IDFA 2021: The Rorschach test as metaphor for cinema

8 November, 2021

“It’s not what you look at. It’s what you see.” This is the tagline of this year’s International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam campaign, which is meant to encourage the public to reflect on the multitude of perspectives that can be evoked by the same image.

The films presented at IDFA stir up a plethora of emotions and feelings, often personal and subjective, like in the case of a Rorschach test, for which every person has a slightly different interpretation. The diverse film selection brings in front of the audiences dozens of global perspectives as envisioned by their filmmakers.

The festival trailer was made by using a machine that scans documentary footage. Based on the color and temperature of the footage, it decides which color dye to drop into a water tank. The result is the colorful world that can be seen in the campaign video and which reminds of the iconic Rorschach tests.

The 34th edition will open with Four Journeys, the debut feature by Louis Hothothot (Louis Yi Liu). A first-person narrative, the documentary follows the story of a filmmaker born in China in 1986 as an “illegal” second child. After relocating to Amsterdam in his twenties, the filmmaker returns home to reunite with his parents and sister.

“The works of filmmakers from over 80 countries will be presented at the 34th edition of IDFA, and they are showing us how artistic freedom, courage, and engagement with the world come in many different languages, styles, and viewpoints,” says Artistic Director Orwa Nyrabia.

International Competition

Fourteen singular films, full of surprises and universally relevant, make up the International Competition. The selected titles are not only important for the topics they choose to explore, but also as stand-alone cinematographic productions, showing interest in cinematic language and the development of contemporary cinema.

Envision Competition

The new competition section showcases exploratory, risk-taking films that defy all expectations and boldly rewrite the definition of documentary.

Collectively, the 15 titles make the invisible visible and shine the spotlight on undiscovered narratives.

IDFA DocLab Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction

Ten interactive and immersive experiential projects are part of this year’s program. The audience is in for a journey that will engage all their senses, whether we’re talking about VR cinema or installations that are built outside, in the middle of nature.

IDFA DocLab Competition for Digital Storytelling

The ten selected projects illustrate all the different ways to create stories and what these stories tell us about our current reality. The section welcomes artists from fields such as new media, performance art and even game development.

Focus Program: The Future Tense

As humanity finds itself in a time of great change, is it possible to already see the future in what surrounds us now? Taking this question as a starting point, the section presents a mosaic of cinematic reflections and contemplations of the future.

Focus Program: unConscious Bias

The section explores today’s discourse on the meaning of the colonial past and the many ways that this past continues to leave its mark on the present.

IDFA on Stage

IDFA on Stage presents a program of live cinema events, bridging film, new media and the performing arts, that mark artists’ return to the stage.


The audience will have the opportunity to discover/explore 19 must-see titles from some of the leading filmmakers and documentary masters of our time.

Best of Fests

This year’s selection celebrates festivals that, despite all challenges, have been able to re-emerge to life, as well as the fact that cinema has finally returned to the big screen.

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam will take place between November 17-28. For more info, visit the IDFA website.

Photographer and editor, she co-founded Dissolved Magazine. For Films in Frame she brings the news from the film world, in the Monday News column. She likes stories, Monty Python and going to the seaside.