Lowland highlights

Studio fare bookends Rotterdam's festival

ROME — In a rare case of studio features bookending an event known for showcasing international independent filmmaking, the curtain goes up tonight on the 29th Rotterdam Intl. Film Festival with the European premiere of Michael Mann’s “The Insider,” and comes down Feb. 6 with Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow.”

“I think these are two filmmakers who have been able to maintain very strong, independent visions while working within the structure of Hollywood cinema,” said Simon Field, now in his fourth year as director of the Netherlands’ largest film event.

Presenting “The Insider” is the acclaimed drama’s Dutch producer Pieter Jan Brugge, who also produced Mann’s “Heat” and Warren Beatty’s “Bulworth.”

Playing on 18 screens in the Dutch harbor town, the Rotterdam fest this year includes 130 world, international and Euro premieres in a program encompassing an extensive main section, the VPRO Tiger Awards competition for first and second features, three Filmmaker in Focus sections and the fest’s customarily eclectic bunch of sidebars. Running concurrently Jan. 30-Feb. 3 is Cinemart, Rotterdam’s independent feature project market.

Tiger entries include U.S. newcomer Mary Kuryla’s “Freak Weather,” Brit helmer Nichola Bruce’s “If I Could Read the Sky”; Antoine Desrosieres’ “Banquerette” from France; Chinese director Lou Ye’s “Suzhou River,” which was partially financed through Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals Fund; and from the Netherlands, “Les Diseurs de verite,” by Karim Traida, who won the fest’s audience award in 1998 with his debut feature, “The Polish Bride.”

“There’s a strong representation of low-budget films both from Asia and Europe in this year’s competition, with an especially broad range of European entries,” said Field.

The Tiger competition carries three equally ranked prizes of $10,000, plus guaranteed offers for Dutch distribution and TV acquisition, bringing the total prize value to roughly $25,000 each. Comprising the international jury are directors Ann Hui and Abderrahmane Sissako, former October Films topper Bingham Ray, photographer Rineke Dijkstra and Michel Reilhac, director of the Forum des Images in Paris.

Among world premieres in other sections are feature documentaries “Breathe in Breathe Out” by Beth B. and “Family Secrets” by Pola Rapaport, both from the U.S.; French director Tony Gatlif’s “Born of a Stork”; German veteran Doris Dorrie’s “Enlightenment Guaranteed”; and Kazakh new wave director Serik Aprymov’s “Three Brothers.”

Highlight of this year’s sidebars will be “No Cherry Blossoms — Japan in the Year 2000,” a special program of some 80 features and shorts assembled to mark the 400th anniversary of cultural and trade relations between Japan and the Netherlands.

“This is a very substantial program with a strong range of indies and a good opportunity to see the new Japanese horror films,” said Field. “There are some emerging figures like Takashi Miike, whose work I think is certain to attract attention, as will the yakuza thrillers of Kinji Fukasaku.”

A significant figure in Japanese cinema of the 1960s and ’70s, his films have not been widely seen up to now in the West. The Fukasaku spotlight represents the first substantial international tribute to his work. The show has been picked up to screen at the Los Angeles Cinematheque later this year.

As part of Cinemart and of the fest’s expanded Exploding Cinema section on new media, panel discussions will focus on the digital age.

These will examine the impact of the digital boom on production and distribution, its legal implications and, in the annual Hubert Bals confab, its implications for Third World cinema. Speakers include Sony Digital’s Robert Tercek, Michael Nash of the Madison Project, rapper Ice-T and producer Scott Macauley.

Directors presenting new projects at Cinemart this year include Hal Hartley, Nina Menkes, Mark Rappaport and Peter Friedman from the U.S., Canadian filmmaker John Greyson, Friedrick Thor Fredrikson from Iceland, Mexican Carlos Carreira and Dutch helmer Alex van Warmerdam.

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