Now one of the prime festivals on many a traveling cineaste's schedule, the International Film Festival Rotterdam began modestly in 1972, but was already hosting in its second year the likes of Fassbinder, Wenders and Marguerite Duras. 31 years later, the festival a major is a major cultural event in Holland, attracting around 350,000 visitors a year. Rotterdam also has what it calls its "own label," Tiger Releases, distributing three to five films to art houses, taking films on a "World Cinema Tour" of 27 cities in the Netherlands and it runs the Hubert Bals Fund, named for the fest's first director, which pumps money into filmmaking in Latin America, Asia, Africa and eastern Europe.
Still, the fun part is being there, and lucky Mark Rabinowitz, the shock of jet lag behind him, will be filling us in on the goings on. I'll be meeting up with him in Berlin, where we'll both be covering the Berlinale starting on February 6. And look for more "almost live" coverage of SXSW from Austin in March. [--dwhudson]
Day One, January 22, 2003, 7am, GMT+1
As my plane circles in for a landing at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport, my eye catches a small bit of lettering on the Delta MD-11 engine outside my window. It looks like it reads: "moist hook." Lack of sleep and the anxiousness that comes with the last hour of a long plane trip causes me to start to giggle, until I realize that more than likely it actually reads "hoist hook." I control my giggles and check to make sure I have all of my important items (passport, ticket, big duty free bottle of cognac...).
We land at the mammoth French hub and I make my way across the expanse by bus to my departure terminal for my connecting flight to Amsterdam. According to my ticket, I have only 50 minutes to make my connection but as we were an hour early, I have plenty of time. Of course when you have extra time, you don't need it and when you need it, etc., etc. I arrive at my departure gate only to find out that my flight has been delayed due to a late arriving aircraft. Find a copy of the Trib, read the bad news about the state of the world. Fatigue spreading through my bones like the plague. Another announcement: The gate agent is very sorry (they always are, aren't they? Especially the French ones...) but due to a technical problem, the flight will be delayed further.
Difference number one between Europeans and Americans noticed on this trip: When there is a technical problem with a plane in the US, it is just that, a technical problem. When there is one is Europe, they actually tell you the specifics. Like I really needed to know that the plane I was about to board needed a new wheel.
As I arrive in Amsterdam, beginning my 21st straight waking hour, I remember that Rotterdam itself has an airport and I make a promise to myself to fly into Rotterdam instead dealing with all these connections. Still ahead of me is a 45-minute train ride to Rotterdam. By the time I arrive at the festival HQ, I am wheezing, limping from throwing out my back shlepping my bags halfway across Europe and smelling like a randy yak after a dip.
Completely out of character for me, but necessary, I decide to skip the opening night film and party and instead sleep, wake up, watch Buffy, order room service and sleep again. Tomorrow starts the marathon of cinema that is the IFFR and Berlin.
Mark snapped this shot of the PathÚ cinemas, the main venue for the festival.
Day Two, Thursday, January 23, 2003
Awake at a normal hour, I make my way to the main fest building and breakfast while making film selections I won't likely get because they are sold out. Note to self (and future IFFR attendees): There is a fantastic new online reservation system. Use it! My first film of the day is a press screening of Azazel Jacobs's world premiere, Nobody Needs to Know. I choose this film over three more heralded films also press screening at the same time, (Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Caller, Lucas Belvaux's La Trilogie I: Un couple Úpatant and Cristina Comencini's Il pi¨ bel giorno della mia vita) due to a sense of loyalty. You see, I went to summer camp with the director. An original and ambitious black-and-white DV project, Nobody is a loosely-structured, quasi-documentary portrait of Iris, an actress who, in the process of auditioning for a film, has finally come to the realization that acting is bullshit and that it's quite possible that she never wanted to do it in the first place.
Played with a steely self-awareness by Tricia Vessey (Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, Trouble Every Day), Iris is a perfect example of someone we'd like to know. A person discovering herself is a wonderful creature to be around. Framing the story of Iris are several installments of filmed auditions of young women playing a death scene. To see Matt Borrum as the director slowly lose his mind while watching an endless parade of abysmal auditions is a treat. Compounding his frustration is the fact that the actress he wants to cast is Iris -- who's had her epiphany and walked out before auditioning.
My other film on Thursday was an evening screening of Finnish director Aki Kaurismńki's Cannes Grand Prix-winning comedy, The Man Without a Past. I must confess that I was hitting a wall during the screening and I nodded at several points during the film. However, since I snore when I sleep in cinemas, I never actually fall asleep so I didn't miss much.
After waking up in a hospital after being beaten and declared dead, M (Markku Peltola) removes his bandages, straightens his broken nose and strolls out of the hospital. The film is an interesting mix of comedy and tragedy with an optimistic bent that can only be described as Scandinavian. Not to pigeonhole all Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Danish films into one category, but there is a common approach to emotions. There is rarely happiness without tragedy and rarely sadness without humor. While pursuing clues as to his identity, M develops a relationship with a Salvation Army officer (Kati Outinen) and slowly carves a place for himself in this new world. The pic ought to reach a nice niche audience in the US if it receives the proper marketing push from those wizards of foreign-language film marketing, Sony Pictures Classics. It is scheduled for a limited release in April of 2003.
Well, faithful readers, it's time for cocktails here in Rotterdam, so I must be off! More, soon!