International Film Festival of Rotterdam

Part I

Filed under: Blog |

This is the fourth installment of an ongoing series written for the blog by Peter Rorvik. Peter is the Director of the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, as well as Director of the Durban International Film Festival.

The International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR) is a cool festival. This is not to say it is a hip, little niche festival. Far from it. IFFR is huge, probably the largest cultural event in the Netherlands, attracting attendance of over 274,000. It is different from the other major festivals in Europe such as Cannes, Berlin and Venice, because despite its size and prominence, there is no red carpet here, and the star-driven media frenzy is refreshingly absent. With lots of great films – 550 to choose from – IFFR has a very business-like attitude.

The broad spread of festival offerings include experimental cinema, art installations, contemporary culture programs, multi-media shows, music events, and parties every night (if you are connected). Alongside the Tiger Competition and the well-stocked Bright Future and Spectrum sections, themed programs in the various Signals sections included “Power Cut Middle East” – a series of films giving cinematic insight into so-called Arab Spring countries, the “Mouth of Garbage” celebration of raucous and subversive Brazilian cinema, and the “Hidden Histories” program focusing on China. “Signal Regained” explores classic cinema, while “Signals For Real” mashes up cinema with experiences outside the screening room, including new media and smart phones. Children and youth are catered to in the “Kids on the Floor” section. There is also film business going on at IFFR’s CineMart, the world’s longest-running co-production market, a 4-day industry gathering where selected film projects meet with financiers, sales agents and potential co-producers, and lots of meetings and networking on the side. This is close to my heart as our festival, the Durban International Film Festival, along with the Durban Film Office and in cooperation with CineMart, three years ago initiated the Durban FilmMart, partially modeled on CineMart, but exclusively for African film projects.

The Tiger Award competition offers a significant breakout (break-in?) platform for first or second time feature film directors – winners this year were Maja Milos’ Clip (Serbia), Dominga Sotomayor’s De jueves a domingo (Chile/The Netherlands) and Huan Ji’s Egg and Stone (China). However, I would like to highlight three excellent films from the Spectrum and Bright Future sections of the festival that I hope do not slip between the cracks.

The festival’s opening film 38 Witnesses is a taut drama by Lucas Belvaux of France surrounding a murder outside an apartment block in le Havre, France. It is not the murder as much as the fact that not one of the 38 residents saw or heard anything. Or did they? Pricked by his conscience, one of the residents admits having heard the cries of the victim, and slowly we learn that he was not alone. Why would people remain silent? Belvaux takes us inside the question, cleverly, beguilingly. It lingers long after the credits have rolled.

Experienced Hong Kong director Ann Hui’s A Simple Life has garnered a string of awards since its premiere in Venice last August. At 118 minutes it is a tad long perhaps, and at times slow moving, as befits the old-age setting, but never dull. The sensitive characterization, especially in the role played by Deannie Ip, makes the seemingly simple story in A Simple Life eminently watchable. Ip plays Tao, an aging domestic maid who has worked for many generations of the same family. She is employed by Roger, played by Hong Kong star Andy Lau, who in real life is Ip’s godson. After Tao suffers a stroke she resigns and goes to live in a retirement home. This is where the relationship flips, and Roger slowly devotes more and more time to caring for her. The film gets you thinking about how society cares, or doesn’t care, for its ageing population, and how the aged are often discarded in the twilight time of their lives. The turnabout premise in this film, where servant becomes served, is certainly not the norm. If only it were so.

Part II coming tomorrow!