The Rotterdam International Film Festival (or IFFR to its friends) was the first non-UK film festival I ever went to. Back in the late 80s it was a rather different event to the one now, but still took pride in celebrating left-field art house cinema, often with a leaning to Asian cinema but always happy to take chances and be provocative and challenging.
In those days IFFR based itself around the Hilton hotel in the centre of the city, where there were epic amounts of gin consumption at its first floor bar and late night screenings at the lovely Art Deco Luxor cinema across the street.I should add Rotterdam has always been one of my favourite festivals, and now headed by the charismatic Bero Beyer (a juror at EIFF last year) it is an event driven by cultural ambition as well as a healthy budget. The good folk of Rotterdam (and those who travel in from around the Netherlands) are now well trained to embrace the eclectic and rather large programme selection... art house filmmakers are the heroes here and Hollywood talent is rarely seen.
I should also add that - as a regular frequenter at airports around the world - Rotterdam Den Haag airport is one of my favourites! Small and rather perfectly formed it is a pleasure to fly into and (even better) to fly out from, with its departure area a veritable joy to hang out in. Just outside its entrance is the stop of the 33 bus which briskly takes you to the beautifully designed Centraal Station (for just €3.50 as well), which itself is a few minutes walk away from De Doelen, the sprawling arts complex that plays host to screens, offices, restaurants, bars, delegates area and the festival’s legendarily good viewing library.The IFFR takes pride in screening hundreds of films and so you have to dive in and take risks. The written synopsis can often barely tally with the finished film, but there are often gems to be found. I saw EIFF 2017 British film Daphne at Rotterdam, and over the years have always spotted really interesting titles. It is the same this year, but sadly we cant list titles as even as I write we will be haggling to try and get permission to screen the films.The IFFR screening library is my preferred way to try and sample as much as possible during a trip of just a few days. I’ve learned to be wary of early ‘hot buzz’ lists that library viewing numbers can throw up. One year the legendarily bad British film Dogging: A Love Story was the most watched film, which perhaps speaks volumes about the true viewing habits of international film professionals. But the library allows the chance to sample scores of films and then follow up on those that pique my interest.
Of course, film festivals - especially Rotterdam - are also very social events, and spending quality time with film folk from around the world is often as important as watching the films themselves. Directors, producers, programmers, financiers, academics, critics, journalists, sales agents and representatives of national film bodies are a source of information, gossip and entertainment and in an industry where contacts and relationships are vital the bars, parties and restaurants have an important part to play.
I had a couple of days back in the UK after IFFR – and managed to squeeze in a talk to students at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield and also a meeting with the fine folk who run then London Indian Film Festival, which shares similar dates (and sometimes films) with EIFF – before heading off to the west coast of Sweden for a few days at the Nordic Film Market in chilly Gothenburg.The Market sits alongside the annual Goteborg Film Festival, and allows a look at new Nordic cinema (as usual there are some great new films) and also offers a well-attended series of presentations of Work-in-Progress sessions… essentially an opportunity for filmmakers to show an extract of new projects that are due to be wrapped in coming months. These sessions are attended by representatives of festivals, sales agents, distributors, journalists and financiers and offer a great snapshot of filmmaking from the region.
A trip to Sweden – as a friend commented the other days – also acts as a tasty prelude to the upcoming joys of the Berlin Film Festival in mid-February. Not only are the films and company enjoyable, but it is so cold there that it makes Berlin feel virtually balmy in comparison.