1489, an Armenian war documentary from director Shoghakat Vardanyan, has won the top prize for best film at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). The prize comes with a €15,000 ($16,000) cash bursary.
In the film, Vardanyan records her and her family’s efforts to find out what happened to her brother, Soghomon, a 21-year-old student and musician who was close to completing his mandatory military service when a conflict broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan in September 2020. Soghomon went missing in action, identified only with the anonymous number 1489.
The IDFA jury said 1489 was “a film that acts as a piercing light that makes visible the vast hidden interior landscape of grief and creates a tangible presence from unbearable absence. Cinema as a tool of survival—to allow us all, to look at the things 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 found himself stranded in Norway after he visited the country on an exchange and the borders of his home Gaza were closed, making him temporarily stateless. The film contrasts his seemingly idyllic life in rural Norway, where the community of Tromsø makes every effort to support him, with agonizing images and messages he receives from his family and friends in Gaza.
The current conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas has been the subject of heated debate at this year’s IDFA. Pro-Palestinian protestors disrupted the festival’s opening night ceremonies and both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian filmmakers have criticized festival organizers for statements made in reference to the war. Several directors pulled their films from the festival in protest.
In the IDFA’s Envision section, Ariel Kuaray Ortega and Ernesto de Carvalho won best film for their Brazilian documentary Canuto’s Transformation, which investigates a mythical story from an indigenous Mbyá-Guaraní community about a villager who turned into a jaguar. The best director honor in the Envision competition went to Kumjana Novakova for Silence of Reason, which examines the mass rapes of women and girls in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Serbian fighters during the Bosnian war.