HEARTOF THETIGER photo: Bram Belloni
43rd International Film Festival Rotterdam #1 Thursday 23 January 2014
More than twelve days In spite of a temporary change in management necessitated by illness on the part of IFFR’s artistic director Rutger Wolfson, Rotterdam’s commitment to independent cinema remains as strong as ever, Irina Trocan reports The International Film Festival Rotterdam has built up an international reputation for encouraging avantgarde filmmaking and taking under its wing directors who could otherwise be ignored by more commercially-oriented, ‘media darling’ festivals. IFFR is also committed to spotting such unconventional talent at an early point in their careers. On the eve of this year’s festival, interim artistic director Mart Dominicus and managing director Janneke Staarink talk about the technicalities of bringing such films together, and about what IFFR 2014 has in store. It’s the signature of IFFR to encourage spectators to stray from their comfort zone, to cinematic forms that are less familiar: “Some of our films work on a direct level, they please the audience, but to these we add a different kind of film – the kind that will surprise them, maybe even make them angry, but it will broaden their senses and their way of looking at a film”, says Dominicus. This is why artistic quality is IFFR’s main criterion in selecting films – more than, for instance, the first public screening of a film. “Of course, premieres are important to us, but we don’t aim for a certain amount of world premieres when we draw up a programme. That’s simply not the case”, he explains. Pluralist programming
The approach to programming is pluralist, thanks in part to the heterogeneous team working for the festival. According to Dominicus, although there are no rigid criteria, each programmer has his or her own agenda, as well as a common agenda for what should screen in Rotterdam. “We divided up the world: each programmer has a particular part of the world or certain countries to cover, and they choose the best films from those countries. As they work for the festival over the years, they get to know more and more
about what’s going on in ‘their’ countries”, Staarink adds. This search for novelty seems inscribed in the very structure of the festival. Alongside the Hivos Tiger Awards Competition is the Bright Future section, also restricted to first or second features, which aims to spotlight idiosyncratic, strong-willed and talented newcomers. The number of films in this section has decreased slightly since last year, but as Staarink explains, this is a strategic decision to allow audiences to see a greater part of the programme without having to make hard choices between films: “We noticed that we have so many films in the programme that sometimes it’s hard for us to give every film the publicity we think it deserves. Last year, we thought it would benefit the films if we made the programme a little smaller, so that we can make sure everyone gets good promotion.” Financial support
It’s not all about programming decisions, however: films have to me made first before they can be shown in public. To its credit, IFFR also tackles matters of independent production. Marking its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, the Hubert Bals Fund (HBF) plays a crucial role in building a community of filmmakers around the festival. Filmmakers can apply to the Fund for financial support – whether for script development or post-production – for film projects at various stages. HBF support is not a sure-fire ticket for getting into next year’s IFFR selection, but those films that do are highlighted as belonging to the group (a complete list of HBF-supported films screened throughout the history of the festival is available at www.filmfestivalrotterdam.com/professionals/ hubert_bals_fund/hbf_history/). “As a supporter festival, the IFFR aims to also generate new projects.
The Hubert Bals Fund was created twenty-five years ago to give a boost to films. Having an effective strategy counts for a lot when supporting films in the first stage: the awarded sums are only around 10,000 to 15,000 Euros, but they’re strong catalysts for producing a film. In terms of gesture, the award is highly important”, Dominicus says.
using a few years ago. Some films get more views, some less, but we believe that we first have to launch more films and then see what happens”, Staarink says. Dominicus rephrases this into something more like a creed: “We try to make the festival an event of more than twelve days.”
