdam', IDFA calls the pavilion. The original Renaissance lines and the new style of generously tackled renovations with new artworks blend smoothly.

As I cross the inviting staircase via the boardwalk, I see the Mirror on the left. That is the permanent cinema hall, redecorated with 70 spacious seats. Documentary as a mirror of the times, in other words.

To the right is Podium, a flexible space for all kinds of activities, from exhibitions to dinners. Next to it is the smaller Salon, suitable for workshops but also for installations or as a workspace for makers developing projects. And if you pass the bar installed opposite the entrance, you enter the so-called Living Room. There you can just sit down as a visitor to process everything for a while. Or as a filmmaker to forge new plans with a partner in crime. As ever, the stairs down lead to the Park South restaurant, where you can also order your coffee.

Year full of development

After the opening week, the Documentary Pavilion will come into full swing. Most visible to audiences are screenings on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Vermeer explains that the aim in doing so is not to become a competitor to screenings of newly released documentaries in the movie theatres. There is already a rich infrastructure for that in Amsterdam. The Documentary Pavilion will not be a premiere theatre. However, it can screen films that have not received regular distribution. Or it could look at ways to support the release of new titles with distributors. Such as earlier work by a director, for example.

In addition, there are activities in more private settings, there are slots for press screenings and rentals with partners is also part of it. It will be flexible experimentation with the possibilities. Exploring what it means to be part of the rhythm of the city.

New media

And it doesn't stop at film. The Documentary Pavilion is a great opportunity to expand IDFA's DocLab, already a prominent part of the festival. Think VR, interactive programmes and similar experiences for new and young audiences, professionals and students. Year-round now.

IDFA's DocLab presents work that asks questions about how we relate to new technologies, alongside work that can make themes such as climate crisis, inclusion and (in)security palpable. A place also that can provide important support for the hitherto difficult distribution and presentation of new media works. To kick off, Podium will host a VR gallery in April.

Equally important is also the support of creative forces in the documentary world. Such as the long-running training programme IDFA Project Space, where novice makers can be supported by experienced colleagues when developing a new project.

It is an example that underlines that the Documentary Pavilion also wants to be the place where professionals from the sector, especially producers, makers and financiers come together. The place, as mentioned, where people and ideas meet.


And last but not least: education is also a key focus. The festival has had a large schoolchildren's programme for many years, and it has worked with UvA students doing a master's Preservation & presentation of the moving image do. There has also been collaboration with the Art School Days for years. There is now a permanent place for all such activities, which also take place outside the festival. "It's exciting to see how that branch of IDFA can be further developed here," Vermeer believes. How to bring education and new media together even better, for instance.

Flexibility is important in all this. It should not become a fixed framed programme throughout the year. Especially for the first time, the Documentary Pavilion will be a place where everyone can get used to the possibilities offered by this new location. A place to grow and invent things. Judging by the reactions, it is clear that both IDFA staff and documentary makers are full of fire.

For more info, the website of the IDFA Documentary Pavilion. Including an overview of completed Under Construction programme, activities for pupils and the programme of the opening week.

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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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