Leader embraces radical movement

Wolfson brings in live elements, non-film arts

Rutger Wolfson is keen to avoid having the word “interim” stick to his title of artistic director of the Intl. Film Festival Rotterdam.

“The festival has great potential to put certain new developments or certain questions on the agenda,” he says.

One such development is the overlap and exchange between cinema and the visual arts, which Wolfson has made a highlight of the 2008 fest under the banner Free Radicals.

This picks up a theme emerging from previous years, but also plays to Wolfson’s expertise: His other job is directing De Vleeshal, a contemporary art center in the Dutch town of Middelburg.

“It’s about very energetic makers who prefer to make very pure work and don’t really want to comply with the rules of the visual industry,” he says, pointedly dropping the “film” prefix from “makers.”

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“You see, for example, a lot of young makers embracing new digital technologies and using them to make new work, but you also see a reaction where certain makers want to go back to the source, want to go back to celluloid, really embrace that and try to invent and investigate new ways of making film and projecting film.”

After the departure of Sandra den Hamer, Wolfson was appointed just for the 2008 edition, buying time for the fest board to find a permanent topper. But he insists that the festival program and organization cannot stand still.

Free Radicals dips into several of the fest’s programs. Filmmaker Robert Breer and artist Cameron Jamie are given retrospectives in the Focus program, while a selection of unconventional young artists will be shown in the Exploding Cinema section alongside installations by U.S. veteran Paul Sharits.

Meanwhile, the short film program will look at do-it-yourself cinema in Starting From Scratch.

Wolfson has also brought out the “live” element in the festival, with bands accompanying some films and appearances by artists whose performances depend on film. “It brings back the necessity to be in a certain place at a certain time for an experience,” he says.

This is also woven into the Cinema Regained program with Pieces Uniques, single screenings of films that were the director’s only work, yet which still have a large impact. “At every screening we try to figure what makes them so special that the maker put all of his effort and energy into this one production,” Wolfson says.

This is one of the things he thinks makes Rotterdam stand out.

“It’s a film festival that gives a lot of context to films. We talk about young filmmakers, but we also reflect on the genre and the history of the genre.”

He’s particularly keen on the way the festival, its CineMart and the Hubert Bals Fund work together so that filmmakers are supported throughout the development of their projects and their careers.

With a remit only to ensure that the 2008 edition runs smoothly, Wolfson is reluctant to speculate too much on the years to come.

“The board is still looking and talking to possible candidates, but they now see me as one of the possible candidates,” he says, adding that he hasn’t yet been asked to stay on. “They will decide only after the festival, and I won’t think about it before they ask me.”

He has tried to make the festival easier for visitors to negotiate. “In the past there have been so many program sections that it was easy to get lost a little bit within the festival,” he says.

For 2008 there is a clear division into nine programs, with subthemes such as Free Radicals either within or spanning fest programs.

While clearly enthusiastic about Free Radicals, Wolfson is quick to point out that this is just a small part of what Rotterdam has to offer. He does not intend to interfere with its successful formula.

“The profile that we have as a very artistically orientated festival, developing and looking for new talent, I think that’s what really sets the Rotterdam Film Festival apart from other festivals at this very busy festival period,” he says.