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50th IFFR

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IFFR at 50!

29 January 2021

Vanja Kaludjercic became the new IFFR Director in February 2020...that's to say, just in time for the perfect storm of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Speaking late January after a "rollercoaster" year, Kaludjercic was in optimistic mood about preparations for the new edition, which marks the 50th anniversary of the festival.

Vanja Kaludjercic
Vanja Kaludjercic (photo: Vera Cornel)

This year IFFR is taking place in two main chapters, the first online between 1 and 7 Feb and the second, hopefully as a physical event, in early June.

The challenges in putting together the programme were, Kaludjercic suggests, more "logistical" than anything else. "It is not about the programming per se but about how to make a festival and what to do in these circumstances. Much more thinking and collaborative work with the team went into understanding what shape and form the festival should eventually take," she notes.

"No," IFFR Managing Director Marjan van der Haar acknowledges, "there will be no chance of matching the 250,000 visits that would normally be sold during a regular festival. But the upside is that the online audience is bound to grow."

Marjan vd Haar
Marjan van der Haar

"The seats in the online space are limited just like they would be when we would screen the film physically in screening rooms. This also creates a sense of urgency for audiences to see the film," Van der Haar explains. The festival has set up studios in the Doelen (its traditional base) to broadcast masterclasses, to facilitate virtual networking and for its Big Talks and Q&As.

Most of the films screening at IFFR 2021 had shot before lockdown took hold. "We really came across works that we are so excited about," Kaludjercic enthuses about what she believes to be a very strong selection in 2021. "Putting [together] the programme for the Tiger and Big Screen competitions was absolutely a pleasure."

IFFR is opening with Riders Of Justice, the latest, very dark comedy from Danish writer-director, Anders Thomas Jensen, and starring his regular collaborator Mads Mikkelsen. (They were also at IFFR in 2016 with Men & Chicken.) "It was really pretty much a no-brainer the moment we saw the film. Anders Thomas Jensen has a rare capacity of really embracing very difficult topics that could not be more relevant for today and, at the same time, making them accessible to larger audiences," Kaludjercic states.

It's an old saying among IFFR programmers that "the films are the stars" but having a headline name such as Mikkelsen is bound to draw attention to Rotterdam. The Dane has just won the European Film Award for Best Actor for Thomas Vinterberg's Another Round*), in which he plays a boozing high school teacher. His filmography ranges from heavy Scandinavian art house to Bond movies.

"He (Mikkelsen) is an extremely versatile actor who successfully balances a European and Hollywood career," Kaludjercic notes. He is also taking time out from shooting the new Fantastic Beasts movie (where he has taken over the Johnny Depp role as the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald) to give a Big Talk during IFFR.

The Tiger competition has been expanded and will now feature 16 titles. "Even that didn't present a challenge. It allowed us to show a large scale or spectrum of what a competition title can be," says Kaludjercic.

The movies come from all over the world and represent many different filmmaking styles and philosophies. "This is also what IFFR stands for. From the very first edition in 1972 right up until now, this was always IFFR's mission, to really bring worldwide works which otherwise, many of them, would never find their audience," the festival director declares.

The festival's Limelight programme includes screenings of titles likely to be seen in Dutch cinemas and to become awards contenders, among them Kelly Reichardt's First Cow, Andrei Konchalovsky's Dear Comrades and Jasmila Žbanić's Quo Vadis, Aida?*).

However, IFFR also provides opportunities for Dutch audiences to see other films which won't so easily secure mainstream distribution, especially in the current Covid-afflicted releasing landscape. Throughout its 50-year life, the festival has showcased experimental and offbeat work from newcomers alongside the movies from established auteurs. Many of those newcomers will then go on to become important figures in art house cinema. This year's Tiger competition features work from new Kosovan filmmakers (Norika Sefa's Looking For Venera), Indian directors (the world premiere of P.S. Vinothraj's debut feature Pebbles) and work from the Dominican Republic (Nino Martínez Sosa's debut feature Liborio).

The summer strand of IFFR will see screenings in the new "Harbour" section accentuating Rotterdam's status as a safe haven where all kinds of storytelling are welcomed.

Meanwhile, in spite of restrictions, the festival's 50th anniversary will be celebrated with plenty of oomph. Among the birthday initiatives are Tiger On The Loose which will see 50 interactive art installations (placed on a town grid that resembles a tiger's head) and the expansive Vive Le Cinéma! Exhibition that will be held at the EYE Museum in Amsterdam.

The new festival director acknowledges the frustrations of putting on such a landmark edition of the festival during a lockdown. However, Kaludjercic also sees an upside. "To be able to show work to the local audience when there is absolutely nothing else going on, it is immensely rewarding. Also, bringing attention to the wonderful work we are showing...I am incredibly proud of the team that in spite of all the challenges, we can deliver a festival and come up with a formula that enables us to start now and then have more opportunities in June to celebrate our 50th anniversary."

IFFR Managing Director Van der Haar adds that some of the lessons learned this year are bound to inform the way that IFFR evolves. "I think this experiment is already a step in a good direction, to think about, OK, in what way can we serve local, national and international audiences and, at the same time, give support to the filmmakers in the best way possible."

IFFR 2021
1 - 7 February | 2 - 6 June


*) film supported by the Netherlands Film Fund

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