The Silly Season Begins: Rotterdam and Berlin

Many industries have a part of their calendar year that is referred to as the “silly season.” In European football it’s when the transfer windows are open in the summer and during the month of January and in the marginally independent segment of the film biz in which I find myself, it’s pretty much from January to March. In that space of time you have the Sundance, Rotterdam and Berlin film festivals, the Golden Globe Awards, the Oscar nominations and awards and the Spirit nominations and awards. Whew.


From 1993 to 1999 and again in 2001, I went to Sundance. I loved it. The hustle, the bustle, the bullshit and the, well, bullshit. After a while I got a little tired of it and at about the same time, in 2000, indieWIRE decided we were going to expand and cover the European festival scene more aggressively. We were well known in the US but had a much lower profile in Europe, so as the resident travel freak it fell upon me to spearhead our push onto the continent and we, rather ambitiously, published 20 features and 20 reviews from the two festivals of Rotterdam and Berlin over 20 days of Northern European festival insanity. That first year birthed indieWIRE’s presence in Europe and barring a brief return engagement in 2001, marked the beginning of my current absence from Park City.
Well, it’s that time again and my wanderlust is a-revving up as I prepare for my month long sojourn to Northern Europe. So, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why I love the first festival on order, the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR).
While it might not get the level of worldwide attention that Berlin receives, the IFFR certainly stands on its own in terms of size and scope, with over 350,000 admissions and 700 shorts and features screened at last year’s edition. In addition to boasting the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic film audience I see each year, Rotterdam is also the place to go to see some truly unsung avant-garde, experimental or “forgotten” cinema, in addition to some of the best non-English language films on offer.
In the years I have attended, the festival mounted a massive career retrospective of Japanese filmmaker Fukasaku Kinji, hosted the world premiere of Guy Maddin’s brilliant 60-minute peephole installation film Cowards Bend the Knee and a Japanese-themed Exploding Cinema installation that truly had to be seen to be believed. And let’s not forget the 90 minutes I spent completely entranced by Lukas Moodysson’s Fucking Åmål, even though it was in Swedish with Dutch subtitles. To top that off, what other festival would have the balls to program a short film in front of Peter Watkins’ astonishing 345 minute opus, La Commune (Paris, 1871), a “documentary reconstruction” about the Socialist occupation of Paris and the brutal crackdown by the authorities that ensued. Not only is that nearly 6 hour film an amazing feat, but I showed the marvelous short film that played in front of it, Home (Kuca) by Andrijana Stojkovic at the Hamptons International Film Festival in 2002 when I curated that festival’s Films of Conflict and Resolution section (Now THAT was a gig I loved.) It is a beautiful, powerful and moving anti-war film and had it not been for the audacity of the IFFR programmers to throw an 8 minute short in front of a 345 minute feature, I might not have ever seen it.
Anyway, those are but a few reasons why you should love the Rotterdam International Film Festival and I hope to show you a few (dozen) more over the coming days and weeks.
Coming soon: Why the Berlinale is so magnificent!
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