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by Brian Brooks
November 25, 2006 6:01 AM
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DISPATCH FROM AMSTERDAM: Talking about "Elements" As 19th IDFA Kicks Off in The Netherlands

Documentary filmmakers, buyers, sellers & funders of non-fiction films, festival programmers, journalists, and large general audiences have converged upon The Netherlands for the 19th International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) this week. The leading documentary festival offers hundreds of movies, provocative discussions, and late-night dance parties for the 2,000 attending doc insiders from around the world.

IDFA had a surprising competitor in its first 24 hours with unseasonably mild and sunny weather drawing potential audiences outdoors, but the rain and grey skies soon returned crowding moviegoers into theaters to view films here at the world's largest doc fest. Young Dutch filmmaker Jiska Rickels' "4 Elements" opened the event on Thursday night, launching the ten-day festival. A uniquely visual and aural exploration, the film depicts man's relationship with the four elements -- fire, water, earth and air -- through the experiences of firefighters in Siberia, king crab fisherman on the Bering Sea in Alaska, German mineworkers, and Russian cosmonauts preparing a launch to the international space station.

With the segment for each element, Rickels elaborated on her student film, "Untertage" (Days Under), which was made in a German coal mine. "I was getting nervous seeing the fire coming toward us only about 100 meters away," she explained Friday night, during IDFA's nightly Talk Of The Day 'talkshow', hosted by doc filmmaker Peter Wintonick ("Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media") and Women Make Movies' Debbie Zimmerman. The director flew with firefighters into the thick of a forest fire in order to capture scenes for the the segment of her film. As is often the case with making a doc, the film took on a life of its own, and evolved from the original vision. "We shot each [element of the film] over one month. I thought it would have been a strong ending to [use] these NASA images of earth, but it didn't work, so we just ended [it differently]."

While images are fundamentally central to the film's overall impact, Zimmerman, who conducted the interview inside the large auditorium at the Debalie in central Amsterdam, pointed out the strong score created by Rickels' father, Horst Rickels. "The soundtrack told the story of the film. When I heard the soundtrack, I knew I wanted to see this film." For his part, the elder Rickels reflected on working with his daughter on their latest project during the conversation. "We have worked together for 15 years. When we first worked together, I was the boss. But now, she's the boss..."

Friday's conversation with Rickels was the first of the nightly series of live talk shows that will be hosted by Wintonick. The informal setting not only includes chats with filmmakers, but also short performances leading into the nightly dance party, and a new three-minute rant from film critics and other members of the press, dubbed "Critical Moment."

The indieWIRE team launched the new segment, giving our own take on the Oscar documentary short list released by the Academy last week. Three minutes passes swiftly, however, and we quickly gave shout outs to our personal favorite films in the list, as well as to two that didn't make, including Doug Block's "51 Birch Street" (Block is serving on IDFA's First Appearance Jury this year) and Steven Bognar & Julia Reichert's "A Lion in the House," both of which are sceening here at IDFA.

indieWIRE's coverage of IDFA will continue throughout the week with dispatches from Amsterdam and iPOP photos, all included in indieWIRE's special Documentary section.

IDFA feature film competition lineups:

Joris Ivens Competition
"4 Elements," directed by Jiska Rickels (The Netherlands)
"9 Star Hotel," directed by Ido Haar (Israel)
"Feet Unbound," directed by Khee-Jin Ng (Australia)
"The Grandmother of Revolution," directed by Petra Seliskar (Slovenia, Macedonia, Cuba)
"Jesus Camp," directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (USA)
"Life as a Corporate Holiday," directed by Paolo Muran (Italy)
"The Monastery - Mr. Vig & The Nun," directed by Pernille Rose Gronkjaer
"My Father The Turk," directed by Ariane Riecker and Marcus Vetter (Germany)
"The Planet," directed byJohan Soederberg, Michael Stenberg, and Linus Torell (Sweden, Norway, Denmark)
"Primo Levi's Journey," directed by Davide Ferrario (Italy)
"The Red Card," directed by Carte Ghermez and Mahnaz Afzali (Iran)
"Satul Sosetelor (Village of Socks)," directed by Klaudia Begic and Ileana Stanculescu (Germany, Romania)
"Souvenirs," directed by Shahar Cohen and Halil Efrat (Israel)
"A Story of People in War and Peace," directed by Vardan Hovhannisyan (Armenia)
"Tender's Heat. Wild Wild Beach," directed by Alexander Rastorguev (Russia)
"Tomorrow Never Knows," directed by Kirsi Nevanti (Finland, Sweden)
"The Value of Utopia," directed by Yanara Guayasamin (Belgium, Ecuador)
"When Adnan Comes Home," directed by Andrew Berends (USA)

First Appearance
"Andrew Jenks, Room 335," directed by Andrew Jenks (USA)
"Can Tunis," directed by Jose Gonzalez Morandi and Paco Toledo (Spain)
"Carnival," directed by Alen Drljevic (Bosnia Herzegovina)
"Children Of The Prophet," directed by Sudabeh Mortezai (Iran, Austria)
"The City Of Photographers," directed by Sebastian Moreno (Chile)
"Daguanying," directed by Liu Juexin and Tang Xiaoliang (China)
"Dead Man Walking," directed by Petar Oreskovic (Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia)
"Demolition Men," directed by Eldar Gross (The Netherlands)
"The End Of The Neubacher Project," directed by Marcus John Carney (Austria, The Netherlands)
"Every Good Marriage Begins With Tears," directed by Simon Chambers (United Kingdom)
"Let The Street Be Heard," directed by Itzel Martinez Del Canizo
"The Lost Village," directed by Manuel Jimenez (Spain)
"New Year Baby," directed by Socheata Poeuv (USA)
"Prirechnyy," directed by Tone Grottjord (Norway)
"Shame," directed by Mohammed Ali Naqvi (USA)
"Sugartown: The Bridegrooms," directed by Kimon Tsakiris (Greece, Germany)
"We Are Together," directed by Paul Taylor (United Kingdom)
"With Much Love And Kisses," directed by Anastasia Cherkassova (Russia)

[For more information about IDFA, visit the festival's website.]

ABOUT THE WRITER: Brian Brooks is the Associate Editor of indieWIRE. Eugene Hernandez contributed to this report.

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