The curtain fell on the 36th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) over the weekend. By Friday morning the business areas of the festival took on that all too familiar "ghost town" feeling that veteran fest goers know is coming but never truly get used to. With CineMart over, more than 800 people pulled out of town, along with their 48 projects, and some prepared to head on to this week's Berlinale and the European Film Market, as well as other CineMart partner events in other countries in their continuing search for funding.
As always, three CineMart projects were selected to "ride" on the Rotterdam-Berlin Express, with an opportunity to pitch their projects at Berlin's co-production market. Those projects are Caroline Strubb's "Lost Person's Area" from Belgium & The Netherlands, Samuel Maoz's Israeli/German co-production, "Lebanon and Jorge" and Gaggero's "Dog Security" (La Seguridad de los Perros) from Argentina.
While CineMart projects often begin here and continue fund raising and development throughout the year, some projects complete their funding in Rotterdam. Both Andrew Bujalski's "Reliable Responses" (USA) and Aktan Arym Kubat's "The Light" (Kyrgyzstan/France/Germany/Belgium) are now ready to begin production due to deals made at CineMart. In addition, Strubb's "Lost Person's Area" is close to securing a deal with German broadcaster ZDF/ARTE.
Another long revered initiative of the IFFR is the Hubert Bals Fund (HBF), described on the festival site as being "...designed to bring remarkable or urgent feature films and feature-length creative documentaries by innovative and talented filmmakers from developing countries closer to completion." Named after IFFR's founding director, the fund is an important cog in the machine that is the global film production engine. Alas, the fund is under siege, with its very existence threatened by new rules enacted by the Dutch parliament and IFFR director Sandra den Hamer made a statement in support of the fund at the festival's opening night.
"The Minister of Foreign Affairs, which is the biggest financier of the Hubert Bals Fund, changed their subsidy system," den Hamer told me this week, continuing, "In this new scheme, cultural projects do not fit in," even though the overall view of the HBF in the government is positive "they think it is very relevant, very efficient," it simply doesn't fit the current rules. The festival made a formal objection in autumn, but the minister who was in office at that time simply pointed to the new rules. The Netherlands is also in a certain amount of political upheaval due to being in the middle of forming a new government, which can't help things.
Den Hamer's concerns are not only for the filmmakers from the developing world who would be impacted severely by the demise of the fund, but also for those who would be deprived of said films. "If we don't cooperate with these filmmakers, we won't see these films from these countries. They will never come to Holland anymore or the West," adding, "It's vital to see films from other regions."
Another major contributor to the IFFR experience (and filmmakers in general) is the Binger Filmlab, an Amsterdam-based screenwriting and development lab that is something like a cross between the Sundance labs and a longer, in depth writer's colony. Screenwriters spend 5 1/2 months in Amsterdam working on their scripts with mentors and in groups with other students. The Binger has had a long relationship with the IFFR and brings projects to both CineMart and the Cannes market. Besides bringing projects to the IFFR and setting up meetings, with the Binger Boutique, a few of the lab's projects formally take part in CineMart.
Binger artistic director Marten Rabarts was enthusiastic about this year's participation in the Cinemart, saying that it "went fantastically well. We actually sneaked in a few more projects because one of the people we selected for our boutique is a producer from New Zealand, Philippa Campbell ("Black Sheep, Rain"). She's now working with three of our writer/directors, so [while] we gave one place to Philippa, she was putting a number of our projects into the marketplace."
Rabarts went on to add that at this year's CineMart, "it's been fantastic to see some of the tastemakers of international arthouse cinema being genuinely excited about some of the work that's coming out (of Binger). There's a level of appreciation for the work that we're doing, coming back from the people whose work we appreciate."
And so, we wrap up yet another year at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and once again the event has proved to be an important stop on the film festival trail for filmmakers and journalists, alike. From CineMart to the Rotterdam Lab to the Hubert Bals Fund and beyond, the IFFR continues to be one of the more important entities in the global independent film world.