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IFFR Director Sandra den Hamer happy with her 1st fest

IFFR Director Sandra den Hamer has said that both box-office income and admissions are on target this year to ‘slightly exceed’ those of last year. A weary but upbeat Den Hamer, who says she has been buoyed by the ‘smiley, happy faces’ she has encountered over the past 10 days, was revelling in what she called ‘a great festival.’ Geoffrey Macnab asked her for her conclusions from her first solo festival.
Perhaps inevitably, the first part of this year’s event was dominated by discussions about free speech; a burning topic in the Netherlands following the killing of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in November 2004. Den Hamer acknowledged that last Sunday’s Rotterdam Film Parliament was overshadowed by discussions on ‘do we show Submission or do we not show Submission?’ In the end, the controversial short, made by Van Gogh and Somali-Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was pulled. ‘I respected the choice of the producer. Rotterdam is a festival that respects filmmakers and artists; it was their personal choice. It was not to do with safety and security around the screening, but the safety and security of the people working in the producer’s company,’ Den Hamer explained, adding that the re-appearance of politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali in public life after months in hiding, and the beginning of the trial of Van Gogh’s alleged murderer, were what prompted the decision. ‘He [the producer] felt that the climate and the moment were not right to bring the film back.’

Casting an eye over the selection, Den Hamer said she had been heartened by the warm public response to such Tiger competition titles as Paradise Girls and 4. She also welcomed the strong French presence at this year’s festival, spearheaded by such respected auteurs as Benoit Jacquot (a Filmmaker in Focus) and Claire Denis. Rotterdam, she added, catered for every segment of the cinema-going audience, citing The Hot Spots programme in Off_Corso, where ‘young people danced until early in the morning to images and music from Istanbul, Baghdad and Bristol.’

Den Hamer compared her Rotterdam experience to running a marathon. ‘You have to train for 50 weeks, and then in two weeks you have to run. It’s a huge festival and a huge programme.’ One of the key challenges ahead, she said, was to ensure that IFFR retained its ‘intimate atmosphere… that balance we have to look at very carefully for the future, [to ask] if we’re not growing too big.’ Despite its size, Den Hamer said that this ‘remains a filmmaker-friendly festival… people arriving from Sundance said, “Oh, my God, I’m so happy I’m in Rotterdam now. It’s a human festival.”’

Den Hamer is yet to make up her mind whether next year’s programme will again be divided into a series of sidebars (Sturm Und Drang, Time and Tide, etc). ‘People like the clarity of the new sections. They make it clear what Rotterdam stands for,’ Den Hamer said, adding that one of the key goals is to make the festival as user-friendly as possible. ‘Programme structure is something that festival directors and programmers think about, but our audiences are coming to see a film here. We want to make it more clear why we select films and why we programme them.’ She defended the decision to scatter Hubert Bals Fund films throughout the programme rather than to give them a dedicated section of their own. ‘I don’t want a ghetto for films from developing countries. I don’t like sections that are defined by geography or money.’

Den Hamer believes it is too early to tell how successful
the Rotterdam Lounge has been. This is the new video facility enabling festival-goers to see recent features and documentaries not included in the festival programme. The Lounge also provides a home for Dutch shorts (which were previously shown in the Dutch Perspective). In recent years, rival festivals have copied several Rotterdam ideas, such as its CineMart co-production market and its Hubert Bals Fund. ‘We have to stay sharp,’ says Den Hamer. ‘We can’t lean back and say “Oh, we’re successful, we’ll repeat the same thing again.”’

Through the new web service Tiger On Line, Den Hamer is determined to ensure that the ‘films we stand for are not just available for 10 days in Rotterdam, but all through the year. Some very beautiful films have two or three screenings at the festival and then they are gone.’ IFFR has Dutch distribution rights to Hubert Bals Fund films, which it is now making available through the internet. Den Hamer conceded that relatively few deals were officially signed during CineMart, but said that
industry delegates ‘left Rotterdam with very good feelings… there were just a few deals signed on the spot, but there were sales agents who did very good work and picked up some films. They just don’t want to announce them until the contracts are signed.’ Dates have already been set for 2006’s festival, which will run from 25th January to 5th February.

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