'Soprano' star makes his directing debut

Gotham comes to the 38th Rotterdam Film Festival today when “The Sopranos” thesp Michael Imperioli is due to open the Dutch event with “The Hungry Ghosts,” his helming debut.

Pic recounts the crossed destinies of a group of isolated New Yorkers, all in search of happiness. Imperioli is expected to be joined for the film’s world bow by cast members Steve Schirripa, Sharon Angela and Nick Sandow. “The Hungry Ghosts” is one of 14 first and second features competing for the VPRO Tiger Awards. The three winners of the fest’s top honor will be announced Jan. 30.

The Tigers have a new face this year thanks to a makeover masterminded by fest topper Rutger Wolfson. Brought in at short notice to ensure last year’s edition ran smoothly, Wolfson has had time to put his mark on this year’s event.

The nine sections of 2008 have been merged into three, each mixing features, shorts, art installations and live performances. Bright Future presents new works by novice filmmakers, Spectrum covers more seasoned artists, while Signals presents thematic programs and retrospectives.

The aim is to give innovative work with images a more central place in the fest while making the program easier for visitors to negotiate.

Forty-three features will make their world bow, and there are 35 international debuts and 34 European preems. On the industry side, co-production market CineMart presents 36 projects in search of coin, with 800 delegates booked to discuss possible deals.

Rotterdam Lab, a school for new production talent, features a new program on do-it-yourself distribution and cross-media platform storytelling, with workshops from Stateside filmmakers Lance Weiler and Brian Chirls. Fifty producers beginning their international careers will participate.

The fest closes on Feb. 1.

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