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Documentary tips for IDFA 2022

With roughly 250 documentary titles on the programme, it's always impossible to know where to start at IDFA: International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. The 2022 edition takes place from November 9 - 20 at cinemas across the city. Our editorial movie buffs share their top picks to get you started!

All That Breathes (2022), directed by Shaunak Sen

It's not likely that you’ll catch a more penetrating portrait of what mankind is doing to the planet than Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes. Set against a backdrop of Delhi shrouded in dense air pollution, brothers Nadeem and Saud set up a makeshift sanctuary for birds which are simply dropping out of the sky. This harrowing masterpiece won the best documentary at Sundance Film Festival.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022), directed by Laura Poitras

Director Laura Poitras (Citizenfour) could have easily devoted three documentaries to the richly varied life of American photographer and activist Nan Golding. Poitras deftly intertwines Golding's youth and her rise as an artist with her fight against the pharmaceutical industry and its ties to the opioid epidemic's unfathomable death toll. Its a remarkable portrait that won the Golden Lion at Venice.

Around Masculinity focus programme

This year, the IDFA focus programme is titled “Around Masculinity”, interrogating the problematic social construct that is ‘masculinity’ - from the alpha male to toxic masculinity - from a variety of perspectives. Don't miss Bitch Academy (2007, Alina Rudnitskaya) about an education system that teaches young Russian women how to hook up with a rich man. Or Der Busenfreund (The Bossom Friend) (1997, Ulrich Seidl), about a former maths teacher harbouring a passion for women with large breasts.

Black Mambas (2022), directed by Lena Karbe

In Kruger National Park, a group of young South African women known as the Black Mambas work to protect rhinos and elephants from poachers. Whilst it might seem like a dream job, the truth is more complex. This engaging documentary reveals how there are no real opportunities for advancement, and better-earning jobs - such as park guides - invariably go to (white) candidates from outside the community.

A House Made of Splinters (2022), directed by Simon Lereng Wilmont

This heartbreaking documentary, directed by Simon Lereng, questions forces us to consider if there is anything worse than realising as a child that your parents are not strong enough to be able (or willing) to take care of you. The film delves into the stories of a Ukrainian home 20 kilometres from the front line that provides a temporary shelter for young children with untenable living situations.

Nothing Compares (2022), directed by Kathryn Ferguson

If the last time you ate your dinner in a fancy restaurant you thought of Sinéad O'Connor’s bald head and big doe eyes, this penetrating biopic is one to watch. The singer achieved world fame in 1990 with Nothing Compares to You but was also considered an unguided projectile. Nothing Compares shows that she did know what she was doing - the rest of the world just wasn't ready to see it yet.

Lombard (The Pawnshop) (2022), directed by Lukasz Kowalski

Now that Wiesiek has settled down in a poor working-class neighbourhood in Poland to run a pawnshop, they can't get rid of their stuff. On the brink of bankruptcy, this darkly-hilarious docu-comedy gives a tragic and heartwarming insight into the lives of the sellers, buyers and staff, where the people who come to sell their wares are as quirky as the workers themselves.

Shoah (1985), directed by Claude Lanzmann

As the guest of honour for IDFA’s 35th edition, Laura Poitras, in addition to a retrospective of all her work, also compiled a personal Top 10 list of films. This includes Shoah, Claude Lanzmann's monumental, gripping and almost 10-hour documentary on the Holocaust, in which he spoke to survivors, perpetrators, followers and bystanders.

White Balls on Walls (2022), directed by Sarah Vos

Only 4% of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam’s art collection consists of works by female makers and does not include a single artist of colour. This has to change, agrees the Museum Director Rein Wolfs, himself a white, middle-aged man. Still, getting fewer 'white balls' on the wall proves not so easy in this compelling documentary by Sarah Vos.

About IDFA

From 9 to 20 November 2022, catch more than 200 films and documentaries in all kinds of theatres throughout the city during the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. For the complete programme and tickets, check out the IDFA website.