The upcoming 47th edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam (January 24 – February 4) is going to be the third with Dutch independent producer Bero Beyer as festival director. “To be honest, it is exhilarating,” said Beyer to the Notebookwhen asked how it feels to lead the festival for the third time. He began his tenure with an enthusiasm that he still harbors and he is determined to usher IFFR into a new era. Beyer had a clear vision he wanted to pursue and steer the industry and programming to.
“There were three main goals,” Beyer said regarding his vision, “one was to be more coherent in our professional approach. To really be a partner to a film project than to be just a short-term platform.” The festival integrates funding, development, production and distribution into more a tightknit operation, revising the film market CineMart and moving it with the Hubert Bals Fund “under one roof,” as the festival director says.
The enthusiastic relationship between the festival and filmmakers moves to the next level, as the festival wants “to be committed more to less projects,” to be stronger partner to an individual project by providing continual support on a long-term basis. As an example, Beyer pointed towards the BoostNL initiative—a collaborative program between IFFR/ CineMart and the Netherlands Film Festival / Holland Film Meeting. The joint force of two co-production platforms, Holland Film Meeting and CineMart, enables “stronger film industry exposure.”
Furthermore, Bero Beyer invested a lot of energy into fine-tuning the IFFR Live, a sort of export of the International Film Festival Rotterdam during the actual festival: a specially curated set of premieres screens all over Europe at the same time, enhanced with two-way communication in order to make the event interactive. This engagement with IFFR Live corresponds to Beyer’s strong focus on distribution, as he says the festivals are not only curatorial but also wield a role as alternative hubs for distribution. “All the festivals should, if they are not already, be concerned that they have become players of distribution in a much bigger way,” confirms the director.
IFFR Live will unspool on February 26-28 with guests attending, and discussions with them will be part of the experience. This year’s slate offers a squad of promising female filmmakers starting with Swiss coming-of-age Blue My Mind by the upcoming director Lisa Brühlmann. Blue My Mind veers towards the bleaker and darker territory of coming-of-age, as we witnessed in the Serbian Clip by Maja Miloš (2012), or more corporeally in Bang Gang: A Modern Romance (2015) by Eva Husson. Brühlmann circles the usual issues of adolescence—trying to fit in somewhere—but also dedicates a good deal of the storyline to one’s relationship with one’s body. The film also centers on the process of acceptance of own identity and body female sexuality in general, in a dark twist shifting the coming-of-age into a mythical fable, though without forsaking realism. “I wanted the movie to be very real and realistic despite the supernatural elements,” reveals Brühlmann, adding “I wanted to mix a very sensual, poetic narrative with a harsh reality. The movie should not just be a fairy tale, but I wanted to show what it would feel like if it really happened now, when the body changes and you can’t help it.” Female driven coming-of-age motifs and peer pressure dominate contemporary gothic tale Pin Cushion against the background of British working-class life. In that film, both the single mother Lyn and her daughter Iona live a cloistered life that gets into conflict with the real world, leading naive Iona into the arms of self-delusion and the extremely submissive Lyn to struggle to find a place within the society and neighborhood. Marleen Jonkman’s Messi and Maud follows the protagonist Maud, a married 40-something and childless faces her own identity on a trip through Chile after leaving her husband to travel alone and befriending a local boy Messi in a temporal bond of a surrogate mother until she revises her idealized vision of motherhood. Other IFFR Live selections include Gabriela Pichler’s Amateurs, which is supposed to investigate the power of images in a globalized society, Susanna Nichiarelli’s biopic Nico, 1988 and Olga Chajdas’ Nina,which examines to the notion of motherhood and follows with disruption of established gender codes.
As a part of empowering IFFR’s activities in terms of distribution, the festival is about to launch its own video on demand (VOD) platform designed to curate content all year long. It evolved from the initial IFFR Unleashed initiative that had been set-up to help emerging filmmakers get their films on iTunes. The new effort will be a subscription-based service: it will offer not only the IFFR previously selected films complemented with contextual content and the festival’s parallel sections of masterclasses and interview. “Yes, there will be films online, yes, you can become a member and we will be adding films on a monthly basis to extend the catalogue,” says Beyer of the re-invented IFFR Unleashed, adding, “what is nice about this is not just that many of those films are never to be found elsewhere, but mostly that we try to give the platform the same context that festival features.” The soon-to-be re-inaugurated VOD will not be just another distribution arm but will provide another channel to export the festival’s experience twelve months a year, establishing IFFR as a continual enterprise. This last addition to the IFFR inventory points towards the third main point of the festival’s fragmented refurbishing: innovation. “We are not just trying to figure out where the innovation lies, but we are also jumping feet first to see if we can actually make it happen,” says Beyer, confirming the festival’s open-mindedness toward experimentation beyond curation.
