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After two all-virtual festivals, the IFFR is finally returning in-person fest, running Jan. 25-Feb. 5 in the Dutch port city. Rotterdam is one of the last major festivals to return post-pandemic, its 2022 event having been forced to go online-only at the last minute when Dutch authorities imposed a new lockdown in December last year, just weeks before the IFFR kicked off.
The resulting revenue shortfall —closed theaters equals zero ticket sales — meant IFFR had to slash its budget, cutting 15 percent of its staff and restructuring.
Festival director Vanja Kaludjercic, who runs the IFFR together with managing director Marjan van der Haar, told The Hollywood Reporter the cuts were made “in order to avoid having to make big changes to the festival.” The 2023 edition, however, will be significantly smaller than the pre-pandemic versions, with around 20 percent fewer films.
“But we still have 430 films in the program, including shorts, with more than 200 world premieres,” notes Kaludjercic, “so we are still very big.”
The 2023 IFFR will open with the world premiere of Munch, an experimental biopic of tortured Norwegian painter Edvard Munch —he of the iconic “The Scream” — from self-taught filmmaker Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken (Returning Home, Possession). The feature, produced by The Film Company with backing by Scandinavian streamer Viaplay and regional fund Filminvest, tells Munch’s story in four interlocking chapters, each written by a different screenwriter — Fredrik Høyer, Mattis Herman Nyquist, Gine Cornelia Pedersen and Eivind Sæther— and each featuring a different actor playing Munch at ages 21 (Alfred Ekker Strande), 30 (Mattis Herman Nyquist), 45 (Ola G. Furuseth) and 80 (Anne Krigsvoll).
All India Rank, a coming-of-age tale from director Varun Grover, will close the 2023 IFFR on Feb. 5.
The IFFR’s main Tiger Competition lineup will include Thiiird, a mystery drama out of Lebanon from award-winning documentarian Karim Kassem, which uses the metaphor of a car mechanic to explore the damage desperately needing repair done to his country and its people; the Swedish autobiographical documentary drama 100 Seasons, in which dancer Giovanni Bucchieri explores 25 years of love, success and failure; and Playland, a deliberately camp and kitschy drama from U.S. director Georden West, which imagines a time-bending night in Boston’s oldest and most notorious gay bar.
In the Big Screen section, meant to highlight works for a broader audience or from more established directors, IFFR 2023 will feature One Win from Korean director Shin Yeon-Shick, an inspirational sports drama featuring Parasite star Song Kang-ho as the unsuccessful coach of a women’s volleyball team; the Danish psychological drama Copenhagen Does Not Exist from director Martin Skovbjerg from a screenplay by Worst Person in the World writer/director Eskil Vogt; and Luka, the latest from Belgian-U.S. director Jessica Woodworth, a contemporary adaptation of Dino Buzzati’s classic novel The Tartar Steppe.
For Kaludjercic, who took over in 2020, this upcoming IFFR will be the first real test of her stewardship. Her renewed focus on “discovery,” on directors and films from outside the thematic, regional or genre mainstream, will be on full display.
“We have films from the Middle East and Africa, from Morocco, from Lebanon, from Iran, from Tunisia,” she notes, “Asian cinema has always been a focus at IFFR but we are looking to expand and diversify our focus.”
African films in the 2023 Tiger Competition lineup include Tunisian drama Geology of Separation from directors Yosr Gasmi and Mauro Mazzocchi; the Moroccan feature Indivision from Leïla Kilani; and Le spectre de Boko Haram by Cameroon director Cyrielle Raingou, all of which will have their world premieres at the IFFR. From Asia, Kaludjercic’s team has selected the likes of Gagaland from Chinese director Teng Yuhan and the Sri Lankan feature Munnel from director Visakesa Chandrasekaram.
In its Bright Future program, dedicated to young and emerging talent, IFFR previously announced two world premieres: Almost Entirely a Slight Disaster, a deadpan dramedy from Turkish director Umut Subasi, and Whispering Mountains, a satirical drama director Jagath Manuwarna which looks at what happens when a supernatural virus spreads across Sri Lanka.
Rotterdam’s Limelight section, featuring art house highlights of the past year, will include such festival favorites as Alice Diop’s Saint Omer, Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun, EO from Poland’s Jerzy Skolimowski, Jafar Panahi’s autobiographical Iranian drama No Bears, and War Pony from directors Riley Keough and Gina Gammell.
The 2023 Robby Müller Award, presented in honor of the late Dutch cinematographer, of Paris, Texas, 24-Hour Party People and Breaking the Waves, among others, will be awarded to French lenser Hélène Louvart, whose work includes such features as Never Rarely Sometimes Always, The Lost Daughter, Happy as Lazzaro and The Wonders.
Oscar-winning director and Turner Prize-winning visual artist Steve McQueen will also attend IFFR to present Sunshine State, an artwork originally commissioned for the festival’s 50th anniversary in 2021 that can now be properly displayed at the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen exhibition space in Rotterdam, with the official opening on Jan. 26.
The work, McQueen’s first major artwork since his “Year 3” commission for the Tate Britain in 2019, is a two-channel video projection shown on both sides of two screens, which opens with footage of a burning sun and includes images from the 1927 feature film The Jazz Singer, a film famed as the first “talkie” in cinema history that’s also infamous for the performance of Al Jolson in blackface.
IFFR 2023 will also see the in-person return of Rotterdam’s famed co-production market, which will celebrate its 40th edition from Jan. 29-Feb. 1 with one-on-one meetings and networking sessions between independent producers, financiers and distributors.
Full list of IFFR 2023 films below.
Munch, dir. Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken
100 Seasons, dir. Giovanni Bucchieri
Gagaland, dir. Teng Yuhan
Geology of Separation, dirs. Yosr Gasmi, Mauro Mazzocchi
Indivision, dir. Leïla Kilani
Letzter Abend, dir. Lukas Nathrath
Mannvirki, dir. Gústav Geir Bollason
Munnel, dir. Visakesa Chandrasekaram
New Strains, dir. Artemis Shaw, Prashanth Kamalakanthan
Notas sobre un verano, dir. Diego Llorente
Numb, dir. Amir Toodehroosta
Nummer achttien, dir. Guido van der Werve
La Palisiada, dir. Philip Sotnychenko
Playland, dir. Georden West
Le spectre de Boko Haram, dir. Cyrielle Raingou
Thiiird, dir. Karim Kassem
three sparks, dir. Naomi Uman
Big Screen Competition
Avant l’effondrement, dirs. Alice Zeniter, Benoît Volnais
Before the Buzzards Arrive, dir. Jonás N. Díaz
Copenhagen Does Not Exist, dir. Martin Skovbjerg
Drawing Lots, dirs. Zaza Khalvashi, Tamta Khalvashi
Endless Borders, dir. Abbas Amini
Le formiche di Mida, dir. Edgar Honetschläger
Four Little Adults, dir. Selma Vilhunen
La hembrita, dir. Laura Amelia Guzmán Conde
Joram, dir. Devashish Makhija
Luka, dir. Jessica Woodworth
My Little Nighttime Secret, dir. Natalya Meshchaninova
Não Sou Nada – The Nothingness Club, dir. Edgar Pêra
Okiku and the World, dir. Sakamoto Junji
One Win, dir. Shin Yeon-Shick
La Sudestada, dirs. Daniel Casabé, Edgardo Dieleke
Voyages en Italie, dir. Sophie Letourneur
All India Rank, dir. Varun Grover
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