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All the Nordic documentaries screening at IDFA 2018

About the festival

The International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) runs from the 14th until the 25th of November 2018 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Denmark

This Room
dir. Pejk Malinovski
Screening in IDFA DocoLab

Wars in the Middle East and Africa have led to a huge influx of refugees into Europe. The displaced people are distributed across the countries of the EU, but the centers are often overburdened. Asylum seekers are regularly housed in schools, prisons, hospitals and campsites. Usually this accommodation is intended to be temporary, but people often spend months if not years there, waiting for a decision from the immigration authorities.

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Heartbound
dir. Janus Metz
Screening in Best of Fest

Sommai is a Danish Thai who has been living with her husband Niels in northern Denmark for the last 25 years. She uses her experience and knowledge of Danish society to help other Thai women find a Danish husband and build a life there. It’s thanks to Sommai’s intensive contacts with her many cousins, sisters and girlfriends in both Thailand and Denmark that co-directors Janus Metz (Armadillo) and his wife, anthropologist Sine Plambech, are able to spend a decade tracking the lives of these women. While some have lived in Denmark for many years and now have children, others are on the brink of deciding whether to go to Europe or stay in Thailand after all.

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The Two of Us
dir. Emil Næsby Hansen
Screening in Luminous

He’s 17, she’s 18. They had a year-long relationship, but now it’s over and they’re trying to stay friends. This story is so commonplace that coming up with the idea to make a documentary about it is quite something in itself, and Emil Næsby Hansen succeeds with flying colors. In part, this is because he manages to stay close to Skjold and Isabel without distracting or inhibiting them. We watch as they despise one another, want to be together as much as possible, frolic like lovesick puppies, and then suddenly can’t understand each other anymore.

The Two of Us is a record of first love and the utter confusion it brings, with attraction and repulsion in equal measure. One absolutely unforgettable shot is the close-up of Skjold when his ex-girlfriend tells him she’s going to study abroad in Barcelona. This brief glimpse of disappointment and defeat is subtler and more authentic than what you might see in a romantic drama, while the film attains a similar sense of intimacy.

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My Faith: Jehovah’s Witness
Directed by Cathrine Marchen Asmussen
Screening in IDFA Competition for Kids Docs

The Danish teenager Natalie looks into the lens with her big, innocent eyes and explains that on the day that Jehovah defeats Satan, the dead will arise and everyone—including the dead—will live on in a world without evil. Every Saturday, Natalie and her father knock on people’s doors to share the chance of everlasting life with other people. She’s utterly convinced that paradise will come to Earth. While she talks about it, we see her frolicking in a field of flowers. Part of her can’t wait until that day comes, because at last she’ll be able to see her dead uncle, whom she misses so much.

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Fantasy, Fantasy
Directed by Kaspar Astrup Schröder
Screening in IDFA Competition for Kids Docs

 

In this coming-of-age film, 11-year-old twin sisters Molly and Smilla take us into their world. Though they both have autism, their symbiotic relationship provides them with a foothold in their lives. These confident, forthright girls describe their condition as “painful”: it condemns you to live in a different world, because you’re not “normal.” The girls’ philosophically charged comments provide us with food for thought. Is there even such a thing as “normal”? And if there isn’t, why is there a word for it? They feel safe in the familiar and secure environments of their elementary school, singing lessons and bedroom. But as time passes and puberty approaches, the real world starts encroaching on their lives. Molly cuts off her hair, which serves as the first fracture in the sisters’ symbiosis. When she becomes the first of the two to be ready to go to high school, it marks the start of an anxious time for both of them. Fantasy, Fantasy is a celebration of courage and authenticity in a time when uniformity is increasingly the norm.

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Finland

Entrepreneur
dir. Virpi Suutari
Screening in Masters

 

Doing business in Finland today can be tough, but there are also opportunities. A tight-knit family travels around the country with their fairground attractions, at the same time selling meat from the back of a food truck. All the children do their best to contribute, but the family still struggles to keep their head above water financially. The inventors of a new plant-based protein called “pulled oats” have no such trouble: their product is even conquering the Chinese market, but they’re left with hardly any time for a private life. As the carnival family discusses business around the folding table in their mobile home, the pulled oats women jet around the world meeting with investors. This dual portrait follows the plodding, traditional family business and the innovative, young company with international potential. Reminiscent of the work of Aki Kaurismäki in terms of style and atmosphere, Entrepreneur connects two business models that seem entirely different at first sight. In carefully conceived shots, the protagonists reveal both their dreams and their thoughts about integrity and independence. The specially composed score adds a fairy-tale layer to a contemporary story.

