By Brandon Harris | Indiewire January 31, 2012 at 10:19AM
The 41st International Film Festival Rotterdam, which opened this past Thursday with the world premiere of Lucas Belvaux’s "38 Temoins" (38 Witnesses), kicked into gear on Sunday morning with the opening of the festival’s annual CineMart.
One of the world's most preeminent co-production and financing markets for feature film projects looking to get under way in the new year, this year CineMart includes 36 projects, up from last year’s total of 33, but down from years' past when CineMart routinely included well over 40 projects. “We had to pass up a lot of projects we really love,” said Tobias Pausinger, co-selector of this year’s CineMart with manager Jacobine van der Vloed. This year’s pool was culled from 465 submissions.
Between the parties, lunches and panels, the core element of CineMart is four full days of "speed date" meetings between project producers and potential financiers, sales agents, distributors and producers. During that time each project is also presented to a jury made up of film industry professionals who award several cash prizes sponsored by organizations like the ARTE France Cinema and the Prince Claus Fund. This year’s jury includes Claire Launay of ARTE France Cinema, Winnie Lau of Fortissimo Films and Petri Kemppinen of Eurimages.
Although the organizers are weary of suggesting any projects are their favorites among those selected, significant buzz around the market has centered on Scottish artist Henry Coombes "Little Dog Boy," "The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted," David Dusa’s follow up to his 2011 Rotterdam and Tribeca selection "Fleurs Du Mal" ("The Flowers of Evil") and "Jomo" by Rwandan filmmaker Kivu Ruhorahoza, whose terrific debut feature "Grey Matter" is in Rotterdam’s selection this year.
Still, the atmosphere at CineMart is a lot different than the hothouse acquisitions environment for completed films that one finds at Toronto, Sundance or Cannes. Even among the highest profile projects, such as Kelly Reichardt’s "Night Moves," no magic bullet single check financier is expected to materialize at a market like this. Producers Anish Savjani and Neil Kopp are here representing Reichardt’s film, which plans to shoot this year and is currently--like all the other projects in CineMart--seeking financing for its low seven-figure budget.
Most of the films in CineMart are here to foster conversations that may eventually lead to a project being financed through the labyrinth of European public financing, pre-selling foreign territories through a sales company who takes on the project or leveraging the bankability of an international movie star for private equity in the countries where state funding is less significant, such as the United States.
Among American films world premiering in Rotterdam, buzz has been strong for both Julia Halparin and Jason Cortland's narrative "Now, Forager: A Film About Love & Fungi," which premiered on Friday afternoon, and Matt McCormick's doc "The Great Northwest," which screened last night.
By day four, major auteurs had already come and gone as the festival settles into its primary business of nurturing new voices. The established names in attendance include Michel Gondry, who was here for the latest incarnation of his "Home Movie Factory" installation project that has already been exhibited in New York, Sao Paulo and Paris, and Takashi Miike, who was on hand for the world premiere of his bizarre and oddly satisfying video game adaptation and otherworldly legal satire "Ace Attorney."
The festival as a whole has slimmed down from previous years, particularly in the seemingly catch-all Bright Future section. Dedicated to first and second time filmmakers, it encompasses the festival’s centerpiece Tiger Award competition, but in the past has included a sprawling number of films not in competition. It has shrunk by 20% this year, according to festival director Rutger Wolfson. "We got tired of competing against ourselves," he confided on the festival’s third night.
The Signals section, which in the past has been a home for giant retrospectives of individual artists as well as eclectically themed programs that often involve non-filmic art world components, is also noticeably smaller this year, with just two strands this year focusing on China and the Arab Spring.
Perhaps the festival's most interesting sidebar in 2012 is "Signals: Power Cut Middle East," which brings into relief everything one comes to expect from the festival. It’s a typically heady and unexpected survey of images from the Arab Spring, including the Western media's role in reproducing them and the ways in which these countries’ difficult pasts, both politically and cinematically, inform their present representations.
The program focuses specifically on Egypt, the site of the Arab Spring’s most high profile revolution, and Syria, home to perhaps the bloodiest ongoing crackdown on civil unrest in the world today.
Experimental Syrian documentaries during the Assad regime's time in power are the focus of the "Suspended Dreams" and "Between the Lines" programs, while the Egyptian "Timelines" tries to foster a dialogue between pre- and post-revolutionary Egypt by pairing films together from before and after the unrest. "Shifting Shores" presents a sampling of recent Arab video art from the aforementioned countries, along with work from Lebanon. Together, these often tiny but miraculous films represent the most significant meditation on the evolving turmoil on the streets of the Middle East this author has come across yet.