As the 2007 edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam coincides with my turn on the ScreenAnarchy-O-Meter, let me provide you with a countdown of the favorite experiences and surprises I had with this festival in the past.
For people who like movies but have never been to a film festival: with luck this will provide you with some incentives to try and visit one. I was terribly reluctant to do so in the past and if I look back at all the years that I spurned the IFFR (even though I was living in Rotterdam!) I just shudder. Especially when I check how many fun films were playing in those years. Even if you don’t go to any movies the atmosphere is very pleasant with people discussing their favorites in all the pubs.
Let me start by saying that during the eighties and most of the nineties, my interest in movies was almost exclusively based on American blockbusters. I did read movie magazines but not a lot, and hard as it is to imagine nowadays movies sometimes just ‘happened’: new movies premiered in the Netherlands often more than six months after they had been in cinema’s in the States and STILL I wouldn’t have heard anything about it beforehand!
When I took my first uncertain steps on this new thing called “The Internet” (back in 1994) this totally changed. Even before sites like Aint It Cool News became hugely popular you could get movie news faster than ever through the Web. Reviews of movies that would not appear on our side of the Atlantic for months were suddenly available, with added comments from amateur writers worldwide. I devoured this new information, but it did little to change my taste in movies. I just read about what I liked, which was American blockbusters, preferably SF and fantasy (which wasn’t much most of the time). Seeing the first pictures for something like Waterworld or Species would highten my anticipation like never before.
However, one yearly event was dreaded by me for it always spoiled any fun I could possibly have in the cinema. Living as a student in Rotterdam, at the end of January my favorite screens would be reserved for something called the “Film Festival”. All the movies I was anticipating and planning to see would disappear for two weeks and be replaced by (horror) Art-House cinema! Pretentious bullshit! Vague Hungarian black-and-white productions about people watching paint dry, preferably naked while vomiting! Avoiding this with disgust, during this period I’d hide and watch TV, read books, or even study. You might say I was a tad opinionated and shortsighted.
This situation has of course changed, to put it mildly. I might still be opinionated and shortsighted, but there is no denying my hatred for the Film Festival has completely been replaced by something akin to love.
And here are some of the reasons why:
runner-up: Lola Rennt (IFFR 1999)
The reason this is a runner-up (haha) is that I didn’t see this at the IFFR itself, but during a sneak-preview a week prior to the festival. At this particular preview the cinema schedule didn’t tell what the movie was going to be, but gave a hint. As the hint was Germany-related we all assumed the movie was going to be Bryan Singers’ “Apt Pupil” and turned up. The film was introduced by a very enthusiastic fellow who kept ranting about the fact that the cinema would be showing this German movie a week before the IFFR would, and immediately the mood turned sour: people started boo-ing and left in droves (sneak audiences are very vocal). None of us wanted to see some unknown European production instead of a thriller by the director who made “The Usual Suspects”.
The guy in front started getting defensive ("it’s really a fun movie, believe me!") and finally blew a fuse, stating the following: “OK, AND NOW QUIET EVERYBODY! You bunch of loudmouths, know this: the music you’ve been listening to for the last 20 minutes is actually the soundtrack!”
That stopped us, as we all had noticed the music as being rather adrenaline-inducing. Next we saw Tom Tykwer’s “Lola Rennt” (a.k.a. Run Lola Run) and had an absolute blast with it. Leaving the cinema me and my friends were nearly run over by a car jumping a red light, and we all had to laugh about how weirdly appropriate that would have been. I also concluded that the festival had at least one good movie that year.
On to the actual top 5 (in chronological order):
1: Princess Mononoke & Ghost i/t Shell (IFFR 2000)
One of the cult movies which did manage to reach me was “Akira”. I heard “Ghost i/t Shell” was equally cool and wanted to see it ever since playing the game “Syndicate Wars” (the trailer was always looping on television screens in that game). Then the Wang Du Project released the single “King of my Castle” which used an extended version of the GitS trailer as its videoclip, and me and my friends were thinking about renting it on VHS and watching it together. At the same time the IFFR released the news that Mamoru Oshii was going to be a “Filmmaker in focus” on the 2000 festival, so we decided to go see it there. It played at the biggest screen in Rotterdam (barring the soon-to-be-bankrupt IMAX), but funny enough the schedule showed “Princess Mononoke” playing right before GitS so we decided to see both.
So in one afternoon and evening I saw my first Miyazaki, digested it over a nice meal with friends, went back to the cinema…
... and got my mind blown. Seriously, this movie flipped a switch somewhere in me, even though we saw the English dub which wasn’t good. The music kept haunting me, forcing me to buy the VHS tape the next day as I couldn’t find the soundtrack anywhere. A friendly DJ recorded the sound from the tape and burned it for me on CD so I could listen to it in my car. When friends finally tracked down the original Japanese soundtrack CD (a year later, using the internet) and gave it to me on my birthday they almost moved me to tears.
