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The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), arguably the largest cinema event devoted to alternative international cinema, kicks off its 51st edition Wednesday with the world premiere of Amanda Kramer’s Please Baby Please.
Rotterdam was forced to go online-only again this year after the Netherlands went into lockdown in December amid an omicron-driven surge in COVID-19 infections.
Festival director Vanja Kaludjercic notes the shutdown happened “practically at the finish line” but that even before the lockdown, earlier restrictions, including a 5 pm curfew for cinemas, would have made an in-person festival a challenge.
“Can you imagine having a big film festival, a celebration of cinema with almost 300 films, all those world premieres, and 2 pm is your primetime slot?” Kaludjercic tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Still, the show must go on and Kaludjercic noted that after the experience of last year’s all-virtual event, “there was a lot of interest and support from the international industry and press, and from the filmmakers to make this work.”
Filmmakers like Thai auteur and Rotterdam festival veteran Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose Blissfully Yours won at IFFR in 2003 and who has relied on help from Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals fund, named after the IFFR founder, to finance his movies ever since, including his 2010 Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and his latest, the Tilda Swinton-starrer Memoria.
Inke Van Loocke, director of Rotterdam’s industry section CineMart, notes that the role of the IFFR in supporting and promoting independent cinema, particularly from “lower production-capacity countries, in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe,” makes the festival essential after two years of pandemic disruption.
The 2022 CineMart selection of in-development projects looking for backing includes The Beautiful Normal, a new project from Hong Kong director Flora Lau, whose feature debut Bends was in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in 2013; Love on Trial from Koji Fukada, a 2016’s Un Certain Regard Jury Prize winner with Harmonium; and Sorella di Clausura, the new film from Serbian director Ivana Mladenovic, whose Ivana The Terrible (2019), was a jury prize winner at Locarno.
“We make sure that these projects get their meetings with sales agents and make sure they’re visible to international distributors, but it’s really more of a launching pad and a testing ground for new work,” said Loocke. “We’re usually there when people start their financing and shooting and we stay in touch to make sure their finished films get seen by our programmers.”
While Loocke sees a silver lining in last year’s enforced COVID-19 lockdowns — “we were surprised how well a lot of producers were doing because they more time for development [and] we see a rise of financing streams from, the VOD platforms, especially for projects coming from Asia.” The challenge, she noted, is for independent filmmakers “to ride this wave of VOD and streaming growth while still remaining independent.”
And for that, Kaludjercic notes, the IFFR can be essential.
“There’s the distribution part, getting the audience and press and industry to generate a conversation and attention around a film to get it off the ground, and get it noticed,” she says. “The whole other part is the financing, and how we can create opportunities for the filmmakers to to meet up with [future] potential partners.”
The 2022 IFFR runs through February 6.
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