Kevin Macdonald, Marcel Ophuls, Fred Wiseman and Claude Lanzmann are among the top directors attending the 26th International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) (Nov 20 - Dec 1).

The festival opens this evening (Nov 20) with the world premiere of Talal Derki’s Return To Homs, a feature doc that centres on young revolutionaries in Western Syria. The film, being talked up by festival insiders as a potential Oscar contender, was co-financed by IDFA through the IDFA Bertha Fund.

Before the film, IDFA’s Living Legend Award was presented to presented to documentary maker Heddy Honigmann, worth €5,000. The Dutch filmmakers is best known for feature docs including Metal and Melancholy (1993), O Amor Natural (1996), The Underground Orchestra (1997) and Crazy (1999).

The chair of the Dutch Cultural Media Fund Jacob Kohnstamm announced the winner of the fund’s 2013 Mediafonds Documentary Award. The recipient Xander de Boer received a sum of €125,000 to help make transgender doc Girls Boys & Me.

This year’s IDFA started in sombre fashion. Just days before the event began, Canadian filmmaker and long-time festival advisor Peter Wintonick died after a short illness.

On Sunday (Nov 24), the festival will hold a “memorial” event for Wintonick, credited by festival director and founder Ally Derks with “putting IDFA on a higher level.”

At a time of widespread arts cuts in the Netherlands and when International Film Festival Rotterdam in particular seems to be suffering, IDFA remains in robust shape. Derks describes it as “the biggest public paid event in the Netherlands”.

Sponsorship remains steady. The IDFA Bertha Fund (the fund for supporting docs in developing countries) continues to receive support from the London-based Bertha Foundation.

Oscar winner Kevin Macdonald (The Last King Of Scotland, One Day In September) will be in town for a special sidebar Based On The Same Story, comparing documentaries to fiction films on the same subject.

Cinematographer Ed Lachman (I’m Not There) will also be participating as will Greg Barker, who will discuss his doc Manhunt and how it compares to Zero Dark Thirty.

The festival remains the pre-eminent industry event in the documentary world.

Co-pro forum

Among projects being presented in the festival’s co-production forum is Peggy Guggenheim - Art Addict, the latest feature doc project from Lisa Immordino Vreeland, director of Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel.

Also being pitched is The Yes Men Are Revolting, the latest film project from notorious activists The Yes Men. 

Femenist activists Inna and Sasha Shevchenko will attend a discussion tied to the screening of Kitty Green’s doc Ukraine Is Not A Brothel.

BBC doc guru Nick Fraser, editor of Storyville, will be giving the KeyTalk on Why Documentaries Matter.

Shoah director Claude Lanzmann will take part ion a public discussion on his new film, The Last Of The Unjust.