Rotterdam builds buzz

Fest carves out cutting-edge pedigree, flags new talent

ROTTERDAM — Now in its 35th edition, the Rotterdam Film Festival may be one year younger than Berlin, but the event (Jan. 25-Feb. 5), has succeeded in carving out a cutting-edge pedigree and a track record for flagging new talent.

Principal competish the VPRO Tiger Awards, with its annual prize coin of some E30,000 ($36,000), regularly awards talent such as Russia’s Ilya Khrzhanovsky, China’s Lou Ye and the U.S.’ Christopher Nolan.

The fest’s Hubert Bals Fund allots some $1 million annually to develop pics from non-Western territories. Projects from Hubert Bals and Cinemart, the godfather of co-production funding marts, frequently end up in competition in Cannes, San Sebastian, Toronto and back at Rotterdam.

With a pull of some 350,000 visitors and 2,500 professionals annually, fest is the largest in Europe after Berlin. This year it unspools 250 features, among them 52 world, 17 international and 20 European premieres.

“Our reputation is for being risky and daring, and for underscoring the artist side of cinema, rather than the industrial side,” says fest director Sandra Den Hamer.

Where other fests are struggling to grapple with the new era of multiplatform visual entertainment, she says Rotterdam “has always been out there” cinematically. She cites this year’s new Exploding TV sidebar, featuring the works of experimental and activist TV makers, among them London’s Ambient TV.

Filmmaker in Focus sidebar this year feature avant-gardist Stephen Dwoskin and Japanese helmer Shunichi Nagasaki, whose pic “Hearts, Beating in the Dark” opens the fest.

U.S. visual artist Sarah Morris, with her paintings and experimental films, is this year’s choice for Artist in Focus while sidebar White Light focuses on films about drugs.

While the fest may be leaning toward the artsy side, Rotterdam clearly is open for business. Tiger winners are guaranteed distribution in Holland, but increasingly those in competition are picked up before the fest opens.

“Sales agents, much more than ever before, are requesting tapes of the films in competition,” adds Den Hamer. Dutch lenser David Lammer’s “Northern Light” and U.S. helmer Robert Edwards’ “Land of the Blind” have already been picked off by Indies Entertainment and One More Film, respectively.

Cinemart, which funds 85% of all of its projects, is improving its batting average when it comes to projects completing funding and pushing on to other fests or being picked up for distribution.

Hany Abu Assad’s 2001 “Paradise Now” was sold to 52 territories by Celluloid Dreams and is Palestine’s entry for the Oscar for foreign-language film. Cinemart was responsible for 40% of the funding of “Something Like Happiness,” says producer Pavel Strnad, Pic pushed on to Toronto and San Sebastian on completion.

Viktoria Petranyi, producer of “Johanna,” a film that went on to Un Certain Regard in Cannes in 2005, didn’t get the gap financing she was out for at Cinemart, but picked up contacts for projects she expects to be closing in the near future.

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