By Torene Svitil | Thompson on Hollywood January 26, 2014 at 6:01PM
The International Film Festival Rotterdam mandate is the discovery and display of new talent. Like its home city, filled with mind-bending modern architecture by the likes of native son Rem Koolhaas (who boasts a co-writer credit on the noir film "The White Slave" as well as an unproduced script for Russ Meyer -- who knew?), the festival favors edgy, arty films from around the world that for the most part are unlikely to open in the U.S. Definitely not the usual suspects.
Rotterdam IFF is not a deal-making event like Sundance, for example. Rather, it aims to find support, financial and artistic, for talented new filmmakers. Those looking for funding support can pitch their projects at the Cinemart. The Hivos Tiger Awards, a small competition of 15 first or second features, highlights emerging filmmakers. At the heart of the festival is the "Bright Future" section of first or second films.
Some compelling prospects at first glance include French cartoonist Riad Sattouf's "Jacky Au Royaume des Filles," featuring Charlotte Gainsbourg in a satire of gender roles and religion (trailer below). Sattouf's first film "Les Beaux Gosses" was nominated for three Césars. Sergio Caballero's earlier film "Finesterrae" debuted at Rotterdam and he is back with "La Distancia" (trailer below). Elise DuRant financed her debut feature "Eden" with Kickstarter (trailer below) and I'm curious to see how the creative control made possible by crowdfunding plays out, for better or worse.
Perhaps the biggest booster of new filmmakers is The Hubert Bals Fund, an initiative of the festival that provides grants to unfinished projects from developing countries. Among those whose early films benefited are Chen Kaige ("Farewell, My Concubine"), Carlos Reygadas ("Silent Light"), Apitchapong Weerasethakal ("Uncle Boonmee"), Cristian Mungiu ("4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days") and Haifaa al Mansour ("Wadjda"). Films by all these directors were eventually selected to represent their countries in the Oscar competition for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Fund is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a selection of past beneficiaries, but in keeping with festival philosophy, the program "Mysterious Objects -- 25 Years of Hubert Bals Fund," features granted films that have not had much exposure outside festivals. Among those that caught my attention are Chen Kaige's "Life on a String," the first film the Fund supported; Weerasethakal's debut, "Mysterious Object at Noon"; "The Blue Eyes of Yonta," by Guinea Bissau filmmaker Flora Gomes; "Les Silence du Palais" directed by Moufida Tlatli, who was briefly Minister of Culture after the Tunisian revolution; and "The Forsaken Land" by Sri Lankan Vimukthi Jayasundara.
The Fund has supported more that 1,000 projects, with grants of up to 10,000 euros for script and project development and up to 20,000 euros for post-production. Current recipients competing in various sections include "How to Disappear Completely" by Raya Martin, part of the new Filipino cinema; "Lake August," whose director Yang Heng is known for his beautiful long shots (it's advertised as his most accessible film); and "Zanj Revolution," about a slave rebellion during the 9th century in what is now Iraq. In 2013, the Fund had 500,000 euros at its disposal, so we can expect to see more new voices emerging from parts of the world that would otherwise be overlooked.