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IDFA 2010 - IDFA Director Ally Derks Opening Speech

Ally Derks' Impassioned Opening Speech Sums Up State of Documentaries

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At the opening of IDFA 2010, on November 17 at the Tusschenski Theater in Amsterdam, IDFA Director Ally Derks delivered an impassioned speech that sums up the importance and current state of documentary filmmaking in the Netherlands, and around the world, especially targeting funding cutbacks. IDFA is the largest and arguably most important documentaries-only film festival in the world. Derks calls for worldwide protest against cutbacks and calls for recognition of the art of documentary filmmaking and culture in general as essential to society.

Here's the transcript of her speech:

Dear friends,

Tonight we are launching the 23rd edition of IDFA with the world premiere of Leonard Retel Helmrich's magnificent film, Stand van de Sterren (The Position Among the Stars). But before we enjoy it, I want take a few minutes to reflect on the films in the festival - and the current climate under which they are being made.

This year, we received over 3000 entries from 100 different countries. We have selected 300 films to stimulate your thought and pleasure. Many films in the program are working for a world where truth and fact can overcome official lies and corporate greed. Others take on climate change and help us to understand it.

There are films that work for an equal world, without sexism or economic injustice. Others take up the sword of action against the enemies of cynicism and apathy. Many films are personal, connecting us with a world full of different cultures. They bridge the gap of "The Other." They offer us a different view of difference.

There are creative films that transform the world with beauty, aesthetics and the hope found in art. They experiment with form. They consider documentary as a life form. They transform facts into the art of information. The art of storytelling. In truth, documentary is an artform.

But alarmingly, in many countries of the world, the arts and cultural industries are under grave threat. Documentary production and public service broadcasting are at risk. Compounded by economic recession, and a lack of official vision, cultural funding everywhere faces severe budget cuts. Admittedly, in The Netherlands, we are a little luckier, but we are still not immune to economic tidal waves. With the diversity of all our different broadcasters, with their different points of view, our system is still one of the best in the world. But we will have to work together to keep it that way.

Elsewhere, cultural workers and organizations are not so lucky. For example in Paris, the Minister of Culture has ordered big cutbacks in culture; the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou will be forced to give up exhibitions. In Spain, the head of the national library has resigned. In England, the Conservative coalition shut down the extremely important UK Film Council. In Denmark, the pressures on the economy and fundamentalism have walked hand in hand with censorship. And in Germany, 12 billion euros will be cut from culture over the next four years.

Cost-chopping politicians see culture as a soft target. They think that artists are too poor and disorganized to fight back. Preaching to their core group of supporters, politicians attempt to drive a wedge between artists and the public. The results are catastrophic. The dismemberment of culture goes to the heart of a nation's identity. It drains a nation's soul.

And it has a significant impact on unemployment. The response has not been silent. In Britain, massive petition campaigns are being organized. In Canada, artists helped convince the public to change the course of an election. In Italy this summer, a million people were in the streets protesting Berlusconi's cutbacks. Despite his total control of private media, resistance was very organized. The famous opera house in Milan went dark in solidarity. Last week, across Italy, there was a mobilization never seen before. More than 1000 cultural organizations participated. Famous institutions closed down for the day. They drew attention to the destructive effects that arbitrary budget maneuvers are having on culture.

Now, in these tough times, I think that we can all agree on the need for some financial belt-tightening. In rational and proportional ways. But, in this country, the arts budget faces a 24% cut. Some of Holland's most precious cultural, musical and performing arts institutions are being brutally devastated, demolished and dismantled. Orchestras will shut down. Public Television may lose one third of its assigned channels. And as a special Christmas 'bonus' to the people of Holland from our enlightened coalition, the tax on performances will go up from six to 19%.

Both big institutions and small companies are affected. Currently, the government budget for all arts and culture is about equal to the cost of constructing a few kilometers of a Dutch motorway. Or the cost of one new Joint Strike fighter for the Defense Department. But, our government says the arts and culture are "unfortunately" not a priority.

Those who would cut arts funding so dramatically, should be reminded that culture is the measure of a civil society. Without Art there is no nation. Art is not just opera, or ballet or high-minded experimental theatre. Art is not just an intellectual enterprise for the privileged few. Audiences become better citizens by engaging with art and culture. We add our own ideas and emotions to an artist's interpretation of the world. Art is the music of the street. It resides in the architecture that surrounded you as you walked to the theatre tonight. Art is in the popular imagination; in novels, fashion and design. Art, too, can be found on television, or in the art of relationships; in the language, stories and culture of everyday life. It can be found in the documentary we will see tonight. Art is life. We are all born with a creative fire within us. Sometimes it is drummed out of us. Other times it is nurtured.

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