‘Paju’ opens Rotterdam

Screenings of the 14 Tiger competition pics begin Friday

The Rotterdam Film Festival opened Wednesday with “Paju,” the sophomore feature of South Korean helmer Park Chan-ok. Choice marks a return to familiar ground for the fest after last year’s Hollywood moment, when “Sopranos” thesp Michael Imperioli presented his directing debut, “The Hungry Ghosts.”

“This is the first time that we have had a Korean film as the opening film, and it’s high time that we did,” said fest topper Rutger Wolfson, before introducing Park to a packed theater.

Nine Korean films have appeared in the fest’s competition over the past 15 years, with three taking home Tiger awards. Park won in 2003 with “Jealousy Is My Middle Name.” “Paju” appears this year out of competition.

Set in a city close to the border with North Korea, pic tells the story of a teenager (Seo Woo) and her complex relationship with her older sister’s husband (Lee Seon-Gyoon).

Public screenings of this year’s 14 Tiger competitors begin Friday, including five world preems.

Lineup includes Paz Fabrega’s “Cold Water of the Sea” and Levan Koguashvili’s “Street Days,” the fest’s first competitors from Costa Rica and Georgia, respectively.

The U.S. is represented by the feature debut from Chicago-based filmmaker Ben Russell: “Let Each One Go Where He May” follows two brothers on a journey retracing the slave routes of Suriname.

Winners will be announced Feb. 5.

Fest’s co-production strand CineMart begins Sunday, with 33 projects looking for coin.

Big names in line include Russians helmers Andrei Zvyagintsev (“The Return”) and Alexey Balabanov (“Morphine”) and Mexican Amat Escalante (“Sangre”).

Also kicking off this weekend is Kino Climates, a meeting of more than 30 small and medium-sized independent cinemas from across Europe that will explore options for filling the niche between multiplexes and established arthouses.

Among Rotterdam’s many themes, early buzz centers on “Where is Africa?,” an extensive program devoted to independent filmmaking in sub-Saharan and central Africa. With the region largely unexplored by international film fests, no one knows quite what to expect.