The festival also continues in the self-branding activity. IFFR remains famous for its informal atmosphere, as filmmakers, press, industry professionals and public mingle in the corridors of De Doelen, the festival’s main hub in the center of the harbor city. The last festival saw the rollout of the Planet IFFR theme, while the upcoming continues this strand, upping the ante with “Meet the Humans of the Planet IFFR.” The festival director elaborates on this year’s theme: “We can zoom in on what is actually going on, what is actually living there, what is moving there, making connections. How do we look upon those inhabitants which are humans of the planet IFFR? Those are filmmakers of course, but also the audience, the press, people who have their project at IFFR, industry professionals and distributors, thinkers and speakers–and we thought we’d take it a little tongue-in-cheek mentality. We are looking at the odd little creatures as if we were Darwin-esque explorers and see they say one thing and mean another. They create their own reality, they tell each other stories and turn them into subjective reality. They have a vision that expands over the years and changes, they use tools to very high degree, they try to connect with each other through a language.”
Emerging talents wielding distinctive styles are rounded up in the Bright Future section which will introduce Ian Lagarde’s surreal fable enclosed entirely within a holiday resort, All You Can Eat Buddha. A mysterious man with voracious appetite called Mike attracts the visitors and personnel alike thanks to his supernatural magnetism. Lagarde’s use of deadpan and absurdity, lately known from the new wave of Greek cinema, pushes the story into the territory of allegorical comedy, yet retains its enigmatic allure. Lagarde, the cinematographer in Dennis Côté’s Vic+Flo Saw a Bear, (2013) brandishes his own style of civil surrealism: tropical (magical) realism. “I like for surrealism to be anchored in something that feels kind of real, at first, but soon goes off the rails, never to come back. It is a way to play with the familiar and the strange and trying to combine the two,” says Lagarde to the Notebook. The filmmaker even weaves an apocalyptic vision into the tropical paradise of the all-inclusive holiday as a political commentary, leading to a Kafkaesque moment as the staff expects the new administration, a faceless entity, to arrive and take over the reins.
Iranian drama Blockage by Mohsen Gharaei follows the protagonist Ghasem, choleric and unbalanced, as his inability to assume the stereotypical role of breadwinner in the conventional society drives a wedge between his wife and him. Gharei follows a protagonist as he fails in family and professional life, blaming everybody but himself and egotistically pursuing his self-interest, causing damage outside his family. Blockage treads the known territory of poverty porn as economic status determines the protagonist’s situation. However, the film approaches the topic from a psychological perspective, expanding towards the social dimension in the second plane.
French filmmaker and Walerian Borowczyk aficionado Bertrand Mandico will present his feature-length debut Wild Boys. Starting as A Clockwork Orange, with youngsters who are soon met with a punishment in the form of disciplinary re-education on a boat and a mysterious island, it is reminiscent of Jules Verne’s adventure stories and H.G. Well’s The Island of Doctor Moreau with gender twist albeit observing religiously the body and its changes. “Body is a fascinating, fragile, attractive or repulsive, organic matter. I love to inscribe bodies into my set designs. This re-appropriation of bodies returns to certain paintings and ancient and modern sculptures that nourish me, from Max Ernst to brothers Chapmans,” the director said. With the focus on body, Mandico does not exclude gender, which he compares to cinema. “I create hybrids—sexual and cinematic,” he revealed, attesting to the Wild Boys highly stylized aesthetics pivoting towards expressionism. “The times change and the representation of genre has to evolve in cinema,” he says. Another hybrid—formal this time—in the Bright Future section is Meteors by Turkish filmmaker Gürcan Keltek, a docu-mythic effort combining found footage archived as it was streamed in real time during a local conflict whose casualties exceeded its local scale in a dramatic, authentic, and naturalistic rendering of facts and myths.
