The 19th InternationalDocumentary Film Festival Amsterdam began last night (Thursday) with ascreening of Jiska Rickels' 4 Elements. The film, a debut feature, was producedand partly financed by Black Book producer San Fu Maltha through his company FuWorks. Along with 17 other feature documentaries, it is in contention forIDFA's most prestigious prize, The Joris Ivens award.

Over the next 10 days, about2000 international guests are expected in Amsterdam. Programmers selected 230films from the 2700 submissions. Notable figures who will be in town includeNick Broomfield (whose Ghosts isscreening), Michael Apted (whose Married In America 2 receives its world premiere), Jennifer Fox, AlanBerliner, Kirby Dick and Carla Del Ponte, the Prosecutor for the InternationalCriminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

There are also someintriguing projects being presented in the "Forum," IDFA's pitchingmarket. For example, Syria is represented for the first time by Diana ElJeiroudi's project Dolls, aboutthe Arab version of the Barbie Doll. Fulla, as the doll is called, is "theideal Arab Muslim virgin." She has reportedly eclipsed Barbie in Arabgirls' affections. Meanwhile, London-based Film and Music Entertainment willpresent its $2.67m The Turtle's Song, about the 20-year odyssey of a loggerhead turtle.

As ever, IDFA promises to beas much a talking shop as a showcase for new films, with debates scheduled onsuch subjects as Docs Online and How To Launch (Distribution & Festivals)as well as Docagora, a one-day conference on new ways of funding documentaries.

One key question to beraised is how documentary makers can survive and prosper in the YouTube era. Asone filmmaker in Amsterdam put it this week: "the big question is how dowe make a living and not just a lifestyle out of making documentaries."

Opener 4 Elements is an impressionistic documentary focusing on thework of miners, firefighters, king crab fishermen and Russian cosmonauts. Itwill be released theatrically in the Netherlands by A-Film. Its directorRickels, a German film-maker based in the Netherlands, is being heralded as amajor new talent by Dutch observers. Festival director Ally Derks, whoreportedly secured the film in the face of stiff competition from the Toronto InternationalFilm Festival, commented this week that she was "flabbergasted by thebeauty of the film and the skills of the young woman who directed it."