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Now in its 30th year, IFFR's Hubert Bals Fund (HBF) continues to define the identity of International Film Festival Rotterdam, writes Geoffrey Macnab.

Over the past three decades HBF has supported the careers of some very notable fillmmakers; Carlos Reygadas, Chen Kaige, Férid Boughedir, Amos Gitai, Rithy Panh, Gaston Kaboré, Zhang Yuan, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pablo Trapero, Cristian Mungiu, Pablo Larrain, Haifaa Al Mansour and Nuri Bilge Ceylan among them. The list goes on and on.

What's more, since 1989 HBFbacked films have won numerous awards and played in official selection not just in Rotterdam but in Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Sundance, Locarno and Toronto too. In 2018 alone, A Land Imagined by Singaporean filmmaker Yeo Siew picked up the Golden Leopard in Locarno while Dominga Sotomayor was named Best Director for her third feature Too Late to Die Young.

"I don't know what the festival (IFFR) would be without the Hubert Bals Fund. I think it would look very different," admits Marit van den Elshout, Head of IFFR PRO CineMart, on the funding initiative that supports feature films from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe.

The triumphs haven't been achieved without some adversity along the way. In 2013, support from the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs dried up and HBF needed to scramble for alternative sources of financing. In hindsight, that mini-crisis helped the Fund to evolve. As Van den Elshout notes, HBF began to look outward and to collaborate with similar schemes across Europe.  The Fund was also able to secure backing from Creative Europe - MEDIA programme of the European Union, which enabled it to create HBF+Europe, its highly successful scheme for minority co-production support.

Van den Elshout welcomes the way that Dutch producers now regularly collaborate with Hubert Bals Fund directors - and accompany them to the major festivals. She also points to the backing of the Netherlands Film Fund (NFF) via the NFF+HBF Co-production Scheme. "The Film Fund is very important to the Hubert Bals Fund and is an amazing partner."

In late November, the NFF together with the newly formed Netherlands Post Production Alliance (NPA), joined with HBF to launch a new "Dutch Post-production Award." HBF-backed projects can now apply for post-production support of €50,000, as long as the postproduction is done at one of the NPA member studios in the Netherlands.

"A lot of filmmakers we support, they manage to go into production with the funding they have, but post-production is sometimes still a problem," Van den Elshout notes. Netherlands Film Fund CEO Doreen Boonekamp was keen to support the new wave of post-production companies and there fore the award achieves two aims at once - it helps the Hubert Bals Fund directors while also giving a boost to the resurgent post-production sector in the Netherlands.

As ever, IFFR's 2019 selection has a strong smattering of HBF titles. "Serbia, Syria, Chile, Iran, Argentina, Kenya, Singapore, Brazil," Van den Elshout ticks off the countries represented, one by one.  The subject matter is as varied as the countries of origin: for example, Mariano Llinás' epic La Flor might best be described as a spy movie while Rafiki is a bold yet playful lesbian drama from Kenya. "It is all completely different," says Van den Elshout. "There is not really a trend to be discovered."

The Hubert Bals Fund currently invests roughly €260,000 in co-production, €220,000 in development and €100,000 for postproduction. These are not huge amounts but, over the last three decades, the Fund has achieved extraordinary results on relatively modest budgets. Named after the Festival's visionary founder Huub Bals, who died in 1988, the Fund ensures that 30 years on, his name is still associated with extraordinary and ground-breaking new filmmaking from all corners of  the globe.

SEE NL Magazine #34 November 2019 / Sundance, IFFR, Berlin and Clermont Ferrand issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by Eye International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.

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