Science Films at IDFA 2023

IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) returns to Amsterdam for its 36th edition November 8 to 19. Across seven of the festival’s 23 program sections, we have rounded up the science and technology-themed features to look out for, with descriptions excerpted from the festival’s programmers.

Several festival favorites will make their Dutch premieres, including Amanda Kim’s NAM JUNE PAIK: MOON IS THE OLDEST TV and Ekiem Barbier, Guilhem Causse, and Quentin L’helgoualc'h’s KNIT’S ISLAND, a film shot in an entirely digital game environment. Terra Long’s FEET IN WATER, HEAD ON FIRE, which made its New York premiere at MoMI’s First Look Festival earlier this year, will also screen in the BEST OF FESTS section.

Those interested in creative approaches to the lives of individual scientists have two new films to look forward to. We recommend Ana Costa Ribeiro’s THERMODIELECTRIC, a visual essay drawn from personal and public archives about the filmmaker’s grandfather, pioneering physicist Joaquim da Costa Ribeiro. In the festival’s Luminous section, Pim Zwier’s METAMORPHOSIS makes its world premiere. The film explores the life and work of naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian, best known for her study of caterpillars’ metamorphosis into butterflies.


AGAINST THE TIDE. Dir. Sarvnik Kaur. Dutch Premiere. “A captivating portrait of two friends, showing how the younger generation of fishers in Mumbai are trying to respond to today’s climate problems. Is it best to stick with traditional community knowledge or embrace modern fishing techniques?”

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF SHERE HITE. Dir. Nicole Newnham. Dutch Premiere. “In 1976, Shere Hite dropped a feminist bombshell about the female orgasm in her book The Hite Report. A wealth of archive material reveals who she was. Why did she disappear from public life? A film that inspires to hit the barricades again.”

FEET IN WATER, HEAD ON FIRE. Dir. Terra Long. Dutch Premiere. “With the date palm as a starting point, director Terra Long weaves together impressions and voices from California’s Coachella Valley. The result is an intimate portrait of an area both formed and deformed by human hands.”

KNIT’S ISLAND. Dir. Ekiem Barbier, Guilhem Causse, Quentin L’helgoualc'h. Dutch Premiere. “In an entirely virtual, post-apocalyptic game world, the filmmakers talk to the people behind the digital avatars. From death squad member to church leader to solitary wanderer.”

Still from KNIT'S ISLAND. Courtesy of IDFA.

NAM JUNE PAIK: MOON IS THE OLDEST TV. Dir. Amanda Kim. Dutch Premiere. “An entertaining and richly documented portrait of the visionary South Korean video artist Nam June Paik, whose work reflected a society in which media came to play an increasingly prominent role.”

REJEITO. Dir. Pedro de Filippis. Dutch Premiere. “A Brazilian mining company stores waste behind huge, poorly constructed dams. Despite deadly disasters, the company is expanding with government support and international funding. Residents and activists are fiercely fighting their unequal battle.”

TIME BOMB Y2K. Dir. Marley McDonald, Brian Becker. Dutch Premiere. “Are all the computer systems going to crash at the start of the year 2000? This flashback to the millennium bug, composed entirely of archive material from the USA, shows Y2K fears getting out of control as the turn of the millennium approaches.”

Still from TIME BOMB Y2K. Courtesy of IDFA.


THERMODIELECTRIC. Dir. Ana Costa Ribeiro. International Premiere. “A view of the adventurous life of a Brazilian physicist, the grandfather of filmmaker Ana Costa Ribeiro. She mixes archive material with current landscapes to create a poetic essay on science and relationships, challenging you to think beyond the literal.”


IN WOLF COUNTRY. Dir. Ralf Bücheler. International Premiere. “Wolves are back in Germany. With public opinion rooted in fact-free fearmongering and fairy tales, it’s up to scientists, conservationists and shepherds to present a more objective image of this social creature.”

Still from IN WOLF COUNTRY. Courtesy of IDFA.


ANOTHER BODY. Dir. Sophie Compton, Reuben Hamlyn. Dutch Premiere. “What impact does it have on your life to discover pornographic deepfakes of yourself? Engineering student Taylor hunts for the perpetrator in a report about online misogyny and inadequate legislation.”


AS THE TIDE COMES IN. Dir. Juan Palacios. World Premiere. “The 27 residents of the Danish Wadden Sea island of Mandø experience the forces of climate change in the form of severe weather and risk of flooding. Still, they stubbornly cling to normal life and their identity as islanders.”

FLICKERING LIGHTS. Dir. Anirban Dutta, Anupama Srinivasan. European Premiere. “In Tora, an Indian village on the border with Myanmar, the rhythm of life is set by daylight and darkness. But the village is on the verge of change: electricity is finally coming. Will it bring this close-knit community the progress it is hoping for?”

THE LAST. Dir. Sebastián Peña Escobar. World Premiere. “Sebastian Peña Escobar travels with two scientists to a large nature reserve in Paraguay that is threatened by deforestation and wildfires. In this buddy movie, the three men spend the journey philosophizing infectiously.”


METAMORPHOSIS. Dir. Pim Zwier. World Premiere. “An extraordinary combination of nature documentary, costume drama and art project about the life and work of naturalist and illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), known for her study of the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies.”

Still from METAMORPHOSIS. Courtesy of IDFA.


OUR BODY. Dir. Claire Simon. Dutch Premiere. “A story of life in the obstetrics and gynecology department, both deeply intimate, and clinically detailed. Claire Simon’s patient observations offer a profound insight into the female body and what it’s like to live in it.”

RICHLAND. Dir. Irene Lusztig. Dutch Premiere. “Richland residents made a crucial contribution to the production of the atomic bomb during World War II. Current residents deal with this emotionally charged past in a range of different ways, reflecting the deep divides in US society.”

SONGS OF EARTH. Dir. Margreth Olin. Dutch Premiere. “Over a one year period, we join the 84-year-old father of filmmaker Margreth Olin on walks in his ‘back garden,’ the spectacular Norwegian valley Oldedalen. Surrounded by glaciers, green mountainsides, waterfalls and drones, he tells stories of his family.”

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