1489, an Armenian war documentary by director Shoghakat Vardanyan, has won the top prize for best film at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). The award comes with a cash scholarship of €15,000 ($16,000).
In the film, Vardanyan chronicles her and her family’s efforts to find out what happened to her brother Soghomon, a 21-year-old student and musician who was about to complete his military service when conflict broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2011 September 2020. Soghomon went missing in action and was only identified by the anonymous number 1489.
This is what the IDFA jury said 1489 was “a film that acts like a penetrating light, making visible the vast hidden inner landscape of grief and creating a tangible presence out of unbearable absence.” Cinema as a tool for survival – to give us all the opportunity to look at things , which we would rather not see. And ultimately an unforgettable example of cinema as an act of love.”
The IDFA award for best director went to Palestinian filmmaker Mohamed Jabaly for his personal film essay Life is beautiful. Jabaly was stranded in Norway after visiting the country on an exchange and the borders of his native Gaza were closed, leaving him temporarily stateless. The film contrasts his seemingly idyllic life in rural Norway, where the municipality of Tromsø makes every effort to support him, with the torturous images and messages he receives from his family and friends in Gaza.
The current conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip was the subject of heated debate at this year’s IDFA. Pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted the festival’s opening ceremonies and both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian filmmakers criticized the festival’s organizers for statements regarding the war. In protest, several directors withdrew their films from the festival.
In the IDFA Envision section, Ariel Kuaray Ortega and Ernesto de Carvalho won the Best Film award for their Brazilian documentary Canuto’s transformation, which explores a mythical story from an indigenous Mbyá-Guaraní community about a villager who transforms into a jaguar. The award for best director in the Envision competition went to Kumjana Novakova Silence of reasonwhich investigates the mass rape of women and girls in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Serb fighters during the Bosnian War.