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IDFA: Days 7 and 8--Deliberation Day, ParaDocs, 'Capturing Reality.'

By Tom White

Day 7--Deliberation Day

We wrapped up our screenings and, following a final fantastic lunch and two more screenings, we sat down for two hours of bare-knuckled deliberations. Actually, the process was quite civil, with two films rising to the top of the Wolf pack, and one clear winner emerging among the Cubs. With more discussion, driven by our predominant criteria--does this film push the form forward?--and our subsidiary criteria--what is the best synthesis of subject, story, POV, form, style and relevance/timeliness?--as well as our independent visceral passions about our favorites, we came to a consensus with our third Wolf nomination and the other two Cub nominations. We felt so strongly as a group about the runner-up in the Wolf category that we awarded with a Special Jury Prize.

And who were the nominees? Well, dear readers, you'll have to wait until I present the nominations at the Talkshow on Day 9--which, since it will air locally in Amsterdam and on the web, will be my television and Internet debut!

That's Me in the Corner: The Silver Wolf/Silver Cub Competition Jury, wrapping up deliberations. Left to right: Jeanne Wikler, Tom White, Rik Stallaerts, Jess Search, Nishtha Jain. Photo: Jannie Langbroek.


Day 8--ParaDocs; Capturing Reality

Saddled with writing the Jury Report and prepping for its presentation, I nonetheless took time to explore a couple of the many programs at IDFA--in addition to the 307 docs that were apportioned among the seven competitive strands and ten non-competitive strands, there was The Forum, the pitching session of buyers and sellers; Docs for Sale, an emporium of viewing booths for distributors and festival programmers; and the Documentary Workshop. It's doc-tastic!

I opted for ParaDocs, a program that explores the outer edges of the documentary practice, via hybrid forms-not just fiction and nonfiction, but nonfiction and conceptual art and nonfiction and other artistic disciplines. The ParaDocs installment that I attended-in the ever-versatile Escape club-was an amalgam of ideas: choreography based on actual maneuvers by Israeli soldiers; a short film of a woman sitting at a desk talking about being a Taiwanese immigrant in the United States, while that same woman-the filmmaker-sits in silence at the same desk, situated below the screen...

While some of the pieces fell short of the mark, the most provocative was a reading from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness as a prelude to an excerpt from Renzo Martens' Episode 3: Enjoy Poverty (See IDFA: Days 2 and 3: Meet The Jurors), followed by a discussion with Martens himself. He lays the irony and postmodern self-reflection on thick; playing himself in the film as a conceptual artist, he visits the Congo, under the premise that poverty is Africa's biggest export, benefitting everyone from NGOs to journalists to photojournalists to, yes, documentary filmmakers, all of whom capture the stories and images for Western consumption. Martens, in the film, prevails upon the Congolese to take ownership of their poverty, that they could earn more from horrific images that they could from photos of weddings and parties. In addition, Martens creates a large neon sculpture that exclaims "Please Enjoy Poverty." In a Kurtz-meets-Fitzcarraldo gesture, he pays the Congolese five euros a day to transport this sign 20 kilometres, which he leaves as a parting gift.

Martens had no qualms about the fact that he himself would be benefitting from his film, and that we all benefit. "We're all complicit," he claimed. "The film is about showing the rule, rather than the exceptions.

In positing his claims of exploitation, Martens has perhaps created for himself a hall of mirrors in which one irony begets another. But perhaps he has also unwittingly entrapped himself in a Chinese box, in which one irony trumps another. Whether a postmodern conceptual documentary or a cynical repurposing of a kindler, gentler Kurtz for the 21st century, Episode 3: Enjoy Poverty provokes further thinking about the storyteller and the story, and the filmmaker and his subject. Martens' premise is susceptible to many refutations, from the empowering works coming out of Witness and Pangea Day and the myriad of docs that have a difference in confronting poverty, and changing lives.

But if you really want a wry observation of post-colonial Africa from a post-colonial African perspective, why not showcase the works of Jean-Marie Teno instead?

Later that evening, I trekked to the most remote screening facility-at the Bibliotech, a beautiful 21st-century library reminiscent in its translucence of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus' Seattle Public Library. I saw Pepita Ferrari's Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary, which, as the title suggests, is a survey film, featuring over 30 of the greatest names in documentary talking about every aspect of their creative process, punctuated by clips from their films. At once exhaustive and exhausting, Capturing Reality has great value as an educational tool-and as a validation for why we do this in the first place. For more information about the film, click here.

Here's a clip from the film: