ROTTERDAM 2000 DIARY: Arriving in Rotterdam, or Can I Smoke This Here?
by Mark Rabinowitz
(01.31.00) [indieWIRE's coverage of the 29th International Film Festival Rotterdam begins today. Each weekday for the next two weeks, we will be bringing you reviews and festival reports. More from the Rabbi, as well as writers Mark Peranson, Mark Adams, Edward Crouse and G. Allen Johnson coming your way.]
Boarding my KLM flight for The Netherlands, I almost expected to be greeted at the door of the plane by a flight attendant with a tray of joints. So much of the conversation in New York before I left was about pot, that you would think that it's the only reason for going to Holland. Wait. . . it isn't?
Wait, why am I going again? Oh yeah, the Rotterdam International Film Festival (IFFR). 11 days in post-war rebuilt Rotterdam, catching up on the newest cinema that The Netherlands and the rest of Europe have to offer, not to mention a huge selection of Asian films, anime and selected US films. I'm going to watch movies and mingle with cinephiles from all over the world. Oh yeah, and smoke a lot of dope.
While turbulently winging my way across the Atlantic in the tourist class of a mammoth KLM 747-400, I had my first gin and tonic about 30 minutes after takeoff. Well, sort of. The Dutch must have a different idea of a gin and tonic than we borderline-alcoholic Americans do. Two small ice cubes barely chilled my drink and there, floating on the surface was a wedge of lemon.
While perusing the list of guests expected at the festival, the first thing that entered my mind was: who among these people would be a gas to get baked with? Johnny Depp? For sure. Ice-T? Oh yeah. Christina Ricci? Hell, yes! Bingham Ray? Need you ask? Terrence Stamp? Well, you get the picture. I promise to try my best not to dwell on herb for the entire 2 weeks I am in The Netherlands. Really.
The flight to Europe is short enough so that real sleep isn't a possibility, but the time difference is large enough (6 hrs.) to really fuck you up. I left New York at 6:15 pm, and 7 hours later, it's 7:15 in the morning. Combine that with the no-sleep, much booze regimen that I follow on each and every flight and you get a guy getting off the plane who looks like 10 pounds of shit stuffed into a five-pound bag.
Getting off the plane and through customs was a breeze. Customs didn't exist! All the guidebooks tell you that in addition to being very friendly, the Dutch almost all speak English. Imagine my surprise, then, when I happened upon the only cab driver that didn't. Needless to say, we didn't chat much, although he did tell me that the correct pronunciation of the airport's name is SKI-pole.
Still in a jet-lagged haze from lack of sleep, Wednesday morning I made my way to Central Station to catch the train to Rotterdam. After a leisurely ride through some beautiful lowland countryside (including passing through The Hague, the site of the International Court of Justice), I arrived in Rotterdam, cabbed it to my hotel, unpacked, then made my way the few blocks to the festival HQ at the Rotterdam Hilton.
After checking in, I finally meet Lucius Barre, the IFFR's international liaison, in person. He immediately started introducing me to anyone and everyone, all of whose names and occupations he knew. A much admired and appreciated facility, he made a festival first-timer feel that he knew some folks right off the bat. Later in the week, many of the usual suspects from the US indie world (Bingham Ray, Jed Alpert, Mary Jane Skalski, Marcus Hu, etc.) are expected, but on opening day, it's pretty much Europe in the house.
Opening night at Rotterdam is both a gala and relaxed affair. This year's film was Michael Mann's fave for 1999 Oscar nods, "The Insider." I had planned to attend, but my 30-minute nap turned into an hour and a half, and I missed the screening. I made it in time for the party, though (don't I always?), and was greeted by trays full of champagne, and some finger food. Like many other festivals with a large industry component, Rotterdam's opening night was like "old home week," with friends and fest buddies shaking hands and hugging and kissing (three time on alternating cheeks) hello.
Some of the folks that I had been introduced to by Lucius showed up, including Wouter Barendrecht, co-chairman of Fortissimo Film Sales in Hong Kong. He seemed in good spirits after his 13-14 hour flight, while I, a day removed from my paltry 7-hour trip was a waste. Damn these people who pay attention to advice about traveling and sleep on planes! Also mixing in the crowd was Montreal Festival of New Cinema topper, Claude Chamberlain, who was kind enough to give me a couple of drink tickets after the free champagne ran out.
The evening wound down at about 2AM, and the fest promises to be an interesting one, with quite a lot of good films. We'll be looking at Abbas Kiarostami's "The Wind Will Carry Us," then Zhang Yimou's "Not One Less," Sophia Coppola's "Virgin Suicides," Christopher Wilcha's "The Target Shoots First," Exploding Cinema, New Japanese Films, and the race for Rotterdam's Tiger awards. And, of course, Superskunk!