FESTIVALS: 6 Down, 6 To Go, Halfway At Rotterdam
by Mark Rabinowitz
(indieWIRE/ 01.30.02) -- The 31st International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), running Jan. 23-Feb. 3, is approaching the halfway point, and while the European biz community has been here from the start, some familiar U.S. faces are beginning make their presence felt. Rotterdam is the first leg of the powerful and exhaustive Rotterdam/Berlinale double bill; between them, the two screen more than 400 films, with several hundred more screening at the European Film Market, also at Berlin. As with any large collection of untested artistic output, many of these films will not be worth seeing. This makes for a mad scrum of international buyers, sellers and programmers over the few golden tickets.
The fests are also a time to announce new jobs, new companies and new partnerships. Over the past few days, there has been a handful of such communiqués, and there are likely to be more. Following last month's news that Christa Saredi and Helen Loveridge were dissolving their World Sales company, comes the news that Ms. Loveridge is moving to Seattle to take on the position of Managing Director of Cinema Seattle, the organization that runs the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF). Loveridge's decision takes her away from her European base in the international sales game.
Prior to her involvement with World Sales, Loveridge partnered with Wouter Barendrecht at Fortissimo Films and Loveridge and Cinema Seattle exec director Darryl Macdonald have been friends since the 80s. "I already knew I was looking for a change," said Loveridge, "and when I heard about a dream job in a dream city with a good friend, I was prepared to do a lot to get it." As far as what Loveridge's duties will entail, Macdonald said "personally, I want [Helen] for both the artistic side and the business side. It will liberate me from the double burden of overseeing the business side and running (the festival) artistically. Helen's strength on the business side is a godsend for the organization."
With over 200 features spread throughout the various sections at Rotterdam, distribution companies from around the world can expect a large selection of potential acquisitions. In the past few days, Cowboy Pictures' Noah Cowan, Strand Releasing's Marcus Hu, Artistic License's Sande Zeig and UA's Jack Turner have all rolled into town, some doing double duty as participants in CineMart, the festival's market for unfinished work.
"It's a great market for completed films," said Strand co-president Marcus Hu. "The CineMart is a great place to see works-in-progress or (learn about) projects that will be done in about two years," he continued. "It's also a great place to make contacts and meet filmmakers, (because it's) more convivial than a big place like Cannes. It has less of a harried pace, and is really intimate and filmmaker friendly." Hu also pointed out another advantage of the IFFR, that since it's the first major international festival of the calendar year, "you can track a lot of great films and talk with sales agents about films that they'll have (at other fests) during the rest of the year."
For U.S.-based filmmakers, Rotterdam is the first stop on the European acquisitions trail. Two such directors attending the IFFR are Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky, here with the world premiere of their film, "Horns and Halos," a doc about the battle over author J.W. Hatfield's bio of President George W. Bush, "Fortunate Son." As for securing distribution, Hawley and Galinsky are a low-impact team. "We have no entourage," said Galinsky, "so it's hard to make those connections. We looked through the guide and tried to find people who might think (our film) is relevant." This is the duo's first time at the IFFR with a feature (Galinsky was here several years ago with a made-for-TV short film), and the two are hopeful that some good will come from their trip. "This is the world premiere, so no one knows anything about [the film]. It's an interesting situation."
A number reps of world circuit festivals have also made the trip to Rotterdam, including Edinburgh, Nantucket, Seattle, Melbourne, Vancouver, Copenhagen, Montreal, Newport, Urban World and the Hamptons, among others. New Edinburgh exec director Shane Danielsen is one IFFR vet who has definite opinions of what he is seeking at the festival. "I am looking to increase the quotient of experimental work (at Edinburgh) and challenge the notion of what constitutes a film in the classic sense," said Danielsen. "There are certainly a number of visual artists out there who consider themselves filmmakers rather than artists working in film. For me, it's a matter of bridging the gulf between the gallery and the cinema, and reconciling those hitherto rather separate audiences." Danielsen also lamented the recent dearth of good comedic films, remarking that almost every good film currently on the circuit is either "solemn and or actively depressing."
AFI Film Festival executive director Christian Gaines is also in attendance at Rotterdam, along with director of programming Nancy Collet. For Gaines, one of the most important aspects of the IFFR is the annual Hubert Bals Fund Harvest, a selection of films that have received financial support from the Hubert Bals fund, which has helped finance over 350 films since 1988. Gaines also considers the festival a prime spot for spotting "emerging themes from developing countries." As the AFI fest is a November event, Gaines and Collet have just begun their global programming trek. "This really is a discovery festival in a lot of ways," said Gaines. "It's our first 'what's out there' fest. It lays the foundation for the year's tracking."