Notes of a festival watcher
Goodbye to bouts of cold, wet weather, sleep deprivation and repeatedly overhearing the phrase; "What do you think that meant?" I've survived another Rotterdam International Film Festival, writes Mindy Ran.
The 32nd festival, which ran from 22 January to 2 February, was visited by a record 355,000 film buffs who got the chance to see over 600 films, videos and exhibitions from all over the world.
The festival offers up a feast of film; some stunning examples of true art and craft, weird and wonderful "experimental" journeys, the latest in digital doings, and a few down right bores.
Rotterdam hosted world premieres, international premieres and European premieres, a huge market for makers and funders of films to find each other, performances, related art exhibitions and a film parliament. It is the first on the festival path of Rotterdam, Berlin, Venice, and Cannes.
"What's become more important is the cross-over between film and the other arts," says co-director of the Festival, Sandra den Hamer. "Its not only a festival in the cinema but also in the galleries and in the museums."
Explaining the reasoning behind the Film Parliament held at Rotterdam, Den Hamer says; "things are changing in film politics. The first parliament in 1988 led to the foundation of Hubert Bals Funds to help solve the problem of lack of funding for script development."
This year, the topic of the European distribution of independent films loomed large, with the general feeling that the American film industry completely dominates distribution outlets, i.e. cinemas and multi-plexes, to the detriment of the industry. Government funding was seen to be the answer.
"We see film as an art form," says den Hamer. "All other art forms are subsidised but not the showing (distribution) of films."
The showing of films is something they do in abundance; with over a thousand screenings shown to some 355,000 people over 10 days. It is possible, in any one day, to see up to 7 films.
I have met several groups coming from all over the Netherlands to "do Rotterdam" as a sort of intensive, alternative holiday. One gentleman from Groningen told me that he only sees films at the festival and never goes to the cinema during the rest of the year.
Releases to Watch Out For
Whether is was art, craft or a warning of things to come, the decision to screen "Cinemania" to the 350 volunteers who keep the festival ticking over was a stroke of brilliance. Regular cinemagoers take note.
"Cinemania" was co- directed by Steven Kijak and Angela Christleib and is a very funny, sometimes painfully so, documentary about five New Yorkers who are all described by Kijak as "manically obsessive film buffs."
"It is an addiction, they have a drive to consume as many films as possible to the detriment of everything in there lives, they live for films." says Kijak. "As a film maker you work under this blind passion, this lunacy and then you meet the people who are at the other end, consuming it just as manically."
Like many of the festivalgoers at Rotterdam, I took part in the annual race to "do" as many films as possible and the accompanying deep sense of constantly shifting reality. In "Cinemania", the characters do this every single day of their lives. As one says; "Film is a substitute for life, film is a form for life"
Film can also be art. The film "Far From Heaven" (directed by Todd Haynes with cinematography by Ed Lachman) was chosen to open the festival.
It is a visual feast, a succulent journey for the eyes shot in this vibrant Technicolor with a sinister underlay created by shadow. It is a story about what is seen, and what is kept hidden by repression in rich, suburban America in the late 50's. The fall from heaven.
Ed Lachman started as a painter and tries to find the visual content though each story. "I was inspired by Douglas Sirk and a film noir approach;" explains Lachman. "I wanted to show the people isolated by shadows and light".
"Far From Heaven" has everything it needs to become a true classic; a brilliant script, incredible acting, and artful camera and directing. It envelops you in another place, time and story.
Another film that shows the darkness hidden by social conventions and takes you there is "Ken Park". While there is a similarity in the underlying themes, the two films are nothing alike. Rather amazing, as Lachman co-directed and shot the film with Larry Clark of "Kids" fame. "They are both about things behind closed doors we don't want to face," says Lachman.
"Ken Park" is in that same "in yer face" style as "Kids"; where the camera does not flinch, even though you might. It is a stomach-crunching tour of incest, alcoholism, violence, neglect, fanatism, skate punkers and teen sex as life-saving escapism - all hidden behind the curtains of a poor, suburban neighbourhood in America.
