IDFA, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, takes place every winter for documentary lovers to preview exciting, challenging films worthy of the big screen, before they hit UK cinemas. We braved the cold, dark Amsterdam rain and scoured their massive programme to find the best films to drag a friend along to (and debate in the pub after) in the coming months. From Basquiat to a young athlete under strain, a one-man bomb disposal unit to a politically-charged rapper, and, er, a socially stunted white supremacist, the most interesting docs we saw were stories about maverick individuals and the unscripted drama of their lives. Put these titles in your phone notes and look out for them next year.
The White World According to Daliborek
A documentary about white supremacy doesn’t sound like much fun, but Czech director Vit Klusak’s creepy, provocative ‘documentary play’, The White World According to Daliborek is so weird, it works. Dalibor K is a sweaty 36-year-old neo Nazi who still lives with his mum. By day, he works in a factory spray-painting metal appliances, but by night he’s a wannabe rock star. Proudly singing self-penned lyrics like, “Beat her like a demon/ Spray her with your semen,” he makes DIY music videos (some of which star his overbearing mother) to accompany the songs, posting them on YouTube. He’s presented as a tragic figure — a wacko with “jack shit” going for him who we’re encouraged to laugh at and feel sorry for in equal measure, in spite of his abhorrent racism and misogyny (in one scene, he and his girlfriend attend an actual neo-Nazi rock music convention). Not that his behaviour is excused exactly; it’s just that Klusak is interested in showing, and perhaps by extension psychologising about, what the life of somebody who exists on the fringes of society might look like — and how they might act if they knew they were being filmed for a documentary. There’s a theatrical ridiculousness to it all — that is, until the jaw-dropping ending, which *spoiler alert* sees Dalibor, along with his girlfriend, mum and her white supremacist boyfriend, take a trip to Auschwitz. Here, they meet a Holocaust survivor, whose harrowing stories Dalibor publicly (and belligerently) disputes. It’s so outrageously offensive that any sympathy for the film’s tragicomic main character evaporates immediately, leaving behind an ugly aftertaste of complicity. It’s deeply uncomfortable viewing that at first seems to aim for shock value, but by doing so reveals itself to be boldly critical of its central antihero, proving that his individual quirks are unable to soften the blow of such a vile worldview. Instead of urging viewers to open themselves up to and empathise with right wing extremists, the film draws an ethical line in the sand, watches as Dalibor crosses it, and asks us which side we’re prepared to stand on ourselves.