It seems that each year I attend the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), the business side of the event grows, which I suppose is only natural for a festival as successful as this one. In recent years the festival's now legendary co-production market CineMart, has developed new initiatives with new partners from all over the world, all in order to continue their goals of helping filmmakers realize their vision. In 2001 the CineMart International Trainee Project (later renamed the Rotterdam Lab) was born and a few years later the IFFR along with the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) launched the Rotterdam-Berlin Express, where three projects from the CineMart would travel to Berlin to continue meetings with an eventual goal of production.
Additionally, CineMart has, over the years, been able to create alliances with various film organizations around the world in order to offer support to CineMart projects after they leave Rotterdam, including the Berlinale, the Producer's Network at the Marche du Film in Cannes and the Sithengi Film & Television Market in South Africa. In the Rotterdam Lab, producers from all over the world (42 in 2006) are nominated by partner organizations, including America's Independent Feature Project (IFP), Australian Film Commission, KOFIC (South Korea), the National Film Development Corporation India and the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa.
I chatted briefly with Film Finders' Sydney Levine and Peter Belsito and the pair gave me their thoughts on the IFFR and the various aspects of this huge event (700 shorts and features, over 450,000 admissions). Rotterdam, particularly the CineMart, which is the part of Rotterdam that we've always been involved with...has been a doorway to up and coming world cinema but at a very early stage," said Belsito, continuing, "The projects at [IFFR] are really just past the end of script development and some don't even have finished scripts yet but are at the point of beginning to put together packages for financing and to look for companies to get into alliances with."
Expanding on that, Belsito went on to remark that the wide scope of programming at the IFFR and the range of projects selected for CineMart "... puts us at the leading edge of world cinema and these are the films that next year and the year after are going to be going to Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, Sundance, and Rotterdam of course."
The programming aspect of the fest also has an impact on the business that Film Finders and other companies do at an event like Rotterdam. It's often been my theory (not exactly a revolutionary one, I'll grant you) that Rotterdam was the real beginning of the year for international films, since the focus of Sundance is American indies. "If we're talking about the start of the calendar year, I think you'd have to look at a festival like Palm Springs," said Belsito, pointing out that this year's slate was very heavy with non-US fare. Levine, clearly not using the calendar year as a basis for her 'year' adds that "I thought Toronto always was the first stop, but this year I feel like Rotterdam is because Toronto has gotten to be such big business...so big, people complain about it. People don't complain about Rotterdam," adding that she only spent two days in Toronto last September.
As Sidney Levine said, as we ended our chat on Tuesday, CineMart indeed "leads the world in co-production markets, which are not proliferating around the world... It's still the best for world cinema." There's no doubt about that, and in my next dispatch you'll hear from Sandra den Hamer, director of the IFFR and founder of CineMart on the festival in general and a potential threat to the Hubert Bals Fund as well as Marten Rabarts, the artistic director of the Binger Filmlab, an Amsterdam-based feature film development center.