IDFA, the world's biggest documentary festival, began on Thursday with a rousing address from festival director Ally Derks addressing the recent murder of the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh.

"Here in the Netherlands, we have been overwhelmed with disbelief," Derks said. Van Gogh's killing has caused a ferocious debate about freedom of speech, one of the burning issues at this year's festival.

"Don't forget, the killing of an artist, no matter what you think of his art, is not only a Dutch 'problem,' but an international issue," Derks continued. "In this case, a filmmaker was murdered for expressing his ideas through his craft, for creating a cinematic metaphor for the oppression of women, an old story which crosses all borders, creeds, cultures and classes."

She promised that the festival would stand up for "free expression and the creative interpretation of reality."

There are 2200 delegates in attendance at the festival which is organising over 800 screenings over its 10-day span.

An early highlight was a masterclass on Friday featuring the some of the legendary figures from the Cinema Verite movement, Albert Maysles, Robert Drew, Richard Leacock and Fredrick Wiseman among them.

Though the market side of the festival only begins in earnest today, news of new projects, buzz titles and early acquisitions was already beginning to leak out over the weekend.

Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's thriller documentary The Staircase, about an American writer charged with murdering his wife, found at the bottom of a flight of stairs in a pool of blood, was sold to a host of European buyers, among them the BBC, by French-based sales outfit Doc and Co.

There was also strong interest in Walter Stokman's Based On A True Story, about the real characters behind Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon. The film's sales agent SND is in advanced negotiations to sell the film to the Sundance Channel.

Meanwhile, British producer/director Don Boyd (whose documentary Andrew And Jeremy Get Married was recently picked up for theatrical distribution in the UK by Tartan) revealed details of two new projects.

Boyd is to direct I'll Be Seeing You, about entertainer Liberace's trip to England in 1956 and his libel case against the Daily Mirror's gossip columnist, Cassandra. It is being exec-produced by Barry Krost (What's Love Got To Do With It) and is scripted by Reg Gadney, with whom Boyd worked on the 1989 TV-film, Goldeneye: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, starring Charles Dance.

Boyd is also working on a live drama-documentary series for Channel 4 called Breaking News. His plan is to make a new one-hour drama every week based on a story then in the news.

Boyd is putting together a group of journalists, writers, directors and actors to make the films. British TV and film actor David Morrissey will lead the 15-strong acting troupe. Investigative reporters Nick Davies and Duncan Campbell spearhead the media team.

The project was commissioned by John Yorke, C4's head of drama who is shortly to decamp to the BBC as controller of continuing drama series and head of independent cinema. The first series should be broadcast next year.