What a way to cap off two incredible weeks in Amsterdam. We’ve come home with the first ever IDFA DocLab Award for Digital Storytelling for HIGHRISE/Out MY Window.
At the award ceremony in the stunning Tuschinski Theatre of downtown Amsterdam, the president of the jury, Alexandre Brachet reported: ‘“The project draws its strength when viewed in depth and at length. The meetings in dozens of countries, from Bangalore and Beirut to Toronto, Canada are all beautiful and the design of the piece resonates with the stories. Photos, video, audio and interactivity all work in seamless harmony towards telling the stories in a compelling way.” The other two jury members were Zach Wise and Antoinette Hoes.
The DocLab competition category rocked with 17 amazing projects: from non-linear guru Florian Thalhofer’s Planet Galata: A Bridge in Istanbul, to 3 very fine NFB/interactive projects (Testtube, This Land, Welcome to Pine Point), to the Arcade Fire runaway hit The Wilderness Downtown, to the university student project in the Appalachians, Soul of Athens, and of course the two fantastic nominees: the visually lush California is a Place, and the totally DIY Soul Patron (shot, edited and programmed by the author as part of his masters in applied science).
I spent much of my time in Amsterdam at the lovely Brakke Grond, where we have our installation of Out My Window until January 9th, but I did get into the IDFA movie house a few times to see some great films, mostly revolving around the politics/technology theme. I caught most of the big double IDFA award winner (dutch category and feature-length) Position Among the Stars, which has an opening shot that rivals that of Manufactured Landscapes in beauty. It’s the third instalment in a (decade-long-in-the-making) trilogy of family life in Indonesia by Leonard Rete Helmrich, a cinematographer/director who built steadycam contraptions with low-tech solutions (bamboo etc) to create a technique he calls “Single Shot Cinema.” He often uses long, uninterrupted shots, with the camera moving freely around, surprising us with unusual points of view and sudden glances sideways, sometimes even to follow a fleeing cockroach in extreme close-up. The camera as a living, curious and very much involved entity.
Continuing the politics/tech theme, I also saw the Danish Blood in the Mobile, which investigates how Nokia and other electronics companies are fuelling a deadly war in the Congo (by purchasing coltan and other minerals needed for cell phones and electronics from killer warlords). It’s a subject that has been on the media radar for the last decade (Peter Wintonick and I pointed to it back in 2003 in our web-companion to Seeing is Believing: handicams, huamn rights and the news) and yet the multi-nationals continue to rake in huge profits, and to dodge justice as millions of people in Congo continue to die. The film wisely suggests that there’s a solution: to demand more transparent supply chains (see here). For a more uplifting portrayal of the Congo, I went to the heart-warming Kinshasa Symphony, which came in fourth for the IDFA Audience award. (The award went to the oscar-short-listed Waste Land, also about repurposing recycled materials from a garbage dump to create participatory art. I caught Waste Land at Hot Docs last year, it’s a must-see).
I was happy to see a the “talk-show” live interview with fellow Canadians Luc Coté, Patricio Henrique about their urgent film You Don’t Like the Truth: Four Days Inside Guantanamo. They talked about the struggle they had to finance their film, based on 7 hours of surveillance footage (shot on VHS) of the interrogation of Canadian Omar Khadr held at Guantanamo, for alleged war crimes he committed when he was 15 years old. No financiers would touch the film when they were making it, yet its now playing a huge role in pointing a spotlight on how the Canadian government has betrayed its own citizen, to the hands of torturers and sadists. The timing of the release of the film is spot-on. In October 2010, Omar Khadr had just plead guilty to all charges, part of a plea bargain that would get him an eight-year sentence instead of life in prison. This makes him the first person to be convicted as a war criminal since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and the first child soldier since Nuremburg to be found guilty of war crimes.. The filmmakers showed the film to a room full of judges in the Netherlands last week, and are now touring with the film around the world. And their highly-deserved IDFA Special Jury prize will no doubt give the film a good boost.
Worth mentioning too is the last film I saw, My Reincarnation, by Jennifer Fox. For the last twenty years, her camera has witnessed the difficult relationship of a Tibetan Llama, Rinpoche and his resistant son (born and raised in Italy), who is said to be a reincarnation of Rinpoche’s uncle. Jennifer’s trust in life and fate unfolding before her camera (over 2 decades!) is breathtaking, and the film, a full 2 hours in length, takes you for a huge emotional, spiritual ride.
And finally, while IDFA is all about the films, the filmmakers, the parties and the fun, what really blew me away was the audiences. IDFA 2010 boasts an incredible total of 180,000 visits to the festival, up 15,000 from last year. As a maker primarily for the internet these days, I appreciate the direct communication I have with people who see our work on-line every day. The immediacy of twitter and social media is profound. But what IDFA gave me, was the chance to meet hundreds of audience members face-to-face, and nothing beats that. During my live cinema screening of Out My Window, audiences called out, cheered, reacted, laughed and applauded – all in real time, and I could feel their breath. It was a high that only live cinema can give you. And in my many, many hours at the Brakke Grond, I witnessed hundreds of audience members interacting with the installation as well as the kiosk computer version of the web-site itself. It was the ultimate in user-testing. I saw how things really worked and what could be improved (for example, two-days into the installation we added vinyl lettered instructions on the floor for the motion detector spotlight triggers). But over and over, audiences approached me to tell me how much they loved the HIGHRISE experience, and it was real proof that Out My Window touches the minds and hearts of people from all walks of life: from PhDs, to teenagers, to filmmakers, to new media students to the general public.
The words and energy of one audience member , Willie, will stick with me for a long time. I met her almost daily at various IDFA DocLab events (she got rid of her tv and internet 6 months ago, and now interacts with the world only through free live events in Amsterdam) and she gave me quite a bit of her time explaining what she appreciated about the our project – and life. She said the 360º approach of our project reminded her of spiders, who have multiple eyes set all around the front of their heads (i did not know that!). She is a self-prononounced “survivalist” and loves wild, foraged foods, and she loves clicking on objects on the internet that reveal a whole world behind them. Fascinating mind, and heart. Thank you IDFA and DocLab, for so much, but mostly for giving me a chance to meet audience-members like Willie.
And see you, Ally Derks, director of IDFA, in Toronto for Hot Docs, for your much-deserved Doc-Mogul Award, for your huge contribution to the documentary community.