SPOTLIGHT November, 2016: Ally Derks, IDFA Founder, Documentaries Mogul and innovator

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awfjspotlightsmallsmallallyderksIDFA’s founder and director Ally Derks is in the AWFJ SPOTLIGHT this month, as she helms the 2016 festival from November 16 to 29. During her 30-year tenure at IDFA, Derks has built the festival into the world’s preeminent documentaries showcase, marketplace and pitch forum, with year round programs to develop the art of documentary filmmaking and broaden its horizons. This will be the last IDFA under Derk’s direction, as she leaves the organization to spend 2017 living and working in Berlin as an invited fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy, an institution of the prestigious Robert Bosch Stiftung. Read on…

Under the Influence of Derks

At the first edition of IDFA, in 1998, the festival presented 80 films to an audience of 3,000. IDFA now presents hundreds of films during the annual ten-day festival, and drew 271,000 visitors during the 2015 event.

Derks has grown IDFA into much more than an annual festival event: the IDFA Forum has developed into a leading international co-finance and co-production platform; Docs For Sale is a key marketplace for the purchase and sale of films; the IDFA Bertha Fund provides support to filmmakers from non-Western countries; DocLab is IDFA’s ground-breaking new media program; the IDFAcademy is a major development institute for international documentary talent, and each year more than 10,000 children are exposed to documentary film through the IDFA schools’ screenings. Derks developed all of these programs, and more.

Recognition and Awards

Ally Derks has been referred to as ‘The High Priestess of Documentaries’ by Indiewire, in recognition of her accomplishments. She’s also been awarded the prestigious Doc Mogul Award at the Canadian documentary festival Hot Docs, been honored with the Bannink Cock medal for her contribution to the city of Amsterdam, and in 2015 was made a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French ambassador to the Netherlands.

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Derks’ on Docs: Passion and Perspective

“My attitude towards documentary has changed during the years, but I don’t think the challenge has changed or the process. Every year, I’ve watched the films — with my team, of course — and we like to look at the quality of the films and how they are made. I don’t care who funded them. I don’t care where they’re from. I just care whether the quality is good. You have to be professional and you have to invite the films only based on their quality not on friendship or anything else,” says Derks.

What qualities do I love in documentaries? The film must be creative — a creative interpretation of reality, with cinematic qualities. But not all the films are cinematographic, because it is documentary we are also documenting our times,” Derks continues. “So it’s also that the films give information. But it’s most important that the films give a reason to discuss reality. Because the films are art and art must be discussed. There is enormous variety in the whole documentary genre. I think documentary is everything between poetry and political propaganda.”

New Horizons for Derks and IDFA

ally-derks-2016Derks will remain affiliated with IDFA until in the 2017 festival, when she will officially step down — during the festival’s official 30th anniversary celebrations. She will continue to play an advisory role.

“It has been 30 wonderful years, and saying goodbye is always a little painful. But I think the time is right. A year in Berlin will be a great challenge. I know I am leaving IDFA in good hands with my hugely appreciated, professional, dedicated colleagues. I look forward to the future with confidence, both for IDFA and for myself,” says Derks.

The IDFA Board has announced that Barbara Visser will take over Ally Derks’ role for 2017, and will be responsible for the festival’s program. Visser, an acclaimed Dutch visual artist/filmmaker who chairs the Royal Academy of the Dutch Royal Society of Arts, has had a long association with IDFA, having participated in the IDFA Workshop and won the Media Fund’s Documentary Award for her film plan C.K, and having served as guest curator of the Paradocs program and chair of the jury of the ‘IDFA Competition for Feature-Length Documentary.’ IDFA’s board intends to present a new artistic director during the first quarter of 2018.

Why We Chose to SPOTLIGHT Ally Derks

awfjspotlightsmallsmallWith passion and persistence, Ally Derks has transformed the craft and business of documentary filmmaking by giving filmmakers the opportunity to showcase their work and gain worldwide recognition for it, and by raising audience awareness of the aesthetic and social importance of the nonfiction genres. Her work and accomplishments have certainly been key factors in the current boom in documentary filmmaking.

Read more: Ally Derks Talks About IDFA and Documentary Film Trends

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).