Nearly every film at IFA deliberately centers the work of female filmmakers – and not coincidentally, the cultural event is held every year around International Women’s Day. “We want to give them a podium and strengthen their position”, Henriëtte Poelman, programme and artistic director of the festival, says. “It really helps when you’re being shown during an international film festival to get your foot in the door”.
As the threat of Covid is less urgent than in recent years, the 2023 edition IFA is the first one to go fully offline since 2020. IFA still offered a streaming option during the ’22 edition, even though most of the public chose to join physically in Assen. But for the festival staff, the hybrid format was a bit of a challenge, creating a sense of divided attention, so after quite some discussion, the IFA team decided to scrap it this year.
After all, a film festival is not merely a streaming platform. “It’s so wonderful because we can offer something more than just a film”, Poelman says enthusiastically. The in-person introductions, commentaries, discussions and special guests offer extra depth to the experience that is difficult to replicate online.
Drenthe is sometimes looked at as a region that is not too rich in cultural happenings – and yet it has an important festival
Poelman is also aware of how special IFA’s presence is in Drenthe. “IFA is a unique collection of really timely films“, says “Drenthe is sometimes looked at as a region that is not too rich in cultural happenings – and yet it has an important festival – with more in other places in the North”. In addition to IFA, there is also the Northern Film Festival, with its next edition in November.
Pillars of IFA
There are five pillars in IFA’s selection criteria: “Spotlight”, with award winning, big audience productions – including some national pre-premieres; “Podium”, promoting young, promising artists; “Gender Benders”, films that challenge gender norms; “Contour”, a mix of music performances, art installations and crossovers; and “World News”, highlighting films from parts of the globe that are less well represented in cinema.
Part of the programme features internationally-renowned films that have never been screened in Assen, such as “Pink Moon”, a film about a father who decides to “check out of life” and his daughter who struggles to understand his decision.
Among the highlights of this year’s edition focused on women’s rights is “La ragazza del futuro”, about a 17-year-old Italian girl who is forced to marry to restore her family’s honour. Another compelling feature on the 2023 programme is “Annie Colère”, telling the story of feminist collective providing access to abortion and anticonception in France in the ’70s, when both were still illegal.
Long feminist tradition
Currently celebrating its 43rd edition, IFA is one of the older film festivals in Europe focusing on women’s stories and was born in the second wave of feminism. From the very beginning, IFA has aimed to talk about women’s interests and issues, their work and ability to stay in the workforce while balancing family life.
To enable them coming to the festival without a hustle, the Women’s Film Festival (Vrouwen Film Festival – the name of IFA until 2012) also historically provided daycare for children. But throughout it all, IFA has equally importantly been a social gathering: a place to meet each other revolving around film.
In the 90s, it tended to feature films with a female lead who was learning, developing and becoming stronger. Now, with more variety and focus on intersectionality, the festival’s lens has expanded it perspective to be about the filmmakers themselves and providing a place for a less often seen gaze in the industry.
Film scene in the North
One of them is the local gaze: five young filmmakers from the northern provinces will compete for the Noordsterren, a prize awarded annually to a short film made by creators from Groningen, Friesland or Drenthe. Okki Poortvliet, the author of one of the nominated films, often portrays local characters and sceneries in her works. “There is a lot of stories, a lot of untold stories here” – she says. Herself from a village not far from Assen, she appreciates a growing film scene in the North. “It’s nice to see that where you’re from appreciates what you make”.
This year’s nominees include two animated features, an introduction to an artists’ technique, a police mission and a lone man in a lighthouse. KersVers is another competition within the festival, for female-identifying film makers. Both awards encourage young artists and provide them with valuable publicity, Poelman says. Together with the rest of the festival scene, the nominees represent and interesting and engaging mix: “I am really excited for this edition.”
According to Poelman, it is important to strengthen the film industry in the North in order to keep young talents in the region. For that, the best method is a firm collaboration between different entities in all three provinces. In Drenthe alone, there are two additional festivals – Filmfestival Veenhuizen and Middle East Film Festival (the 2023 edition was held in January).
The cities of the north are also a source of natural potential for the industry thanks to the presence of students and an international community, which is crucial when maintaining an international film festival and its community. IFA already collaborates with some of the other cultural players in the north (notably the Noordelijk Film Festival and Film Clip Groningen), and seeks out more inter-provincial projects.
Tickets on sale
Ticket sales are already open, and the official starting date of the International Film Festival Assen is Friday, the 10th of March – but there are some early screenings next week in the days prior to the festival as well.