Founded in 1959 by a group of scholars in the humanities, anthropology, sociology, ethnology and mass-media studies, the Festival dei Popoli Institute, a not-for-profit organization, has been active for almost sixty years in the promotion and study of social documentary cinema.
The association works primarily to organize Italy’s leading International Documentary Film Festival in Florence. From 2008 to 2010 it has also held an edition in New York (NYDFF - New York Documentary Fim Festival). The Institute has created a vast network of collaborations for the diffusion of documentary culture in Italy and abroad.
Simultaneously, the Festival dei Popoli continues to conserve and digitalize its own Archives (which contains over 25,000 titles, from video to film) and make strides in film training, organizing courses and workshops for documentary filmmakers.
Over the course of activity, the Festival has dedicated retrospectives and tributes to the great masters of cinema: Jean Renoir, Jean-Luc Godard, John Cassavetes, Ken Loach, Nagisa Oshima, Lindsay Anderson, Aleksandr Sokurov, Jørgen Leth, Raymond Depardon, André Sauvage, Vincent Dieutre.
Since 2008, the "Filmmaker in Focus" section of the Festival is dedicated to directors in the field of documentary that distinguished themselves for the richness of their own expressive language. The retrospectives are a precious opportunity to deepen the knowledge of an author, his filmography and his poetic, by putting in touch the audience with hard to find works.
Among the Filmmakers in Focus of past editions: Claire Simon, Thomas Heise, Peter Mettler, Isaki Lacuesta, Andrés Di Tella, Marcel Łoziński e Paweł Łoziński, Jos de Putter, Mary Jimenez, Danielle Arbid, Kazuhiro Soda.
In 2009, on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the Festival presented a retrospective, called "The Feeling of Being There. 1958-1965: sette anni di cinema documentario", a selection of twenty-four short films that changed the history of documentary cinema at a time of great creative fervor coinciding with the birth of the Festival dei Popoli. A significant mapping out of the forces that traversed (and continue to traverse) modern cinema.
Starting from the 2014 edition, the festival has developed a multi-year project aimed at giving importance to the many essential crafts in the making of a film, often the result of incomparable craftsmanship: from editing to cinematography, from live-recorded sound to specialists dealing with post-production. In the "The Trade of Cinema" section some of the most accredited internationally renowned professionals have been invited to teach about the cinema professions, with particular attention to the specific features of the documentary film. Among them: Dominique Auvray per il montaggio, Wojciech Staroń per la fotografia, Sergio Oksman per la scrittura.
Through its thematic sections, the Festival dei Popoli has continuously tackled subjects such as architecture and the evolution of the urban landscape, themes tied to immigration, new cults and the relationship between images and power. Among the others, the Festival presented the following focuses: "Far from Utopia", "Reality Is More", "Alì in the City - Contemporary Migration Patterns: Drifts and Destinations", "Looking for Neverland", "Domino Effect - Dreams and Nightmares of Contemporary Power".
Starting from 2013, the festival has been enriched with a new space, Doc at Work, that includes a co-production market dedicated to documentary projects, meetings, workshops, debates with the authors and with the festival guests, books and DVD presentations. Doc at Work’s program has the goal to foster the reflection on documentary cinema as an artistic language of the contemporary world. The event is a space for shaping new ideas and film projects, and to help to build and finance the cinema of the future.
From 2017 Doc at Work focuses on films produced by students of film schools, in the belief that their activity is of strategic importance for the entire audiovisual sector. Considering the schools of cinema the outposts from which to observe the work of young talents and "gyms" in which the new generations of filmmakers train and experiment, "Doc at Work - Campus" wants to give space to and support the activities of most representative Italian and foreign film schools with the aim of introducing the young authors to the public, the press and to professionals.