The 23rd International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) opened this week with Festival director Ally Derks making an impassioned plea for the new Dutch coalition Government to rethink its planned budget cuts in the cultural sector.

During her opening address on Wednesday evening, Derks lent her support to the “Screaming Out For Culture” protest, which will be held in central Amsterdam this weekend. Protesters are adapting the yellow ribbon as the symbol of their opposition against the cuts in cultural funding, expected to be as high as 25%. Pinning on her own yellow ribbon, Derks attacked “cost-chopping politicians (who) see culture as a soft target” and who “think that artists are too poor and disorganized to fight back.”

“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,” Derks stated.

The opening film was Position Among The Stars, the concluding part of the Indonesian trilogy directed by Leonard Retel Helmrich. (Its predecessor Shape Of The Moon also screened at IDFA and went on to win Best Documentary in the World Docs Competition at Sundance 2005.)

Broadcasters, distributors and sales agents will be turning up at IDFA in their droves over the weekend for the festival’s Doc For Sales bazaar and for its coproduction event, The Forum. Major names in town include Frederick Wiseman (whose Boxing Gym screens in official selection) and Finnish filmmaker Pirjo Honkasalo (presenting her top 10 and also the subject of a retrospective). Among the filmmakers pitching projects at the Forum are Nick Broomfield, who is at an early stage of development on feature doc To The Last Drop (about the global fight for water) and Raoul Peck, who is preparing Haiti, Billions for a refoundation (about the rebuilding efforts underway in post-earthquake Haiti).

A delegation of Chilean producers and filmmakers is also in town. Early during the festival, Chilean producer Bruno Bettati revealed details of a feature doc that he is working on with director Cristián Leighton about the 33 miners trapped underground earlier this summer in Northern Chile. The film, called The Miner’s Desert, is being made with the co-operation of several of the rescued miners and also with the participation of the chief of the rescue team. It will look at how the miners adjust to their sudden international celebrity as well as what they endured underground.

During opening night, it was announced that Barbara Visser had won the €125,000 Media Fund Documentary Award provided by the Dutch Cultural Media Fund to help her realise her project, C.K. 

This is about an accountant for a large art fund who suddenly disappears along with his family and millions of euros of public money. The jury, which included various notable figures from the Dutch doc world, described the project as “a film that might be a thriller or a fairytale, about a man who fools everyone, including perhaps himself, by taking millions that don’t belong to him and starting a new life himself – leaving us all behind, dumbfounded.”

IDFA runs through Nov 28.