I have no clue why it hit me as hard as it did, and fully agree with people who say the movie is slightly flawed, but there is no denying it: to this day I’m a stark raving lunatic considering Ghost i/t Shell.
But nevermind: at IFFR 2000, seeing two of the best examples of anime EVER made (even though both movies were 5 years old at that time) is still one of my fondest cinema experiences.
2: Battle Royale (IFFR 2001)
Me and my friends had just seen Miike Takashi’s “Audition” in the Autumn of 2000, and were still very impressed by it. On several internetsites we heard about the next shocker from Japan, and lo and behold it was going to play on IFFR 2001. Rock on for “Battle Royale”!
Little did we know that we stumbled into the European Premiere, and to our surprise director Kinji Fukasaku was present (two years before his death). The movie was far better than we expected and the Q&A afterwards was hilarious: one persistent idiot kept asking questions about why there was so much violence in the movie, but no sex. To which Mr.Fukasaku finally answered:” I love nudity and sex as well as violence, but if I had put everything I like in this movie it would exceed six hours”.
As an added bonus I sent in a review of this to Aint-It-Cool-News, and for the first time it got published!
However, IFFR 2001 also had a big disappointment in store for me: one year after honoring Mamoru Oshii, they had failed to secure his newest film “Avalon” in time for this years festival. It premiered a few weeks later in Berlin (years later they never even bothered with “Ghost i/t Shell 2: Innocence").
3: Avalon & Ichi the Killer (IFFR 2002)
From hatred towards the festival I had already changed into an anticipator of it, waiting impatiently for the schedule to arrive. Thankfully they had “Avalon” this time. Also, the Toronto festival had many reviews posted about what people called Miike Takashi’s most extreme gorefest yet: “Ichi the Killer”. And yes, IFFR 2002 was going to show it!
Avalon was amazing, especially seeing it on that same huge screen where I had seen “Ghost i/t Shell”. It surprised me, being far better and worse at the same time compared to what I expected it to be.
That could not be said about “Ichi the Killer”, which delivered exactly what was promised. The cinema was filled to the brim with gorehounds and other thrillseekers, and everyone was delighted to get an unanounced visit from Miike himself! He got to the microphone, thanked us for showing up and told us he had never seen this film being screened for such a large crowd. He wondered if we were in the wrong cinema, and said he would thank the Gods on his knees if more than half the cinema hadn’t left by the end credits.
Well, out of several hundred only 5 people left. Miike had 4 films playing at IFFR that year, and Ichii got the highest audience-rating of them all. Even though it was far more violent than “Audition” it was easier to watch because it quickly became cartoon-like (on occasion I still like to creep people out by showing them the trailer though).
4: Zatoichi & Zebraman (IFFR 2004)
In 2004 we got a re-repeat of our “Battle Royale” experience when Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano showed up in person to introduce his “Zatoichi”. Drunk and giddy, he announced that he would NOT be watching the movie with us as he had already seen it twice that day in special screenings for the press, and he apologized because the wine they had been drinking after each screening had all but floored him. An incredible presence in real life, this man just oozed charisma.
Miike was back as well and amongst his newest offerings was the movie “Zebraman”. I really liked this brilliant and offbeat movie, so I bought the DVD the next year. Guess what?
The screening we were at had been the World premiere (never knew that) and one of the DVD extras was a special by a Japanese newsstation about this, showing footage from the IFFR 2004 screening. And yes, friends of mine can actually be spotted in the special! The first time I have people I know caught on a commercially released DVD…
5: Tideland (IFFR 2006)
Spot the trend yet? Guess what happened when Tideland showed in Rotterdam last year: yep, Terry Gilliam himself showed up to introduce the movie. All other encounters mentioned here are nice, but this was really something special for me as I regard the man as a sort of legend. “Brazil” and “Time Bandits” are just so… so brilliant that we need better words to describe how brilliant. Even his lesser efforts are… but I digress. By the way, I’ll never understand how the IFFR as an organisation works. With Terry Gilliam in person there, why not show his other movies at the festival as a retrospective? I’d love to see some of his films in the cinema, something I never got to do with the movies I mentioned. Anyway, Terry Gilliam was funny and charming as hell and him being there totally made that festival for me, and therefore my countdown.
OK, so this was my first turn on the ScreenAnarchy-O-Meter and I hope you liked it. I also hope I’ll be able to repeat this list in 5 years as a top 10. If you like to read more IFFR stories or want to share your own, don’t forget to check out the IFFR thread in our forum.
So I end with salutations to all people currently hard at work making IFFR the festival it is!