No political tone left unturned

Fest Traveler: Rotterdam Film Festival 2012

The Rotterdam Film Festival is slimming down this year, reducing the number of pics on offer and bringing greater focus to its previously sprawling schedule.

“We came to the conclusion that we were competing with ourselves,” says Rutger Wolfson, the fest’s director. “There were too many films, too many programs. We wanted something smaller so that we could give the new films and the special programs more of the attention they deserve.”

The festival’s Bright Future section, which covers first and second films, will shrink by roughly 20% so that there are significantly fewer features and shorts running alongside the Tiger competitions.

“Professionals who come to Rotterdam will get a sharper selection of new films,” Wolfson says.

There will also be fewer strands in the Signals section, which gathers together retrospectives and themed programs. This continues a streamlining that Wolfson began when he took over as director in 2008 and re-structured the festival.

The resulting section has a strong political tone, thanks to programs on China and the Arab Spring.

The Hidden Histories strand consists of recent films by Chinese documentary makers and work by the artist Ai Weiwei. These share a focus on hidden aspects of Chinese society, such as poverty, corruption and misrule, along with a clandestine domestic existence.

Power Cut Middle East combines recent films and visual art from the region, with a focus on Syria and Egypt. This includes playing host to the Damascus Visual Arts Festival, effectively in exile because of the political unrest in Syria.

“These are both programs that reflect our interest in how we can see the world through film and how it makes developments visible,” says Wolfson.

The main retrospective will be a survey of films from Sao Paulo’s Boca do Lixo, or Mouth of Garbage, neighborhood. These quick and dirty productions, dating from the 1960s to the 1980s, brought out the sleazy underbelly of Brazilian society using genres such as horror, the western and pornography.

Finally, the fest’s theoretical concerns are taken up in the For Real program, which explores the boundary between cinema and reality.

“Those four programs, in a slimmed-down festival, reflect what we are looking for and what we are interested in,” says Wolfson.

The decision to reduce has nothing to do with the slight dip in visitor numbers last year.

“The visitor numbers are complex, and when we look closely at them we’re not concerned,” he says.

Wolfson is similarly positive about the financial situation. The fest took an early hit from the global economic crisis in 2008, but as a result has had several years to explore alternative fund raising options. This puts it ahead of other Dutch cultural institutions now that public coin is being squeezed.

“I think we are in quite a good position, because we have such a large and loyal audience,” Wolfson says. “They appreciate the festival, and we are doing a lot to get them more involved in supporting the festival financially. The first signs are pretty promising.”

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