As a creator of my own personal ‘documentaries’, I obviously love the documentary genre. So when I saw that IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) was in town, I knew I needed to put my anxiety to the side and get on a train to Amsterdam.
IDFA is an annual event that shows a selection of documentary movies at various movie theaters in the center of Amsterdam. I’ve wanted to go for a few years now but always felt like it must not be ‘for me’. It seemed very busy, and difficult to get tickets as the most interesting-looking movies sold out quickly, and I don’t like that kind of pressure.
This year, all it took was seeing An Inconvenient Sequel (a movie I’ve been very excited to see since it was announced) listed on the website for me to finally decide to go. I then made the stupid decision to go see two more movies, which ended up being too much for me in one week and I couldn’t really be spending this kind of money, but hey, lesson learned.
These are the three movies I saw at IDFA 2017, and what I thought of them:
Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (2017)
Directed by Frederick Wiseman • seen November 19, 2017 at EYE with my dad
I was genuinely surprised when I went onto Letterboxd after leaving the cinema and seeing mostly 4 and 5-star reviews for this movie. I gave Ex Libris the same rating I did Catwoman (2004), and I think that says enough, at least to those who have seen Catwoman. Catwoman might actually be better because at least that movie has cats and that hilariously bad basketball scene, and this documentary was just board meetings and speakers talking to seated audiences for 3 hours and 17 minutes. Yes, I sat in a movie theater and watched a boring movie for OVER THREE HOURS.
Okay, no, I left ten minutes before the end because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I actually cried because the boredom had made me realize where I was: a room filled to the brim with people, with no easy escape. That’s a nightmarish realization for someone with social anxiety.
The only reason I held on for so long is that I kept waiting for the movie to go into the direction I wanted it to go: the practical side of the library system. How books are ordered and moved between libraries, what kinds of activities they have going on, what the library means to various New Yorkers, all that fun stuff.
There was no common thread. As one IMDB reviewer worded perfectly: “It is a seemingly endless series of scenes that are only related in that they take place at the New York public library. There are so many wonderful stories that could be told of the NYPL; it is truly sad that this movie tells none of them.” I could honestly not have said this better myself, so I’m not going to try.
The only part I liked was when the librarian in the picture library (briefly featured in the trailer) went through the folder labeled ‘active dogs’, which was just dogs doing various things. He seemed to really enjoy showing all these pictures of dogs.
Excited to recommend this movie to the next pretentious person I will grow to hate.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017)
Directed by Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk • seen November 21, 2017 at Pathé de Munt with my dad
As I mentioned before, this was the documentary I was most looking forward to, because I already had an idea of what it was going to be like. I still haven’t even seen the first movie, An Inconvenient Truth, but we all know what the main message of that one is: climate change is real, and this is what it looks like.
Al Gore’s work is focused on the climate change aspect of environmentalism, and since climate change is a bit of a difficult thing to tackle as a single individual, An Inconvenient Truth 2 can make you feel somewhat powerless. It’s not like with documentaries about plastic where afterward you feel inspired to make as many zero waste swaps as possible and pick up some litter off the street.
I turn off the lights when I leave a room, I don’t have a car (or even a driver’s license), and I travel by airplane so infrequently that I think I’m already doing most of what I am capable of doing at the moment. Still, it’s good to be aware of what is happening as a result of climate change, and if you have the capacity, you can work with your government to make change happen.
Overall, this movie felt powerful and passionate, but somehow not quite perfect.
The Dawn Wall (2018)
Directed by Josh Lowell & Peter Mortimer • seen November 26, 2017 at Pathé de Munt with climber friends
Slightly disappointed by the previous two documentaries, I went into The Dawn Wall with no expectations. I’d seen climbing movies before (both fictionalized dramas and documentaries) but none of them have ever felt truly inspiring to me, until this one.
This documentary tells the story of rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson who attempt to climb a never-before-climbed part of Yosemite National Park’s most iconic mountain El Capitan. (You probably recognize it from the desktop wallpapers that came with Apple’s Yosemite update for Mac.)
I haven’t been to the climbing gym in months due to mental health problems, but after seeing this movie with some of my climbing friends, I’m motivated to go back and keep trying. If Tommy Caldwell can climb with a traumatic experience and without an index finger, I can climb with depression. Needless to say, both of these guys are my new role models — not just in climbing, but in life.
I usually don’t recommend climbing movies to non-climbers, but we’re dealing with an exception here. The Dawn Wall has done an excellent job of making a climbing movie that everyone would enjoy. There are ups and downs (haha), and plenty of suspense.
I wasn’t expecting Tommy Caldwell’s backstory about being kidnapped in Kyrgyzstan. You may think that a kidnapping has little to do with climbing, but it has everything to do with climbing, and the mental strength you have to possess to not only survive such a traumatic experience, but climb an impossible-seeming project such as The Dawn Wall.
Extra points for helping me bond with my climber friends by comparing our sweaty hands.
Unfortunately, there is no trailer available at the moment since the official release is in 2018. If you can’t wait, you can learn a little bit about Tommy Caldwell and The Dawn Wall in this bonus scene from the climbing documentary Valley Uprising. It’s not quite as powerful as seeing the entirety of The Dawn Wall, but it gives you an idea.
I’m glad I finally took the step to check out IDFA. Will I go again next year? Maybe, if there’s anything that interests me. But I probably won’t go see three movies. My wallet hates me right now.