International Documentary Film Festival 2010

I really should post more on this blog. I have the intention to do so. My previous post was more than a year ago about the IDFA 2009. Funnily enough this post is going to be about the IDFA 2010. I guess it would be quite sad if the next post on this blog will be on the IDFA 2011. Hah.

Anyway. I volunteered at the IDFA this year and as a volunteer you can see documentaries for free next to the shifts you make. It’s good fun and I watched an awful lot of documentaries. To avoid completely forgetting the things I see it’s a good idea to briefly write my thoughts on them down. The festival is more than a month ago now, but I didn’t get to finish writing my short reviews, now I finally have.

Budrus *****

Documentary about a small Palestinian village close to the Wall. There are lots of documentaries about Palestina and I expected the usual depressing story about an issue you hear plenty about in the media already. But this was less depressing than expected. It follows the start of a non-violent social movement against the wall and interviews the Isreali soldiers that were protecting the bulldozing of olive-trees to enable construction of the wall as well. It shows the disagreements between Fatah and Hamas and how to approach the issue, with local people’s attempts to resolve these. At first you only see (predominantly male) villagers joining the protests, then the women joining in. After early successes in postponing the bulldozing more and more people join. Western activists join. And then Isreali peace activist join, leading to huge dilemma’s of the IDF soldiers that are not allowed to beat up Jews. Heartwarming to see a math teacher and Hamas member crying of happiness when he lets in Isreali Jewish peace activists in his house, not believing he would ever fight side-by-side with them. Really good documentary, and the protests at this village ultimately led to a wider protest movement all over Palestina and the relocation of the Wall’s border. Still heavy stuff, but a lot less depressing than I expected at first.

Inside Job *****

One of the bigger budget documentaries at the IDFA this year with matt Damon as narrator (who’s actually doing an alright job). It’s about the financial crisis and argues that it is basically one big inside job of the big Wall Street banks. It explains the whole story of deregulation and what lead to the crisis in a comprehensible way. It actually surprised me that I didn’t hear more about this documentary yet on reddit, as it is out in the US already for a few months and it’s basically one big call-to-action for the American people with also some harsh critique on the Obama administration. Best part are the interviews. Some of the biggest neoliberal professors and academics of Harvard, Berkely and Oxford get completely humiliated. For this reason alone it’s a must see. I’m sure this docu has wrecked some careers.

Client-9: The Rise & Fall of Elliot Spitzer ****

Quite a long documentary and also mostly about the financial crisis and the power of Wall Street. It’s a portrait of Elliot Spitzer and basically shows how dirty and Machiavellian American politics are. It reminded me of people like Clay Davis and Carcetti in the Wire, but then even more dirty and actually real. Pretty damn cool.

The Pipe *****

Movie about the conflict between a local community and Shell that wants to construct a pipeline at the West coast of Ireland. I loved it. Beautiful scenery and characters. Shows how close and tight these communities are, but also shows the problems in maintaining unity (happens when a big multinational tries to buy people out with thousands of euros). Plus heroic resistance of a local fisherman that made me all teary. Crazy to see the power of a big multinational in a developed country like Ireland so bluntly.

Cultures of Resistance **

There’s basically no subject that interests me more than the link between culture, politics and resistance. But this must be the worst documentary I’ve seen at the IDFA so far this year. Gives a panorama view of conflicts and social resistance in the third world by explaining these particular conflicts in 5 minutes. Bleh. 5 minutes Brazil, 5 minutes Rwanda, 5 minutes Palestina, 5 minutes Congo. Nice footage, sure, but it remains rather shallow. Some girls next to me thought it was brilliant, but I intentionally went to sleep to speed up the time a bit. Perhaps more interesting if you’ve never heard of these conflicts?

Search and Destroy: Iggy Pop’s Raw Power

I like the album and it’s a decent documentary about how this album was underappreciated for decades, it includes interviews with Henry Rollins, Mike Watt and Iggy himself. Basically your average music documentary and a must-see for Iggy Pop fans I guess.


Another music documentary, but now about Cuban hip-hop band Los Aldeanos. Very activist hiphop, DIY and political in a country where such a thing is somewhat dangerous. It’s really aggressive hiphop and I really like this sort of thing. Interesting stuff even if you don’t like hiphop.

The Other Chelsea – Shaktar Donetsk ****

Documentary about how football meets politics in Ukraine. As I’ve been there myself I recognize the sort of people and environment and therefore I really loved it. Lots of stuff on miners that are huge fans of Shaktar, but somewhat at unease with a man like Akhmetov spending millions on a club while public services remain utter crap. It also follows a young man that starts out in the city council of Donetsk and shows how being a politician in Ukraine is more like being a businessman.

