Rotterdam: Living extra large

Fest celebrates 40 years with more films, exhibs

Rotterdam topper Rutger Wolfson put off reading the biography of festival founder Hubert Bals until last year. “I was worried about being overcome by nostalgia,” he explains.

But as the fest celebrates its 40th anniversary, the encounter with the past has been reassuring.

“In terms of programming, the festival is still very true to the artistic principles of the early years,” Wolfson says. “The programming then was rather uncompromising, and that is still what we do. The only big difference is scale.”

The size of the festival is the theme of this year’s celebrations, under the banner Rotterdam XL (for extra large and 40 in Roman numerals).

“We have 40 extra locations this year, where there are art installations or special screenings of films. That will make for a festive program but also (involve) the city, which has always supported the festival so much.”

One of the extra locations is a whole new cinema, since regular festival haunt the Lantaren Venster has relocated across the river to a new building designed by Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza.

“Going there adds a little bit to the whole experience of the festival, because it’s a very beautiful location on the river,” Wolfson says. “It’s cliche, but it’s very cinematic.”

Within the 40-year celebration of the festival will be a 15-year celebration of its Tiger awards. Return of the Tiger will feature 20 new films by directors who were once in competition with first or second movies. These include “Meek’s Cutoff” by Kelly Reichardt, “Oki’s Movie” by Hong Sang-Soo and “Robinson in Ruins” by Patrick Keiller.

“There are a great many international names that are forever associated with Rotterdam because they were in competition here in the past. This Return of the Tiger program makes that visible,” Wolfson says.

As well as celebrating, Wolfson wants to look to the future, however unnerving that may be.

“There will be some serious cultural budget cuts in the Netherlands, but we don’t know yet what it will mean for the festival. We don’t even know when we will know,” he says.

“We’re concerned about that, but we are also quite confident, because we are such a large, audience-based festival. We see potential ways to keep our financial basis healthy, among other things by involving our audience more in supporting the festival.”

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