Friday, April 02, 2010

Rotterdam -- Cinematic Bliss

It was about four years ago that I started paying closer attention to Rotterdam’s International Film Festival lineups and since 2006, I have been constantly impressed by their programming and longed to make a trip to the festival. So this year I finally made my journey to Rotterdam, albeit for a very short stay. I ordered my film tickets online and picked them up at the De Doelen where the box office is located along with an amazing cafe where one can grab some delicious food and much needed drinks. During the festival the hall with its spacious seating area is normally buzzing with the sound of constant conversations in multiple languages and allows one to rub shoulders with festival goers, filmmakers and critics. The hall also has a merchandise store where one can buy t-shirts, catalogs and DVDs of films showcased in past Rotterdam festivals. Most of the DVDs (in PAL format) are films that are not yet available in Canada, so it is worth picking some of the titles up, although one has to make sure that the DVD contains English subtitles as not every DVD has that feature.

There are 6 primary theatre venues to choose from and two of the venues (Pathe and Cinerama) have 7 screens each which means in a particular time slot one can have a choice of anywhere from 10 - 16 films. One can begin each day as early as 9:30 am and see about 5-6 films a day with the final screenings starting as late as 10:45 pm. Most of the films are repeated more than once so one can plan accordingly. My time constraints prevented me from going to multiple venues so I confined myself to the Pathe across from De Doelen. In a way, that was more than enough since the Pathe is a spacious multiplex with comfortable seating that makes it a treat to watch foreign films. For me, the giant screen of the Pathe perfectly enhanced the experience of watching Heng Yang's fascinating Sun Spots, a film shot on HD video. The large screen ensured every image looked breathtaking and crisp. Sun Spots consists of 31 long single take scenes with no camera movements, meaning no pans or zooms. This style makes the film a challenging one to watch but it is also a rewarding experience because one can soak in the on-screen atmosphere and freely observe all the details present in each frame.

The remarkable aspect of Rotterdam 2010 was that even on the festival’s last day there was a breathtaking lineup of films available. On the final day, it was possible to start a cinematic journey in Suriname (Let Each One Go Where He May), hop over to Costa Rica (Agua fría de mar) or Mexico (Alamar), jump to Brazil (Avenida Brasilia formosa) or India (Sailor of Hearts, The Well), spend an evening in Africa (the several features that were part of the Where is Africa series) and end the night in Thailand (Mundane History) or the Philippines (two short features by Pepe Diokno & Lav Diaz). Or one could have confined themselves entirely to Europe and taken in the new Pedro Costa or Bruno Dumont along the way. Also, all the three Tiger Award Winners, Agua fría de mar, Alamar & Mundane History, were available for viewing on the final day along with the audience favourite winner, Yo, también (Spain). 10 days of such a wide array of films is enough to satisfy any cinephile's appetite.

Over the years, Rotterdam has become a great source for discovering fascinating foreign film titles, especially Asian ones, and is not shy to show longer works, such as Wang Bing’s documentaries The Journey of Crude Oil (a running time of 14 hours), West of the Tracks (9 hours) or Lav Diaz's Death in the Land of Encantos (9 hours) and Melancholia (7.5 hours). At Rotterdam, one can find artistic films easily rubbing shoulders with some commercial offerings and since the festival is not concerned with only showing premieres, one can catch some great titles which graced the festival circuit the previous year while trying to discover new gems. And there are plenty of gems to discover. Since 2007, a few of those gems from Rotterdam have ended up at CIFF, first thanks to Angela Kempf and last year thanks to Trevor Smith, both of whom made a journey to the famous port city. Three of the best films that featured at CIFF 2009, Be Calm and Count to Seven (Iran), Breathless (South Korea) and Wrong Rosary (Turkey), were all Tiger Award winners at Rotterdam. While the Cannes Film Festival in May gets the most attention with regards to new foreign film titles, in reality, the foreign film calendar is kicked off as early as January when Rotterdam announces its lineup.

Note: originally published on CIFF's website

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