Armadillo *****

Probably the documentary that is having most political impact on West-Europe right now. A Danish documentary maker was allowed to stay with a Danish unit for 5 months in the British/Danish base Armadillo in Afghanistan, unlike the embedded journalists we’ve seen so much of, this is the real deal. Basically shows better what war is like and what it does to people than anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s not the most enjoyable film, but if you want to understand Afghanistan and modern war you should not miss out on this. The blood rush and excitement of Danish soldiers that finally get to shoot some Taliban fighters from close by is sickening, but also understandable. The debriefing where the killers laughingly say they had liquidated them as humanly possible while the bodies had over 50 bullets in it caused a political shit-storm in Denmark. The morphine eyes of a Danish soldier that just got shot in his soldier is one of unforgettable images of Aghanistan for me. Trailer

The Green Wave ***

Stories from the Iran elections and aftermath in 2009. Uses cartoons to explain stories that are obviously well-made and mixes those with the cell-phone footage we can all find on youtube. It’s not bad, but I personally thought it was a bit boring. This might also be the result of me being a bit tired (happens with these festivals), but I didn’t like it too much. I had already seen most of the footage as well, as I followed it closely on the internet a year ago. 3/5

iThemba ****

Probably the funniest documentary on the IDFA. It’s about a group of handicapped Zimbadwean children that make music together and end up touring the US as well. Story sounds a bit like a cliché, but all the kids are brilliant and some of them are a bunch of stand-up comedians shooting witty one-liner after one-liner, also about the political situation in Zimbadwe. 4/5

You don’t like the truth – 4 days of Guantanamo ****

You think you sort of know already how bad Guantanamo is, but then the details of story still shock the hell out of you. It pisses me off that this stuff is still going on. And it’s not just the Americans, but Canada and most European countries are just as complicit. It’s one of these things that is just too outrageous to understand. More:

The Prosecutor *****

Another serious story, but now more uplifting in my perspective. Documentary maker followed the prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal Court for 1-2 years in probably the most eventful period of the Court’s brief history. It’s not one-sided, but also covers eloquent critics of the ICC and mister Moreno-Ocampo. Luis Moreno-Ocampo is brilliant, charming, but also makes you cringe a bit at times. The ICC, despite the many obvious flaws, is one of most uplifting trends that is currently going on and many people are completely clueless about it. I hope this documentary will make people understand and appreciate the ICC a bit more. Go see it if you can.

Mushrooms of concrete ****

Short documentary about the 750k bunkers that were made in the times of Enver Hoxha. I had never heard of this crazy story before and was pretty amazed. Because of Hoxha’s paranoia and fear for a Greek invasion he had the plan to construct a bunker for anyone that could handle a gun. The result was a huge construction effort in an incredibly poor country and now in 2010 the country is still filled with these concrete mushrooms all over the landscape. It’s pretty fucking crazy and the documentary shows how some of these old bunkers are being re-used for all sorts of purposes. Cool.

Lobotomy ***

The most anti-Russia documentary I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s a very very subjective documentary by the Belarusian director Khashchavatski. Somewhat entertaining, but a bit too pushy for my taste. Tears apart much of the propaganda that comes from the Kremlin. It’s a bit amateuristic as well and looks like your average youtube documentary. Still, if you’re interested in the Georgia war and Putin’s Russia, this might be thought-provoking. 3/5

An African election *****

About the elections in Ghana. The rallies and African enthusiasm is completely crazy. Thousands and thousands of people listening, shouting and dancing. Complete chaos at times and the election results end up being a tie with even more chaos and a threat of violence. The violence however thankfully doesn’t end up happening. It’s a beautiful documentary about the optimistic chaos of an election in Africa, it does not really go into how democracy in these places is a bit of a farce with foreign multinationals looting its natural resources while they people remain poor with their leaders being a bunch of kleptocrats. But that is okay. It focuses on the optimistic chaos of democracy instead, shows a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff and follows all the candidates personally and it’s awesome. Beautifully filmed as well.

The furious force of rhymes *****

Another hiphop documentary and this might just be one of the best music documentaries ever. It shows socially critical hiphop scenes in the US, Paris, Ost-Berlin, Palestina and Senegal. American Blacks, East German Skinheads, Israeli Jews, Palestinians, African Feminists and French Banlieusards. They all sound fucking amazing too. Really fucking good, I’m going to update my playlist with the artists featured in this doc. Also worth watching if you aren’t into hiphop too much, this might just change your mind on that.

Pushing the elephant ****

Follows the Congolese activist Rose Mepanda, who fled to the US in 2000 and is a mother of 10 children. One of her daughters remained and this documentary is about their reunion. The daughter is obviously rather traumatized and struggles in the US. The family as a whole and the mother are really amazing though. Nice portrait.