Another highlight of the festival are the retrospectives and thematically linked programmes – fresh films are not the only ones to be discovered in Rotterdam. Gathered under the label ‘Signals’ are the annual ‘Regained’ section (showing restored films, metacinematic works and documentaries, as well as what its programmers consider to be inexplicably forgotten masterpieces); a focus on the oeuvre of Danish director Nils Malmros; a topical regional focus on ‘The State of Europe’ and films grouped under the adrenaline-inducing category ‘How to Survive’. Dominicus and Staarink are particularly enthusiastic about the section focusing on ‘The State of Europe’, which aims to define what distinguishes European films and, just as importantly, to reveal the social issues inherent in the new forms of organization growing up within Europe. Staarink emphasizes that the discussion is open to the public: “A role we would like to play as a festival is to be a free space for thinking and presenting ideas you can’t discuss in a political arena like, for instance, Brussels.” This could mean giving a film-loving festival a slightly political slant, but good cinema was never disconnected from social realities. Helping hand
Former artistic director Simon Field once referred to IFFR as a “sandwich festival” – one which uses a few big films to grab attention and redirect this to the ones which are more discrete – and this description still holds true. What’s more, the preoccupation with getting audiences in is ongoing. “It’s our goal to help filmmakers as well as we can. We’ve introduced measures such as the Big Screen Award for assuring distribution in Dutch cinemas, and we’re also working on other possibilities to help filmmakers distribute their films, and to find larger audiences. We try to work with all kinds of platforms, including iTunes, YouTube and the UPC VOD channel, which we started
12 international film festival rotterdam
To do today This evening at 19:00 hrs in LantarenVenster 4, UCLA professor Erkki Huhtamo delivers his lecture Up and Down the Shaft of Time: An Archeology of Verticality, in which he will elaborate on verticality as a cultural phenomenon ahead of IFFR’s Shorts Special: Vertical Cinema programme, for which ten experimental filmmakers and artists have created new 35mm works specially for a monumental, vertical cinemascope projection. (Screens twice tomorrow, at 19:45 and 22:15 in the Arminius venue.) Admission to the lecture is free, but you need to pick up a ticket from the LantarenVenster box office. Today also sees the opening of POST SCRIPT, a compilation of new works by the likes of Keith Sandborn, Pablo Sigg, Mark Rappaport, Aura Satz, Jelena Vanoverbeek, Jasper Rigole and Mika Taanila that bring the ghost of arthouse classics to IFFR’s De Gouvernestraat venue. Opening 17:30-19:30 hrs, then daily 12:00-18:00, Gouvernestraat 133. Free admission. Tonight, the first of IFFR’s Mind the Gap Nights presents ‘Norwegian Moods’. The likes of Keith Rowe & Kjell Bjørgeengen, Mugetuft & Greg Pope and John Hegre present a symbiosis of the Spectrum Shorts programme and Gonzo (circus) magazine: unique collaborations between musicians, video artists, filmmakers and other image producers. 21:30 hrs, WORM, €11, €8 with discount (ticket for all Mind The Gap Nights €32).
PRESS & INDUSTRY SCREENINGS THURSDAY 23 JANUARY Admission with P&I accreditation only
de Doelen Jurriaanse Zaal
09:30 Intruders [ep]
Noh Young-Seok, South Korea, 2013, DCP, 99 min, Korean, e.s.
As you can guess from the title: a ‘home invasion movie’. A young man from Seoul hopes to ﬁnish his screenplay in a remote, snow-topped mountain area - but of course he doesn’t. Made with the same engaging, amusing tone as Noh’s debut, Daytime Drinking (IFFR 2009). 11:30 The Amazing Catﬁsh
Claudia Sainte-Luce, Mexico, 2013, DCP, 89 min, Spanish, e.s.
After being discharged from hospital, Claudia is invited over by Martha, with whom she shared a hospital room. Claudia blossoms in this untidy but charming household, full of loud children and a single cherished goldﬁsh. A moving, energetic Mexican drama.
13:30 Qissa [ep]
At the end of the 1980s, Huub Bals met Chinese ﬁlmmaker Chen Kaige showing his latest ﬁlm in Cannes. In spite of this, Chen was struggling to ﬁnd the ﬁnance to complete a new work. And so the Hubert Bals Fund was born. By Laya Maheshwari Huub promised to go in search of money, and came up with the idea of a fund for independent ﬁlm auteurs. Unfortunately, the Fund could be set up only after Huub’s sudden death on 13 July 1988, and was named after its initiator. Fast forward to the present day and the Hubert Bals Fund (HBF) is one of the world’s biggest and most prestigious names in independent ﬁlm ﬁnancing. During its existence, the Fund has supported a total of 1,026 projects from no less than 102 countries, varying from absolute classics to off-thewall experiments; from international co-productions to ultra-low-budget ﬁlms; from socially committed to controversial; from undemonstrative to exuberant; from heartrending to feel-good. Yet all of these have one thing in common: the Hubert Bals Fund’s contribution. For several ﬁlmmakers, support from the Fund means not only monetary assistance, but also the honour of a globally renowned name attached to their project. Support from the Fund often has a catalytic effect in terms of attracting additional ﬁnance and partners, and makes it easier to access the international ﬁlm market. “The Hubert Bals Fund is really more than the money it brings,” says Anup Singh, director of Qissa, an Indian ﬁ lm supported by the Fund at the script stage ten years ago and now the ofﬁcial opening ﬁ lm of this year’s festival and part of the ‘Signals: Mysterious Objects – 25 Years of Hubert Bals Fund’ retrospective – fourteen ﬁ lms demonstrating the artistic diversity
Qissa clearly demonstrate. In making our annual selection, the social context of the subject of a ﬁlm, the way in which it can actually generate social change or open up debate, is always taken into serious consideration. Because of their subject matter, ﬁnding local ﬁnancing can sometimes be more difﬁcult.” For Chronis, 25 years is just one milestone; she plans to lead the Fund to even greater heights. On future plans, she remarks, “When the Fund started 25 years ago, it was the ﬁrst of its kind. Since then, the ﬁlm industry worldwide has changed radically, not only in terms of ﬁnancing, but also in terms of distribution. Especially for independent artistic cinema – such as supported by HBF – distribution is getting more and more difﬁcult. The Fund will continue to try to respond to these changes and address the needs of ﬁlmmakers.”
