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January 29, 2001 2:00 AM
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FESTIVALS: Who Wants A Surprise? 30th Rotterdam Fest Begins

FESTIVALS: Who Wants A Surprise? 30th Rotterdam Fest Begins

by Mark Peranson



(indieWIRE/ 01.29.01) --Long known as the independent darling of the European film festival circuit, the Rotterdam Film Festival has a reputation for down-to-earth, if not just plain uninteresting, opening nights. (To call them ceremonies would be doing the word a disservice.) Yet, last Wednesday, here I -- and 5,000 other film fans -- found ourselves standing outside of the Pathe multiplex and being treated to one hundred foot plumes of billowing fire, something dubbed "Dante's Organ," followed by a simultaneous seventeen-screen showing, each film a surprise. According to one person in the press office, they were all to be "international premieres"; according to another, that wasn't the case -- he knew which films were playing, but not in what theatre. What the hell is going on here?


The festival most recently known for shocks (see prior spotlight directors Catherine Breillat and Sicilian shit-disturbers Cipri and Maresco) has turned to surprise. If the first few days are any indication, it is true that Rotterdam is getting bigger, and bigger rarely means better; the organizational missteps, numerous sell-outs and agonizingly long ticket lines are commonplace to pretty much any event of its size. And there doesn't seem to be much complaining -- more of a sense of sublime resignation to a lost past. This year, the festival moved its headquarters from the "third world" Hilton to the more spacious De Doelen conference center down the road, yielding an even greater loss of intimacy. (The press screenings are unfolding in a massive auditorium with a super new sound system, and pew-like seats.)


But all the pomp should be credited to the dual celebration unfolding over the next ten days: the 30th anniversary of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and the naming of Rotterdam, along with Portugal, as co-European cultural capitals for the year 2001. In honor of this, the festival has commissioned ten DV short films from Rotterdam regulars like Jem Cohen, Chris Petit, and former Tiger competition winners Lou Ye and Pablo Trapero. Two days later, the Queen herself was to make an appearance -- you know you're big when you've got royalty, and, you know when you're among the biggest when you've got Maggie and Tony.


But back to the opening night. Entering the Pathe, the lucky few patrons (many of whom were passholders or who had won tickets in a draw), were given a placard with the surprise selections. Promising offerings included Christopher Nolan's "Memento", Tony and Maggie in Wong Kar-wai's "In the Mood for Love," Buddhadeb Dasgupta's "Uttara," a trio of Russian documentaries by Victor Kossarovsky, preceded by a new and supposedly unimpressive Hal Hartley short, and, to round it all off, Dutch-subtitled versions of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." How's that for Rotterdam in a nutshell?


Prior to the dubious go-karting spectacle, the lucky few in Pathe 3 were treated to spotlight director Roy Andersson's 1991 short "World of Glory," another nasty slice of deranged humanism that seems to be Andersson's response to Kieslowski's "The Decalogue, "while prefiguring "Songs from the Second Floor" in its loosely connected structure. The highly anticipated Andersson retro -- I say highly anticipated because all of the screenings are sold out, but that increasingly seems like par for the course -- also includes a selection of his commercial work, "two" docs on the making of "Songs from the Second Floor," and Andersson's first two features. And before the short, I should add, came a once in a lifetime experience -- a trailer made specifically for the opening night with festival director Simon Field sprinting through the streets of Rotterdam wearing ruby red sneakers that would make Dorothy jealous.


Flipping through the Rotterdam catalogue is an embarrassment of riches (some of the program mistranslations from Dutch to English are just plain embarrassments). There are over 250 features, more than 90 shorts, and numerous museum installations. Besides the over 60 world or international premieres, the most notable American film is Jesse Peretz's "The Chateau," his follow-up to "First Love, Last Rights," starring Paul Rudd. Other choice bits culled from last year's festival premieres that have yet to show up stateside, include Jan Svankmajer's "Otesanek" and Shinozaki Makoto's "Not Forgotten."


As always, it's the Asian program that promises the most controversy and attention. Debuting at Rotterdam is the new "final cut" of Jia Zhangke's Venice, Toronto, NY et al sensation "Platform," now being repped by Celluloid Dreams, who have promised "an entirely different film." The first of two more "Surprise films" is the Locarno Golden Leopard winner, Wang Shuo's "Baba." And there are new works from last year's spotlight director, Kinji Fukasaku (the box-office smash "Battle Royale"), and his Japanese compatriots Junji Sukamoto (the Fukasaku-inspired "Another Battle") and Sogo Ishii (both "Gojoe" and a new hour-long superhero sketch meets thrash video, "Electric Dragon 80,000 V"). One Asian film surprisingly absent is the super-terrific Thai "Fa Talai Jone," which rumor has it has been nabbed for a slot in Cannes' Un Certain Regard program.


I've been told that it is also supposed to be a strong year for Dutch films, and am looking forward to Cyrus Frisch's "Forgive Me," a supposedly antagonistic docudrama with real life junkies and alcoholics "playing" themselves that sounds like an episode of Jerry Springer. (The other film that comes recommended is "Met grote blijdschap.") Also hyped are a few Tiger Competition films, the German "in den tag hienen," the Japanese "Bad Company," the English "My Brother Tom," and the Chinese "All the Way."


I'm also looking forward to seeing new documentaries from Peter Lynch ("Cyberman") and Jonathan Nossiter ("Perdero il filo"), which I'll be reporting on later in the festival. I'll hedge my bets on saying what the standouts will be, though. Isn't being surprised what going to a film festival is all about?


[Mark Peranson is the editor of Cinema Scope magazine (insound.com/zinestand/cscope) and a programmer for the Vancouver International Film Festival.]

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