Last train home ****

About the world’s biggest yearly human migration of millions of Chinese workers that leave their factories to back to their rural families for Chinese New Year. A really nice unpretentious documentary where a family is followed for a few years. Mother and father work in the factory and grandmother takes care of the children. The parents work so their children can go to school and have a better life than they had, the children are thus on immense pressure to study hard. Once a year the mother sees her children again and every time the first thing she asks her children is to show their school reports. The oldest daughter cannot really take it anymore and rebels against the parents. I liked it a lot. 4/5

Blood in the mobile ****

Documentary maker investigates how the global consumption of mobile phones fuels the war and exploitation in Congo and tries to find out how Nokia, reported as the most ethically minded company in the mobile phone industry, deals with the issue. And he has guts, he travels to one of the mines in Congo where the rare minerals are extracted, which is basically hell-on-earth and very very dangerous. The docu doesn’t really unearth any new facts (at least not for me, a person who’s interested in the issue), but does give images of what is going on. The mining camp operation is fucked-up insane. The mine is surrounded by fences and a rebel group that dominates the area demands money to everyone that wants to enter or leave the mining camp and the mine attracts people looking to make money from all over the region. Inside the mining camp the prices for food and drinks are insanely high (a beer for 8 dollars…). People going in often aren’t able to get out of the camp and are in a way slave workers. The documentary maker actually enters one of the extremely dangerous mines and the images from that are rather scary. After the trip he goes back to the Nokia HQ to ask how they deal with it and it’s clear that they have no clue on what is truly going on in those mines and don’t have an interest in finding out. Actually, the way the Nokia employees at first respond to the documentary maker is really shocking. As he stated in the Q&A, you can view the movie as a guide for multinationals of how not to do PR. Anyway, this documentary is certainly worth watching.

All for the good of the world and nosovice ***

Movie about how Hyundai constructs a gigantic factory on former farm grounds in a small Czech town named Nosovice and how the villagers respond to it in different ways. Shows the conflict and how big money splits a community. It’s basically a big dilemma, a lot of villagers preferred the old days where they farmed the land together, others are sad about it but considered the change to be inevitable and are happy about the economic opportunities. It does not get really exciting anywhere, but it’s still interesting to see how these processes (similar dilemmas can be found all over the world) play out.

A screening of tastry ***

Short movie of a beginning film academy student that still has to graduate. About a Polish man with his own cinema, without any passion for movies, that struggles to keep the place going. He’s basically a man that grew up in communism and struggles to adapt to modern Poland. Rather funny.

The gamester *

Movie about the Belarusian president Lukashenko. Highly subjective and ‘pushy’. I find the subject very interesting, but it’s simply not a very good movie and people that do not know much about Belarus (which includes me I guess) it’s not too enlightening. 1/5

My heart of darkness **

A white South African confronts his past in the South African special services during apartheid and his operations in Angola. He basically does his own heart of darkness trip by finding one person of the other two sides of the conflict, travel with them by boat over the river and reflect on their experiences in the war. Didn’t find it too interesting. Felt a bit awkward too at times.

The devil operation ***

Movie on the mine industry in Peru and the resistance against it. A local priest tries to mediate between the mining company and the angry indigenous farmers and eco activists. It’s a rather shocking story, involving private security hired by the American and British mining companies that intimidate, spy, torture and even murder one of the eco activists. It’s the typical David vs Goliath tale. Not as good as something as Budrus (or last year’s Crude on oil companies in Ecuador), but the story and footage definitely make an interesting viewing.

The world according to Ion. B. *****

Brilliant movie about the alcoholic bum Ion Barladeaunu, who on his own secretly made hundreds of the most brilliant art collages on the political situation in Romania in the last three decades. As the son of a loyal Stalinist local organizer, he left his home village to work in Bucharest. And after he was put into prison by the Ceausescu for working in the private sector…. as a grave digger. If his collages would’ve been discovered in those times, they would have had him killed, so he always kept them to himself. The art brilliant, it has bits of pop art, Dada, Warhol and Hieronymus Bosch (looks a bit like some Crass album covers as well for example), but he has never heard of any of them. An incredibly unlikely story. In 2008 he’s finally discovered and has his first exhibition in Bucharest, and afterwards to the most esteemed art galleries all over the world. You see him struggle with his recent fame and the awkwardness he feels when he, a formerly alcoholic Romanian bum that does not speak a word English, stands between the most fashionable art gallery visitors. A portrait of an amazingly charming and amusing artist. The final movie I saw of the festival and probably my favorite. Info and art:


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