Once again, the Dutch capital is taken over by one of its most prestigious film festivals: the IDFA. The International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam will take place until December 1 across the city, screening more than three hundred documentaries tackling issues such as power, environmentalism, human and animal rights, identity, history, rituals, democracy and even sports. And because the offer includes such a vast array of options, we’ve selected some you can’t miss if you’re in town.

Once Aurora, by Benjamin Langeland & Stian Servoss
At what price does fame come? Norwegian singer Aurora Aksens knows it well. After one of her videos singing one of her own songs on YouTube went viral, she became an internet phenomenon. She was only 16 back then. This intimate, fragmented documentary follows the artist for two years through her first tour worldwide, which included around four hundred concerts. Endless meet and greets with fans, inner conflicts, exhaustion and desperation make a particular portrait of Aurora while also revealing a bigger picture: the limits of creative freedom and the price of fame.
Selfie, by Agostino Ferrente
The film director Agostino Ferrente presents a rather unusual piece where he actually doesn’t film much. Wanting to deepen into the lives of young youths in Naples (Italy), he gave a phone to Alessandro and Pietro, two teenagers from the Traiano district, so they could film their everyday activities. Conversations about girls and discussions of the limited prospects for the future are mixed with much harsher realities, like the killing of his neighbour Davide by the police or the omnipresence of the infamous Mafia.
Lil’ Buck: Real Swan, by Louise Wallecan
His version of The Dying Swan, combining classical ballet with jookin – a style developed in the underground hip-hop scene in Memphis in the 1980s – has millions of views on YouTube. His virality and talent have turned Lil’ Buck into one of the most sought-after performers, getting to dance at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris or working with Madonna and Yo-Yo Ma. This documentary combines archive footage with dance scenes on location – from his mother’s home to his ballet school to the parking lots where he and his friends used to dance –, portraying beautifully the American artist.
Overseas, by Sung-A Yoon
The harsh realities that Philippine women working as housekeepers overseas – from Dubai to Hong Kong – live are still rather unknown. However, some of the working conditions could be considered modern-day slavery practices. Sung-A Yoon follows several women taking courses in government-accredited centres to become housekeepers overseas and delves into the many complex problems of modern servitude in a globalized world as well as into the women’s lives.
XY Chelsea, by Tim Travers Hawkins
Chelsea Manning is a force to be reckoned with. She's survived as a transitioning transgender in prison, the hate from half of her country, and living under scrutiny for passing on more than 700,000 confidential state documents to Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks that contained evidence that the US Army had committed misconduct and war crimes in Iraq. In this documentary, titled XY Chelsea after her Twitter account, delves into the person behind the media, trying to portray one of the most diving and complex public figures right now.
Tiny Souls, by Dina Naser
Follow the heartbreaking but encouraging story of Marwa, Ayah and Mahmoud, three siblings aged 11, 9 and 5 respectively as they live in the Zaatary refugee camp in Jordan. Dina Naser, the director, started filming them in 2012 but lost contact as years went by as the family kept moving looking for a better future. However, she gave the two sisters and younger brother a camera so they could film themselves. Tiny Souls combines both footages, where we see the kids talking openly about the horrors they lived and the ways they try to find joy and discover the world while being confined to a camp cut off from the outside world by barbed wire and living in very poor conditions.
Our Time Machine, by Yang Sun & S. Leo Chiang
A beautiful and poetic documentary about Ma Liang, a Chinese conceptual artist and puppeteer who works on an ambitious project: a performance piece about time and memory. But there’s more than meets the eye: his 85-year-old father, who’s beginning to lose his memories, is the former director of the Shanghai Chinese Opera – “I had an entire troop under my command. Now I’m just confused…” he says powerfully and heartbreakingly at the same time. A project about a father-and-son relationship, memory, honour, family, art and above all, love.
Searching Eva, by Pia Hellenthal
This one is about Eva Collé, an Italian-born, Berlin-based girl born in 1992 who describes herself as non-binary, bisexual, autistic, Virgo, sex worker, musician, writer, anarchist, feminist and drug addict. And for a living, she works as a model and influencer. This documentary follows her life, from being at a photoshoot to having dinner with her family, to being in bed with a boyfriend or in a hotel room with a client. But her identity, as ever-changing as our contemporary world, remains a secret. As she writes, “I dedicate my life to show the world that one can pretend to be whoever they want.”
Barzakh, by Alejandro Salgado
Europe is the promised land for many people living in Africa. For Moroccans, Spain is the easiest way to get into it. However, the reality they encounter is not as they expected. In a moment where Spain’s political landscape is complex and divided – the far-right party being the third most-voted one in the latest elections but having a progressive party in Barcelona’s city hall for two terms of office –, Alejandro Salgado shifts the camera to a group of boys, unaccompanied minors (known in Spanish as ‘Mena’), as they dream of crossing the Strait of Gibraltar while waiting endlessly, chain-smoking, remembering their mothers, or singing songs about destiny, doubt and hope.
Beats of the Antonov, by Hajooj Kuka
Set in Sudan, a country that’s been in a constant state of civil war since independence, this documentary talks about the importance, or better said, vital significance of music among the country’s inhabitants – especially those living in the southern border regions, which get bombed regularly and randomly by Antonov planes. With a distinctive approach, Hajooj Kuka portrays a part of Sudanese society through music, which is able to keep people alive (both in body and in spirit) even in the worst conditions: young people stay up all night so they can warm the village in case a plane approaches, people get to sing, perform and write lyrics. And like this, the weight of a constantly endangered existence seems a bit more bearable.
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Becoming Black, by Ines Johnson-Spain
If you think you’ve seen it all, wait until you discover Ines Johnson-Spain’s story. Born to a white family in Berlin’s East side in the 1960s, her skin colour was obviously darker than that of her relatives. However, her entire family told her that it was just a coincidence and that it was of no importance. Until as a teenager, she discovered the truth: her mother, Sigrid, fell in love with Lucien, an exchange student from Togo, and had a child despite she was already married. However, to fit into society’s moulds and expectations, the filmmaker’s mother and her husband, Armin, hid the truth for as long as possible. This documentary is a  cinematic examination of the director’s own identity, an autobiographical essay film exploring notions of identity, truth, and the way society and families work.
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