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IFFR 2023. After lockdowns and restructuring, is the fire back? Four questions to artistic director Vanja Kaludjercic

Vanja Kaludjercic had barely been appointed as the new artistic director of International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) or the corona pandemic struck. Two editions (2021 and 2022) were struggling with mostly online screenings. Relief that the 52nd edition starting 25 January will again be celebrated as it should be in Rotterdam's theatres.

A fresh start, but with a roughly 20% tighter budget - gift from the pandemic - and after some noise. Last spring, the announcement of a restructuring of organisation and the team for much turmoil, questions and anger. The latter especially among dismissed, or not redeployed employees. The team of programmers has largely been renewed. Most of the (freelance) copywriters, too, have since been replaced by others.

This has already been widely reported. See, for example articles at Screen International, reports in the Film newspaper, a rebuttal in NRC. And, of course, the piece By Helen Westerik on this site. I don't need to repeat all that.

Open gaze

Because in addition, of course, there is the film programme itself, and we need not let those perils cloud our view of it. There are slightly fewer titles than we were used to, but still over 400. Enough to showcase the global wealth of adventurous cinema. At first glance, there is indeed a lot to discover again. Films and special sections, such as focus programmes around Hungarian Judit Elek, Japanese animator Yuasa Masaaki and experimental artist Stanya Kahn and the project arc. Filmmaker and visual artist Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) shows its installation Sunshine State at Boijmans Van Beuningen. Prominent guests include Darren Aronofsky, Ulrich Seidl, Geraldine Chaplin, of course Steve McQueen and opening film director Hendrik Martin Dahlsbakken.

As you'd expect from IFFR. Also did a bit of surfing, and I see no striking differences from the profile of the pre-pandemic years. Lots from Europe and Asia again, slightly less from Latin America this year. Africa remains thin, can't we focus on that for once? As for diversity: still roughly twice as many men as women among filmmakers.

Four questions

So the question remains whether there is a new direction now, or back full steam ahead on the tried and tested route. On the strategy 2022-2025 can be read on the IFFR site. In December, there was an online press conference with presentation of the programme. Due to a technical problem, questions had to be submitted by e-mail afterwards. I sent in about four and received a reply from Vanja Kaludjercic.

My first question:

- The strategy for the coming years speaks of a better connection to the current social climate. What exactly is meant by this, and how is it reflected in the programme of IFFR 2023? (Please give examples, film titles)

"As a festival, you are constantly evolving, it is a constant investigation, a questioning of the world and yourself. After not being able to organise a physical festival for two years, you naturally pause to think about where you want to go next. Because if you don't ask yourself that at such a time, you might lose connection with the world."

"With that in mind, we want to go where others don't go. To look where others are not looking. To celebrate those voices that are often underrepresented or overlooked. So we want to continue to expand and diversify our core. So those who come to the festival, from Rotterdammers to international industry veterans, will find something that cannot be found anywhere else."


"This edition, we are particularly proud of our themed programme on India. India has one of the richest film industries in the world and apart from Bollywood, quite little is known about it. The Focus programme The Shape of Things to Come? presents a broad overview of documentaries and fiction films reflecting on India's socio-political development over the past 30 years. With emphasis on the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalist groups and the persecution of dissenting voices. The programme dates back to Sanjiv Shah's 1992 musical political satire, Love in the Time of Malaria, to the world premiere of Which Colour? by Shahrukhkhan Chavada. Survival in the first four months of Mumbai's pandemic-induced lockdown is the focus of the documentary Lords of Lockdown By Mihir Fadnavis."

New team

- If I understand correctly, the drastic changes in the composition of the team are partly a consequence of the lower budget. But do those changes also have to do with new focus or priorities in programming? And if so, are there any examples of this (titles, programme sections)?

"Clearly, two years without a physical festival has seriously affected our budget. This led to a necessary restructuring of the overall organisation. There was also a lot of misinformation about the extent of the change and the new selection process. Actually, this is a more collaborative, democratic process. Our selection committees are made up of both old and new IFFR staff, who maintain our spirit and continue to innovate."

"The programme itself was revamped two years ago. Because of the pandemic, we can only present the new festival programme in full for the first time in 2023. As it was intended in cinemas throughout Rotterdam. Our goal is - and always has been - to celebrate films with unique vision and presentation, coming from cultures around the world."

"Brilliant cinema can take many forms, from avant-garde to popular films for the general public, and everything in between. We believe that these should coexist on an equal footing in all programme sections. IFFR 2023's programme is testament to that."

Film cultures

- IFFR talks of more focus on diversity and inclusion. How are we going to see that? Like to see examples.

"As mentioned above: We like to go where others don't go. To look where others are not looking. To celebrate those voices that are often underrepresented or overlooked. This is how we want to keep expanding and diversifying our core. So those who come to the festival, from Rotterdammers to international industry veterans, will find something that cannot be found anywhere else."

"This can be seen all over the festival. In addition to film cultures that IFFR has supported for decades, this year we are also diving into regions that have only recently attracted more attention: the Middle East and North Africa. Here, as throughout the programme, we look at the widest possible range of expressions. From the Middle East's biggest blockbuster from 2022, the anti-colonial action epic Kira & El Gin by Egyptian master author Marwan Hamed, to the essay film Beyond the Fences of Lâlehzâr from Iranian debut director Amen Feizabadi. With rare looks back at pre-revolutionary life in Tehran, and how these memories still live on in the minds of many citizens. The same can be seen, for example, in our selection of Indonesian titles, a country that has had a strong presence at IFFR in the past. Here too, we want to give a glimpse of the broad spectrum that national cinema has to offer, from a satirical medium-length title to auteur cinema to a superhero film centred on women."

"Another example is our revamped Rotterdam programme called RTM. Curated for the first time this year by three Rotterdam creatives. The result is an insanely vibrant programme on 27 Jan at LantarenVenster, full of short and feature films, Rotterdam classics, events, audiovisual art, music videos and talks."

"Last but not least, we greatly look forward to welcoming industry guests to our festival heart in de Doelen. Maintaining relationships with industry guests with whom the festival has a long history, and just as importantly, inviting new names to join us. This is why this year, for the first time, we are introducing the Media Outreach & Inclusion Scheme.”

Looking to the future

- I read that IFFR wants to increase impact in the film world. In what way(s) can this be achieved?

"Let's start by simply having a physical festival again after so many years. And yes, while this is certainly cause for celebration, we cannot escape the challenges that two years of pandemic has saddled us with. For do we cross our fingers and hope everything will automatically return to the way it was, or do we get organised to work together for a sustainable future of our industry?"

"With that in mind, this year's Reality Check, our annual platform to discuss current issues in the film industry, is dedicated to the future of film festivals. On Sunday, 29 January, key industry members will have the space to discuss how festivals can best organise themselves and collaborate with each other in a changing industry landscape."

The 52nd edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam opens on 25 January with the screening of Munch, on the life and art of Edvard Munch, known for the iconic painting The Scream. The Indian coming-of-age film All India Rank will close the festival on 5 February.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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