Skip to content

The deeper caverns of an adult film festival. Sven Schlijper on safari during IFFR 2011

Lee Ranaldo

The International Film Festival Rotterdam celebrates its fortieth edition with a fitting XL programme. That Roman numeral XL not only indicates respectable age. It also says something about its size: this fortieth also bursts out of its bounds with its intriguing programme, with screenings at no less than forty locations throughout Rotterdam city centre. Within the festival walls, there is a veritable plethora of cinematic and other surprises in addition to the usual 'feature films'. Not only for film lovers was this edition a must-see. Those from the world of media arts or music also had their fill of the extensive programme.

Sight Unseen

Monday evening, 31 January a little after nine o'clock and a spotlight draws a circle on the flat floor of Room 1 in Lantaren/Venster. Two large screens show photographs and films by Leah Singer, opposite them two gong players with between them another screen on which an endless loop of a road movie is projected. Above the centre of the circle hangs an electric guitar, on a cable from the ceiling. With a small hanging motion in greeting, Lee Ranaldo steps into the circle; visitors have bravely sat down just outside the beam; others stand around it. Ranaldo edits during the next hour in the performance 'Sight Unseen' are 'battle scarred' guitar (which must have had a lot to endure during its many tours with Sonic Youth, the band Ranaldo co-founded) with bow, drumsticks, tapping , twinkling bells and his iPhone. Never does he stroke the strings like you are used to and almost always the guitar gets a swing and the instrument floats resonantly through space.... For many an IFFR visitor, this performance by Ranaldo and his wife Singer is indeed a never-before-seen (let alone: heard) display. Feedback, noise, echoing guitar and ditto gongs; bouts of ambient tones, a hefty dose of dissonance and roaring distortion as a foundation: that is definitely different from John Barry's strings or Badalamenti's doom jazz.!/profile.php?id=100000935206696

(Bad) taste

At a festival like the IFFR, perhaps unsuspectingly even, different programme elements interlock seamlessly. Indeed, a few days earlier, the same cinema is the venue for the scorching performance art, video and noise show by the loose trio Coolhaven. Many a person sits with their fingers in their ears, startled at a theatrically beautifully found chiropractic element or shakes their head pityingly; wondering whether this is true avant-garde verging on the Dadaist or just getting away with a succession of as much incompetence as possible. Either way, Coolhaven skilfully operates with a balance or imbalance if you will, between sonic and visual overwhelming, leaving the answer to the question of whether this is taste or bad taste, at least by the band in an airless middle. As a smiling third party; as a smiling trio.


A connection other than noise between Ranaldo, Coolhaven and the rest of the IFFR programme lies in Manon de Boer's portering of master percussionist Robyn Schulkowsky: 'Think About Wood, Think About Metal'. De Boer films Schulkowsy's studio, her instruments, resonating timpani traps and singing bowls and fingers touching a metal percussion object to elicit the most wondrous sounds from it. Meanwhile, Schulkowsky recounts her history as a performing musician in Cologne, when John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen wrote their pioneering compositions there. These were not infrequently performed by her. Her love of percussion and the tactility of touch that produces resonance can be seen and heard with and in the avant-garde music and performance form chosen by Lee Ranaldo.

Spectacle vs Dragon

Music and image can reinforce each other, tell the same story, fall off or complement each other, and there were screenings of these variants at IFFR. The drab and too eagerly sought-after, but forcibly told and actually wafer-thin 'AUN - The Beginning and End of All Things' is saved from total ruin by the brilliant soundtrack by Viennese electronica wizard Christian Fennesz. His work finds such eager and wide appeal around the world that a release seems obvious. Where 'AUN' does not seem to be getting its hands on rotation, the music is thus sure to find a welcome home with fans of deep bass waves, high pulses and blissful ambient.

Devotional Cinema

And what if it's completely silent? When even the vibrate function of the mobile phone has to be turned off? When you almost dare not even breathe, afraid of breaking the incantatory silence? Then a truly meditative state enters that wonders, reassures and purifies in a Zen-like way. Nathaniel Dorsky's 'devotional cinema' does not care or language for a strict separation between film and cinema art (or: video art, were it not for the fact that Dorsky uses smalfilm to achieve the effect he desires). Screen sizes, viewing distances, speed of playback; for Dorsky, these are very essential aspects of his work. Art that has balance as its core value, alternating recognisable images with spotty out-of-focus light streaks in utter silence. A narrative never imposes itself, but you absolutely cannot call his films a random succession of random shots. In Dorsky's 'devotional cinema' (which, incidentally and obviously, is not available on DVD nor on YouTube), the master hand can be seen and felt in every second. At just 18 frames per beat, he transports the viewer as if on a dream trip in a warm bath. He presents hints, the brain wants to understand as if in a dream state, but soon that turns out to be an illusion and you become freely absorbed in the flood and glow of images that is calmly and peacefully carried past you. The meditative power of Dorsky's 'devotional cinema' lies in an intensely purifying (out) effect that is deeply felt afterwards.

