The wait is over: Intl. Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), set to kick off on Jan. 25, is returning for its first full on-site edition in three years.

“We are finally able to present the reshaped program as it was intended: in cinemas across Rotterdam. We find it incredibly encouraging to see that the number of accredited guests is similar to pre-COVID editions,” says festival director Vanja Kaludjercic.

Alongside IFFR’s Tiger competition strand, which celebrates innovative and adventurous up-and-coming filmmakers, there are retrospectives of Judit Elek, Stanya Kahn, Arc and Japanese animator Yuasa Masaaki, as well as “Sunshine State,” Steve McQueen’s much-anticipated artwork, originally commissioned for the festival’s 50th anniversary back in 2021.

“It’s great to see that this extra time has allowed it to evolve into what it is today: a monumental two-channel video projection that will surely move all those who witness it,” she adds. “With this commission, we continue the decades-long IFFR tradition of championing cinematic art, in all its shapes and forms.”

The idea of “expanding and diversifying” has been on her team’s mind for a while now — apart from introducing its Media Outreach & Inclusion Scheme, aiming to welcome diverse voices to the festival, IFFR announced its new team lineup and structure in May.

The 52nd edition will also feature previously underrepresented countries, with Asian, African and Middle Eastern titles claiming the spotlight such as India-centered “The Shape of Things to Come?” section to a slew of Hong Kong films, including Tony Leung ChiuWai starrer “Where the Wind Blows” and “A Light Never Goes Out” by Anastasia Tsang, offering a glimpse into “the wider spectrum of what different national cinemas have to offer.”

“Think, for instance, of our Indonesian titles this year, which include a satirical mid-length title, auteur cinema and female-centered superhero film,” notes Kaludjercic, mentioning “Like & Share” by Gina S. Noer or “Sri Asih” by Upi Avianto, which “puts Marvel to shame.”

“IFFR has a long history with presenting genre works. Whereas before they were clustered together in special programs, now, we don’t make such distinc-

tions,” she says. “Brilliant cinema can take place in many forms. The most important thing is that we look everywhere, and that we are there for diverse audiences.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by the director of the opening film “Munch,” Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken, exploring the life of the famed painter Edvard Munch through four intertwining storylines and with four different actors.

“I love genre and I think that part of me has helped me make this movie,” he says. “If this film says something about the festival to come, it should be bold and diverse. This is not a traditional biopic in any sense.”

New solutions are also expected on the industry front, with the festival’s co-production market, CineMart, celebrating its 40th anniversary. “We really wanted to focus on our core and on bringing people together. But we couldn’t contain ourselves,” says Inke Van Loocke, newly minted head of IFFR Pro, responsible for the fest’s activities for film professionals. “We ended up organizing more programs than ever before; we have invited more newcomers and put a strong talent development structure in place. All in close collaboration with our partners.”

While BoostNL projects will now be getting a separate, tailor-made training program, making more space for CineMart titles (“It’s 20 [feature film] projects instead of around 16, like in the past,” Van Loocke notes), five works in progress will be presented in IFFR Pro Darkroom.

“It’s the first year we are doing this, and we are further developing it with fellow industry professionals to turn it into a strong strand of IFFR Pro,” Van Loocke says. “We noticed the need for more support in these last stages of development. We give these projects more visibility, set up more one-to-one meetings with potential partners and offer expert sessions. We will be doing this in close collaboration with the Hubert Bals Fund.”

While the present seems pretty exciting, IFFR is willing to reflect on its future, and the future of film festivals in general, which is the focus of Reality Check, its industry-focused symposium.

“To prepare for this edition, we really wanted to take a look at ourselves,” continues Van Loocke. “We explored all these existential questions: ‘What is our role? What can we contribute?’ As a festival, we can’t be afraid of soul-searching.”