Read our review

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Norway

The Privacy of Wounds
Directed by Dalia Kury
Competing for Human Rights Award

 

How do you tell completely authentic stories from Syria? Would former prisoners be able to reveal their deepest feelings to an interviewer? The Jordanian filmmaker Dalia Kury came up with a solution. For The Privacy of Wounds, she reconstructed a prison cell in a Norwegian cellar, in which three Syrian immigrants agree to be locked up. With unmanned cameras constantly filming them, they spend three days without daylight on thin mattresses, talking about their time in different Syrian prisons. They tell the most appalling stories: of the deaths of fellow prisoners, torture techniques, and a growing sense of being abandoned.

But this is no lamentation. The men have all been in the same boat, and there are some things they don’t need to explain to each other. What matters most isn’t so much theevents themselves but how they experienced them personally, and how they express this—through poetry, jokes, political discussions or personal anecdotes. In this intimacy born of shared experience lies the authenticity that Kury was seeking.

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Sweden

The Raft
dir. Marcus Lindeen
Screening in Best of Fest

In 1973, a group of six women and five men climbed aboard a small raft to cross the Atlantic Ocean. It was part of a radical experiment by the Mexican anthropologist Santiago Genovés, who filmed and documented the behavior and events onboard in minute detail. Inspired by the Vietnam War and the peace movement, he wanted to investigate whether human beings are naturally aggressive and warlike. The research was to be conducted in complete isolation: in the middle of the ocean. The guinea pigs were carefully selected to include a wide variety of origins and backgrounds, and because Genovés supposed that there was a connection between aggression and sex, he consciously picked the most attractive candidates—leading the media to dub the experiment “the sex raft.”

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Searching for Ingmar Bergman
dir. Margarethe von Trotta
Screening in Masters

The great Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman was her guiding light, and now, in her mid-seventies, Margarethe von Trotta is herself a veteran filmmaker with a distinctive voice and an example for talented young filmmakers. This German director was greatly affected by Bergman’s engagement with existential questions, his characteristic film locations and his eye for actors. In this film, Von Trotta immerses herself in the master’s work and examines his approach and recurring themes from a variety of perspectives. Key iconic scenes from his body of work are complemented by archive footage in which we see Bergman, who died in 2007, either in action or talking about his films. Von Trotta herself travels all over the country to talk to Bergman’s family and colleagues about the artist’s work, and about the man behind the artist. What is his cultural legacy? What was it like to work on the set with Bergman? What kind of father was he? In this exploration of the work and life of her “mentor,” Von Trotta also illuminates her own path as one of her generation’s pioneering female filmmakers.

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The Ambassador’s Wife
dir. Theresa Traore Dahlberg
Competing for IDFA Short Documentary

The wife of the French ambassador in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso is bored. Once in a while she’ll play a game of tennis, or maybe swim a few lengths in her private pool. She used to dream of being a famous opera singer, but now she practices her repertoire knowing she’ll never perform for a large audience. A career isn’t even an option, because the wives of ambassadors aren’t allowed to work. In powerful, measured and beautifully styled scenes, director Theresa Traore Dahlberg—who spent part of her childhood in Burkina Faso—exposes the pitfalls of a privileged life. This discreet, short portrait of an ambassador’s wife also offers a witty and critical perspective on neocolonial relations, power structures, class differences and gender disparities. While the ambassador’s wife tries to relax in her luxurious surroundings, she’s surrounded by staff and servants who are busy working and making noise.

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Hamada
dir. Eloy Domínguez Serén
Competing for mid-length documentary prize

 

The Sahrawi are a forgotten people. Ever since Morocco annexed the Western Sahara in 1975 and drove the Sahrawi from their homeland, they have fought a fruitless battle for independence that has garnered almost no international attention. At the Algerian border, deep in the rocky desert, refugee camps have risen up that are cut off from their surroundings by minefields and Morocco’s defensive wall, which stretches for thousands of kilometers.

People have been living in these settlements for decades now. It’s a dreary and tough existence, but the three friends Sidahmed, Zaara and Taher won’t be discouraged. With understated humor, director Eloy Domínguez Serén shows how these twentysomethings manage to keep on chasing their dreams. Sidahmed wants to go to Spain, while the cheerful Zaara, who’s not one to be bossed around, is determined to buy a car. First she has to find a job, not to mention learn to drive.

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Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.