Grass will grow over my works

In his very own way, German artist Anselm Kiefer also works with a certain incantation formula to arrive at some form of exoneration as an alternative purification. This might consist of giving demons a place, the depravity of the human spirit from history and in himself and all of us perhaps at the same time, and in spite of this and for this very reason: creating. He created his own world in Barjac, France; a labyrinth of subterranean corridors, many metre-high towers, buildings erected specifically to give his works a home. Sophie Fiennes made four visits to Kiefer, who is considered one of the greatest living artists of the moment. She made the documentary film 'Over Your Cities, Grass Will Grow'; a penetrating account of Kiefer at work. The true creative inspirational work from a tabula rasa is not portrayed. But it does show the inspired and very deliberate performing artist Kiefer working (as if analogous to Schulkowsky perfecting his own score in the creative process), in loving and passionate interaction with his materials and assistants. Kiefers' work speaks; the man himself barely at all, and when he is speaking, each sentence weighs as much as the leaden burden his enormous canvases seem to carry. On the big screen, Kiefer's already monumental works appear particularly poignant in luminous projection. Györgi Ligeti's very tastefully chosen music, which accompanies the sympathetic camera movements and direction, only contributes to a state of heightened goose bumps and shivers. Day after day and often with great equipment, Kiefer created his own biotope and 'metropolis' in Barjac, only to leave it behind and head for Paris. Over his work, over his city in Barjac, grass will grow. It has never stopped him from creating, even if overgrowth is inevitably imminent; that mission of the great artist who must create coute-que-coute speaks from every moment of the extraordinarily successful 'Over Your Cities, Grass Will Grow'.


That creation is of all ages and walks of life is proven by IFFR's XL programme. Whether it's a generative work for ten television screens showing noise and flashes of light in total darkness (Telco Systems) or Martin Arnold's intriguing stroboscopic fragmentation of Disney films. Whether it's film theatre in the palm of your hand by mounting a pair of mirrors on your iPhone (Palmtop Theatre at V2) or video mapping in abstraction (Sebastian Cimpean at the Piet Zwart Instuut). Whether it's stills by Jan Svankmajer at the Czech Centre Rotterdam) through which you look over the shoulder and miniaturised cutting hand of the animation emperor or the Out of Fashion programme in which image designers and artistic directors of major fashion houses have curated their selections in fashion and anti-fashion films. At no less than forty locations in Rotterdam, IFFR will show surprising and challenging works that, one way or the other, have an interface with cinema, visual art, moving image, projection; in the broadest sense of the word.

Forty years old and spry
IFFR already surprises and amazes in its main programme, but with the addition and extension to the XL programme, the festival is firmly moving into the field of video and media art, thereby bringing together several art worlds. Pigeonholing is clearly wasted at the celebrating IFFR. With youthful élan and perhaps a mischievous smile on its tiger's face, the festival dives into a future in which film, (video) art, sound art, music and modern media merge.

one of our members

Members of Culture Press co-own our cooperative for a small monthly or annual fee, and may also contribute content to the site when appropriate. For members with an institutional membership, we offer the possibility of posting their press releases unabridged. Also want to become a member? You can. Please visit this pageView Author posts

Private Membership (month)
5€ / Maand
For natural persons and self-employed persons.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Own mastodon account
Access to our archives
Small Membership (month)
18€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of less than €250,000 per year
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
All our podcasts
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Posting press releases yourself
Extra attention in news coverage
Large Membership (month)
36€ / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of more than €250,000 per year.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Share press releases with our audience
Extra attention in news coverage
Premium Newsletter (substack)
5 trial subscriptions
All our podcasts

Payments are made via iDeal, Paypal, Credit Card, Bancontact or Direct Debit. If you prefer to pay manually, based on an invoice in advance, we charge a 10€ administration fee

*Only for annual membership or after 12 monthly payments

en_GBEnglish (UK)