of ﬁ lms supported by the Fund over its lifespan. An intimate drama set during India’s acrimonious partition with Pakistan, Qissa tells the story of a girl made to grow up as a boy. The ﬁlm’s setting – a prickly topic for India – combined with its controversial subject matter would have rendered attracting local ﬁnanciers difﬁcult. Singh further comments, “Earlier, searching for a producer for Qissa brought me only curses and closed doors. But after receiving the Hubert Bals Fund assistance, at the least I started being offered a cup of tea! And some of the producers would even listen! The Hubert Bals Fund allowed me the time to make my script better. It allowed me the patience and the meals to allow the story to grow. And, just as importantly, it allowed me to travel to meet producers whom otherwise I would never have been able to afford to meet. Without the Hubert Bals Fund, I would still be roaming like a lunatic outside closed doors.” Anup Singh is no exception in this regard; he is one of many artists whose voices have been given life by the Fund. On being asked what convinced the Fund to help out with Qissa, Iwana Chronis (Manager of the Hubert Bals Fund) says, “The Fund has supported 1,026 projects from around the world, many of which directly or indirectly address sensitive issues, question the powers that be or explore existing taboos within their own culture or region. Cinema has that power to stimulate debate and open up dialogue, as ﬁlms such as
Anup Singh, Germany / India / Netherlands / France, 2013, DCP, 109 min, Punjabi (Panjabi), e.s.
A deeply moving drama about a Sikh family that only gives birth to daughters, set in Punjab early after the Partition of India. The male heir of the family has to be fabricated. With amazing performances by Irrfan Khan and young Bengali talent Tillotama Shome. Ofﬁcial Opening Film IFFR 2014. 16:00 EDSA XXX: Nothing Ever Changes in the Ever-Changing Republic of Ek-Ek-Ek [wp]
Khavn de la Cruz, Philippines, 2014, DCP, 80 min, Filipino / English, e.s.
Political realism in an absurdist musical. Everything in this ﬁlm is based on exaggeration and also on the incomparable reality of the Philippines. The images of the rebellion against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1989 are real; those of future rebellions become increasingly crazy and musical. With on Friday 24 January live piano accompaniment by the ﬁlmmaker himself.
11:45 Fish and Cat
Shahram Mokri, Iran, 2013, DCP, 134 min, Farsi, e.s.
A group of young people camp by a lake and some woods. There’s a restaurant in the village, but how does the owner get his ingredients? This exceptional, Iranian horror was shot in a single take. Not the action, but the suggestion creates the suspense. 14:30 Sacro GRA
Gianfranco Rosi, Italy / France, 2013, DCP, 93 min, Italian, e.s.
Impressionistic mosaic showing the very diverse Romans who live and work along the ring road (the GRA) around the eternal city. Fascinating, stimulating and charming succession of dramatic and humorous scenes won Rosi a Golden Lion at the Venice festival. 16:30 Starred Up
David MacKenzie, United Kingdom, 2013, DCP, 100 min, English, e.s.
Harsh prison drama about the difﬁcult relationship between a father and son both locked up in the same British prison. Both prisoners and guards try to survive this merciless environment. Violent, heartbreaking and captivating.
photo: Felix Kalkman
PRESS & INDUSTRY SCREENINGS THURSDAY 23 JANUARY 09.00 de Doelen Jurriaanse Zaal
10.00 Intruders Noh Young-Seok
12.00 The Amazing Catfish Claudia Sainte-Luce
The Amazing Catﬁsh
Qissa Anup Singh
Fish and Cat Shahram Mokri
Sacro GRA Gianfranco Rosi
16:00 EDSA XXX: Nothing SP
Starred Up David MacKenzie
Fish and Cat
13 INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ROTTERDAM