Rotterdam Fest: First Crop of Contenders Emerge as Competition Kicks Off

La Fortaleza - Still - 2020
Credit: IFFR

The European festival's main competition, whose winner will get the Tiger, is underway.

With the 2020 International Film Festival Rotterdam’s Tiger competition underway, five of the 10 directors up for the event’s top prize came together on Sunday to discuss their work.

Alongside themes relating to identity and national political discourse, there was one distinctly more unusual similarity between two of the titles: they both starred the filmmakers' fathers.

Greek filmmaker Janis Rafar, whose debut feature Kala azar is competing, revealed that her father acted in the film, which is about the spiritual connection between human and animal and follows a young couple cremating collected roadkill.

Going one step further for his feature La Fortaleza, however, Venezuelan director Jorge Thielen Armand cast his dad in the lead role. With a nod to the current crisis in Venezuela, the film follows a man on the verge of a mid-life crisis who decides to move to the jungle in a bid to battle his demons.

“It was one of the most intense things I’ve ever done in my life,” says Armand of directing his father, adding that there was an element of improvisation, with him holding back the script and only talking about scenes right before they started shooting them.

Armand said that he wanted the film to help act as an “archive” of Venezuela, which he left at 15 and says he now no longer recognizes.

This feeling of lost identity was echoed by Brazilian director Maria Clara Escobar regarding her Tiger competition entry Desterro, which she said was about the “feeling of not having land or a place to return to.”

The film centers on a young couple living with their 5-year-old son, but appearing to have lost interest in each other’s thoughts and cares.

Escobar admitted that Brazil’s recent political upheaval under President Jair Bolsonaro was underway when they started filming, but she “didn’t know how quickly it would get to where it is now.”

Meanwhile, in Luis Lopez Carrasco’s 200-minute drama El ano del descrubrimiento, the Spanish director turned the clock back to 1992 and, using stories told by patrons in a Cartagena bar, looks to piece together an almost forgotten moment of local political history.

“When I was 11, I remember seeing on television that the regional parliament building was burning,” he said, claiming that, when he asked his parents about the incident years later, they had no recollection of it at all. “So I thought, if people aren’t remembering this, then it’s a story to be told.”

The 2020 Tiger jury is composed of Dutch-Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now), Visions du Réel artistic director Emilie Bujès, South Korea-born American filmmaker Kogonada (Columbus), Dutch filmmaker Sacha Polak (Dirty God) and Indonesian artist Hafiz Rancajale.

It will pick both the Tiger Award winner and a special jury prize winner from the 10 entries. The Tiger Award comes with a cash prize of 40,000 euros ($44,500), with 10,000 euros ($11,100) for the special jury Award.