Vol. 4 Num 250 Sun. February 08, 2004  

IFFR: anatomy of a film festival
The 33rd International Film Festival Rotterdam 2004 ends

600 films in 24 film theatres with 355,000 audience turnover and a revenue of Euro 1,000,000 from ticket sales: that, in brief, is all about this edition of International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR). But figures do not always speak the truth. Figures cannot say everything about a very successful film festival. The fact that the audience turnover is the largest among the film festivals in the world (bypassing the biggest film festivals on earth: at Cannes, Berlin and Venice) is enough to prove the worth of the festival. Throughout its thirty-three editions, ever since its inception in 1972, Rotterdam has proved itself to be the best loved film festival in the world.

Rotterdam Film Festival is something very special to the independent, activist and less-known filmmakers. Because, they know that this festival has always been friendly to them. Nowhere else in the biggest film festivals can they expect a sympathetic consideration. As a result, Rotterdam Film Festival has become the largest get-together of independent filmmakers in the world. This is more so because of the fact that each year, the festival's Hubert Bals Fund supports a good number of independent filmmakers from around the world in three stages: script development, post-production and distribution. Naturally, the festival programme contains a lot of films made by independent filmmakers. This year, a record thirty Hubert Bals Fund supported films were included in the Tigers Competition and the main programme.

Parallel to the screening of the films were lot of programmes like the Rotterdam Film Parliament, debates, talk shows, interviews, exhibitions, installation programmes, 'Filmmakers in Focus', 'Artist in Focus', 'What is cinema?' and so on. This was Simon Field's last festival as co-Director. Simon joined Rotterdam Film Festival as the only Director eight years back and remained so for five years. For the last three years, Simon Field and Sandra den Hamer acted as co-Directors. Simon was basically the Artistic Director and Sandra was the Managing Director, but this distribution often overlapped. Sandra den Hamer will be in charge of the festival as Director from 2005.

The main programme at Rotterdam featured some of the very best films of 2003 and 2004 like the 'Golden Palm' winner at Cannes Elephant by Gus van Sant, the 'Golden Lion' winner at Venice The Return by Andrei Zvyagintsev, The Story of Marie and Julien by Jacques Rivette, Father and Son by Alexander Sokurov, Code 46 by Michael Winterbottom, Zatoichi by Takeshi Kitano, The Barbarian Invasions by Denys Arcand, Anatomy of Hell by Catherine Breillat, Crimson Gold by Jafar Panahi, Distant by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 21 Grams by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Twentynine Palms by Bruno Dumont, Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola, The First Letter by Abolfazl Jalili, the 'Golden Leopard' winner at Locarno Silent Waters by Sabiha Sumar, and The Silence Between Two Thoughts by Babak Payami.

The Tiger Awards, given to three films each year (each of the films should be a first or second feature by the independent filmmaker), worth Euro 10,000 each, are also of immense help to the filmmakers. The winners can very well start their next film projects with this amount of money. This year's three Tiger Award recipients are: The Missing by Lee Kang-sheng (Taiwan), Summer in the Golden Valley by Srdjan Vuletic (Bosnia-Herzegovina), and En Route by Jan Kruger (Germany). The Missing also won the NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Award and the KNF (Association of Dutch Film Critics) Award. The Amnesty International-DOEN award went to Last Train by Alexei German, Jr. The International Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Award went to Peep "TV" Show by Yutaka Tsuchiya (Japan).

Lee Kang-sheng is best known as the celebrated Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang's lead actor in his films. The Missing is Lee's debut feature. It centres on a woman who loses a child and starts searching for him. This sense of loss pervades the film and the film is also a search for identity in an apparently mechanised city life in modern Taipei. Summer in the Golden Valley is also the debut feature by Bosnian filmmaker Srdjan Vuletic. It deals with the protagonists, two young boys, trying to cope with the situation in the collapsed city of Sarajevo where the environment is degraded morally and ethically. Though there is a hint of a better future, but who knows how long it will take. En Route is a film about a young mother, her daughter, her boyfriend and a charming young man who intrudes in their apparently quiet life in their camping holiday site.

The International Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Award winner Peep "TV" Show by Japanese filmmaker Yutaka Tsuchiya is a DV feature made with a very low budget. The film centres on a group of young people who roam around Tokyo, the mega city. They live alienated and dislocated lives in tiny apartments, passing their times surfing through the Internet, mostly indulge themselves in the Internet porno. They also intrude into the privacy of other people's lives. They are seen escaping the closed circuit television (surveillance) cameras. Their lives are miserable and that gives an idea about the future. The film is an apocalyptic vision of the future.

The filmmakers who visited the festival include Takeshi Kitano from Japan, Catherine Breillat from France, Raul Ruiz from France, Michael Winterbottom from the UK, Isaac Julien from the USA, Abolfazl Jalili from Iran, Gaston Kabore from Burkina Faso, Tunde Kelani from Nigeria, Kamal Haasan from India, and Sabiha Sumar from Pakistan.

Sabbir Chowdhury, a film critic and film activist, teaches in the department of English at Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Three Tiger Award winners (L-R): Jan Kruger of Germany, Srdjan Vuletic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lee Kang-sheng of Taiwan.Photo courtesy: International Film Festival Rotterdam