It follows a small group of skaters. To help keep that feeling of reality, the kids in the film are all skaters and not actors.
"The script came out of Larry's diaries and was written before "Kids", say Lachman. "We always wanted final cut to make sure we could tell it with an honesty and not cut away. It took us ten years to get the money from a Dutch production company."
"Ken Park", like "KIds" is unrated, because it's material content would normally relegate it to an "X" rating. Lachman is defensive in his response; "As a cinematographer I didn't want to be editorialised.
"If people ask, is this pornography? My answer is that pornography is there to titillate or arouse, in no way do people feel aroused or titillated because they see nudity in the film. The kids talk about their need to escape and sex is their escape." An excellecent cinema experience.
Two of the commercial independents that were creating that "buzz" around the festival were "Punch Drunk Love" and "Auto Focus". Neither actually made it to my 30+-film list but seemed to be very popular.
"Punch Drunk Love" is a romantic comedy by PT Anderson based loosely on the "pudding guy" who parlayed $3000 of pudding into millions of air miles and stars Adam Sandler.
"Auto Focus" is directed by the master of dark-macho behaviour, Paul Schrader and documents the decline and eventual murder of sex-addict Bob Crane (of Hogan's Heroes fame).
The film festival has a special category and competition for first time filmmakers called the "Tiger Awards". (See below)
The candidates were "Marion Bridge", a slice-of-life Canadian film by Wiebke von Carolsfeld, which tells the story of three sisters, and the relation of mothers and daughters as the mother goes through her final illness.
Not a "chick-flick" in the classic sense and while there is nothing actually wrong with it; it feels somehow too small for the large screen. Von Caroldfeld has already won the "Newcomers" award for this film at the Toronto Film festival.
If you can read Dutch subtitles, one of my incentives for learning Dutch, two other films in the Tiger Awards this year were simply, unpretentious, delightful films that are well worth seeing; "Story Tellers" and "Mon-rak Transistor".
"Story Tellers" is a funny, warm and wonderful interweaving of story by Brazilian filmmaker Elliane Caffe. In order to stop the coming of a dam, which will flood their village, a mostly illiterate group of villagers must create an impressive enough history to warrant saving it. A wonderful flight of fancy.
The offbeat experimental documentary that has been the filmmakers choice throughout the festival is "Gambling, Gods and LSD" by Peter Mettler. With very little dialogue, no plot to speak of, the film is a sometimes touching, sometimes beautiful, visually meandering (three hours) experiential journey of association. Mettler was also surprised by the response,
"I felt it would more difficult for a general audience," he says. "It requires a subjective involvement. It presents a set of opportunities and a set of questions. A way to look and feel."
The absolute breath-taking must-see film sneaking in right at the end of the festival was the "Principles of Lust" by British director Penny Woolcock.
This film is the feature debut for Woolcock and is a brilliantly polished, gripping tale that takes you, through it's main character, into the underworld of strip clubs, sex, drugs and bare-knuckle fighting by children. A hard-hitting, no holds barred gritty bite into the shock and upheaval required to get some people out a rut.
Woolcock is herself unexpected and not quite what you would assume; a mid-50's grey haired grandmother who likes the shock she creates when people see her after they have seen her film.
"It's this dilemma that we all know from our lives, do you choose for security, or for thrills?" asks Woolcock. "Billy represents the guy who always pushes things a step further. For me those people have always given me something in life, even if they are ultimately disturbing and eventually destructive. They also wake you up." So will "Principles of Lust".
Winning films 2003
VPRO TIGER AWARDS
- Extraòo / Strange,
by Santiago Loza.
- Jiltoo-neun na-e him / Jealousy is My Middle Name,
by Park Chan-Ok.
- S ljubov’ju. Lilja / With Love. Lilya,
by Larisa Sadilova.
- Mu di di Shanghai / Welcome to Destination Shanghai,
by Andrew Cheng.
- Sud senaeha / Blissfully Yours,
by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
- Nói Albinoi,
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL - DOEN AWARD
- Zendan-e zanan / Women’s Prison,
CANAL+ AUDIENCE AWARD
- Whale Rider,
Subject: What's on