I’d long heard about the Rotterdam International Film Festival and yet had never personally been here. IFFR will hereafter be a much craved stop on my itinerary of world cinema events. I can’t wait to see what next year has in store.
So what makes this cinephiles’ festival filled with independent gems, languid culture-filled days and inspiring evening talks by the masters so addictive? Well, that — what I just said. Turns out there is no festival in the world quite like IFFR.
And here are a few favorites of mine from this year’s edition.
FOOD at IFFR
Those who know me also know that food is an essential part of my festival experience. Now that my beloved friend is no longer around to share a meal with and cook together (we would do that in Cannes, at the end of a stressful day of junkets) my meals have become a solitary, much needed contemplative rest from the hustle and bustle of film festivals. At IFFR, as a journalist you are handed food vouchers so you can have breakfast at selected venues around the city, with anything from vegan to sweet toast on offering.
I chose Bertmans because of its proximity to both de Doelen, the festival’s headquarters, and my hotel The James. I’ll admit I never tried another place for breakfast and never strayed from their yummy avocado and egg toast, topped with a ginger and scallion vinaigrette. It looks like this photo above, taken from the website Sneakers and Smoothies since I didn’t get a chance to photograph mine, I was too busy eating…
For lunch, I ventured away from cinema, and indulged in my other passion — fashion. I checked out the world famous de Bijenkorf, a grand department store just steps from my hotel and featuring a fantastic self service cafeteria on the second floor. The selection offered anything from a bowl of soup to sweets and salads, but I craved some spicy stir fry with noodles which a charming chef from Aruba prepared for me from scratch. Right in front of my eyes.
Yes, they were as good as they look and with the addition of some red hot sliced chilies, I felt like I was in Asian heaven.
For those who didn’t feel like venturing too far away from the main IFFR hub, there were food stalls and bar stands in the lobby of de Doelen which offered cake, coffees and I even spotted some dim sum. I tried a cappuccino and it was out of this world — done just the way I like it, with lots of foam and no mingling between milk and coffee.
INSPIRATION AT IFFR
From sitting in the recreated living room of the legendary Jean-Luc Godard, complete with a dog bed for his beloved pet to watch ‘The Image Book’, to listening to the Maestro, writer and director Guillermo Arriaga talk about his passions, films and novels; from a newfound favorite filmmaker from Peru, Miguel Angel Moulet and his haunting ‘Todos Somos Marineros’, to discovering some brilliant cinema made by my fellow women sisters — like ‘The Best of Dorien B.’ ‘Indemnes’ and 2019 Special Jury Prize winner at IFFR ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ — Rotterdam provided material to write and inspiration to ponder for months to come. Read my piece on Thrive Global about the female presence at IFFR.
As a personal favorite, after reading Arriaga’s latest novel ‘El Savaje’ (‘The Savage’) and following the Mexican writer on a journey through two separate storylines that he masterfully weaves to come full circle within the 600+ pages of his book, I chuckled at his admission that he has ADD. And that his parents were told by the schoolmaster that little Guillermo had a very low IQ and was possibly “retarded.” This is a man who manages to find his way out of the darkest corners of a writer’s mind to bring his readers along with him on an immense journey of culture, possibilities and self discovery. A humanist who hunts with bow and arrows. And who admits that a particular deer has becomes his own “Moby Dick.”
Contradictions make a genius. Guillermo Arriaga has convinced me of that.
FILMS AT IFFR
Well, there aren’t enough hours in the day, days in a week and energy within a person to watch everything that is on offer at this festival. But I will say that I found several gems, those listed above, but also ‘Bangla’ (‘Bengali’), a charming romantic comedy co-written and directed by Phaim Bhuiyan an Italian filmmaker of Bangladeshi background, who also stars as, well, himself basically. Phaim, played by Phaim, hails from Torpignattara, a neighborhood in Rome that, as he states at the beginning of ‘Bangla’, is home to three tribes — the foreigners, the hipsters and the old people. Phaim considers himself “50% Italian, 50% Bengali” and his misadventures in romance and life are at once charmingly funny but also poignant and important to learn from, in this age of populism and the Far Right in Italy. As a country, we’ve never been so diverse and yet Italians have never been so covertly racist. ‘Bangla’ hits close to home, and without preaching or teaching, manages to impress.
Then there were the winners on closing night, anything from Nadine Labaki’s ‘Capernaum’ — which won the Audience Choice Award — to Alice Rohrwacher’s ‘Happy as Lazzaro’ which won the IFFR Youth Jury Award, always the most special since the younger audience ARE the audience of tomorrow and a filmmaker like Rohrwacher is definitely the future of Italian cinema. Both films you’ve read about on this blog of course, as well as in my writing on The National.
Other awards went to ‘Too Late to Die Young’ by Dominga Sotomayor, which received the KNF Award, presented by the Circle of Dutch Film Journalists, and another personal discovery, from Cannes in 2014 Elmar Imanov, from Azerbaijan, won the FIPRESCI prize with his latest, ‘End of Season’ — featuring the same perfect cast of his earlier film.
The top prize, the Tiger Award went to ‘Present.Perfect’. by Zhu Shengze (USA/Hong Kong) while ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’ by Ena Sendijarević (Netherlands/Bosnia and Herzegovina) received the Special Jury Prize. The jury was comprised of Alfredo Jaar, Daniela Michel, Susanna Nicchiarelli, Pimpaka Towira and Katriel Schory.
FASHION AND STYLE AT IFFR
Well, my award for best dressed at the festival goes to IFFR Artistic Director Bero Beyer, of course. With a silhouette that would make most Hugo Boss models jealous and a unique, understated yet daring sense of style, his taste in both fashion and film is obviously impeccable. On awards night he wore a three piece pinstriped dark blue suit that was simple elegance. And he inspired with his words about the film industry and filmmakers in general.
My only, teeny tiny negative comment while in Rotterdam — and at all film festivals for that matter! — has to do with the cinema community at large, those covering the festival as well as those presenting and accepting on awards night. I mean, film is undeniably a visual art, so why the gloomy, ill fitting outfits, Ladies? And the mismatched, discolored looks, Gentlemen?
Lets make cinema great again (to misquote our unfortunate US President). You know, the glamorous community it has always been and should always deserve to be. I say, for the next one, lets make an effort to dress up. Or if not that, to at least wear what makes us look better. And feel better.
“Cinema is art,” as Beyer said on closing night. And being a part of this envy-inducing community holds a responsibility.