The experimental sub-section of Deep Focus: Regained, will host Dragonfly Eyes, a visual experiment by Chinese artist Xu Bing who carved out a fictional narrative out of 10,000 hours of authentic found footage, freely accessible and circulated. The form-bending of fiction and documentary hybrids proved to be much more fluid and flexible. Bing calls “a film without actors and camera crews,” though the found footage patchwork steers more towards non-film nature as a video-art exercise on the abundance of ready-made simulacrums and reality experienced, consumed and perceived through a kaleidoscope of haphazard clips on the spectrum from mundane (quotidian CCTV loops) to shocking (dash-cam shots of airplane accidents and road rage violence).
The latest film by independent Russian filmmaker Aleksey Fedorchenko, Anna’s War, a Holocaust drama starring a six-year-old Marta Kozlova who does not say a word, is going to be introduced at Voices, IFFR’s selection of “future classics”. Alongside Fedorchenko, Jim Hosking’s new film appears in the section, An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn, an indie comedy follow-up to his low-budget midnight movie debut The Greasy Strangler (2016). Other Voices titles are Ogata Takaomi’s observation of a teenage and family drama after a rumor and leaked sex video ruins the reputation and social life of a student Hiromi in The Hungry Lion, and Romanian drama Pororoca by Constantin Popescu, which maps the mental and family breakdown a father after his little daughter goes on missing under his watch. Popescu employs long, unnerving shots as the father is pushed to a homicidal edge. Zhang Maiaoyan’s Silent Mist sees a small town disturbed by an unknown rapist in a parable to modern China’s capitalism and patriarchalism and Matt Porterfield makes an excursion through unemployment, segregation, drug abuse and street violence in his new film, Soller’s Point.
After ten years, the festival decided to resurrect Rotterdämmerung, a sidebar where genres converge. Although the festival has not abandoned genre fare, which could be found scattered over several sidebars in previous years, this time it will be put into its proper spotlight. The high pace of editing continues in animated Mutafukaz, a joint effort by Guillaume Renard and Nishimi Shojiro in a moving comic of idiosyncratic elements: a fictive Hispanic version of Los Angeles as Dark Meat City, an underdog becoming the Messiah, army of intergalactic murdering clones, Mexican wrestlers, Lovercraftian monsters, a conspiracy and the end of the world. Besides political and ecological message, the animated high-octane, high-body count high-jinx unspool within an intertextual web of pop culture references, mostly to videogames, animated films and series and comics and myriads of visual puns. The genre cinema will be represented in Rotterdam by Brazilian social satire about an elite club, The Cannibal Club, directed by Guto Parente; the son of Palme d’Or winner Raymond Red, Mikhail, will bring his latest thriller Neomanilla, which is inspired by Duterte’s uncompromising crackdown on drug dealers; French zombie robinsonade The Night Eats the World by Dominique Rocher; and Indonesian Satan’s Slaves by Joko Anwarn, who wanted to put a modern twist on haunted house genre among others.
The direction Bero Beyer is steering is not towards that of general overhaul but the one navigating the fluid film industry landscape. As the industry changes along new or emerging processes of creation and consumption, production and distribution, the festival director does not want just keep the pace but stand on the forefront as the festival aims to preserve its reputation, image and brand as a pioneer and innovator.
The core and defining values and traits of IFFR remain unscathed, if not amplified. IFFR is renowned for following selected filmmakers on their career trajectory, that’s why there is many „household“ names returning with new projects. Such is the case of Czech legendary filmmaker Jan Švankmajer who will world premiere his latest project Insect, declared to be his last feature film. “We are extremely happy to be able to screen Insect and have Jan Švankmajer here trying to organize, let’s call it a Tiger tribute to him because it is indeed a special relationship. This is one of the elements I have to be honest I underestimated when I took this job, the amount of commitment. It is almost love, the loyalty in working with filmmakers for many years. The filmmakers are really caring what Rotterdam means to them as a festival,” says the festival director, concluding “it is a small gesture to repay them, to have a tribute to one of the masters like Jan Švankmajer and hopefully honor him for all the credit he deserves”.