Rotterdam 2016 Interview: Festival's Director Bero Beyer On Upcoming Edition And Changes To Come
The IFFR´s director Rutger Wolfson stepped down after the festival´s 2015 edition, and the festival´s board appointed Dutch film producer and film consultant Bero Beyer as the new general as well as artistic director in May 2015, and he took over the responsibilities from August onward.
Beyer welcomed the announcement with these words: "As the future of film production and the cinematic experience continues to evolve, it is vital that we continue to celebrate and support quality, artistic cinema and the creative talents behind it. A commitment to this support lies at the very heart of IFFR, providing much more than a platform for these films to be discovered by both the audience and the film industry.
"As a producer and film lover I hold a deep passion and respect for what IFFR represents and its place on the film industry calendar. I am committed to leading IFFR in supporting international and Dutch independent cinema as well as ensuring that in the rapidly changing cinematic landscape IFFR will continue and expand its proactive and leading role in exploring the challenges and opportunities that emerge."
ScreenAnarchy rang up Mr. Beyer, inquiring about what is to be expected from the first edition of the festival under his helm.
ScreenAnarchy: The 45th edition has gone though several changes. What do you have in store for festival-goers heading to Rotterdam?
Bero Beyer: What am I psyched about and enthusiastic, what I believe will be a great improvement of the way we present the festival, has to do with the fact that we categorized the whole programme into four distinct sections. Rather than organizing films on being debut or sophomore basis or adding new sections as we go, we figured it would be a great help for audience, industry and even for myself, to organize everything we have - almost 250 feature-long, 200 shorts - into four sections that have own tone of voice, own character, their own feel and make possible for audience to choose for themselves to what degree they wish to be taken off the beaten path, surprised, enriched or comforted.
What would those four sections be?
In our Bright Future section, the name taken from the festival´s past, we grouped together all of the innovative and emerging ideas and filmmakers that are trying to nurture cinematic landscape by their work, investigatory art. It is logical place to have a lot of debuting filmmakers or sophomore films but also our Hivos Tiger Awards Competition which will have eight competing films rather than fifteen. Every film is unique of course regardless of what section it is in and deserves the right kind of attention.
In the second section called Voices, we are maximalizing the platform of the Dutch distribution landscape by programming those films we believe should be seen and should be seen by large audience. We are working with local distributors and these are the films that have been mostly picked up for domestic distribution. Some of them have not. This is the space where we are investigating distribution models as well, for instance our IFFR Live! project now entering its second year.
What I am happy about is that we managed to create a separate competition in this section and it will be audience jury choosing the winner from eight films that do not have a distributor in Netherlands, to be picked for the distribution and seen on television. We will then supporting the distribution of the film in Netherlands and at the same time, we will give some cash to the winning film´s team. I am very happy to have filmmakers jury in Hivos Tiger Awards Competition and audience jury in here.
But what we were very strong about in last 44 years is trying to put all this new and innovative stuff into a context, so we are having a section called Deep Focus in which we gathered and grouped all our retrospectives and master classes of Regained and In Depth programs that built a bridge between the old and the new that will put a new context to filmmakers we hold dear and who were coming to the festival for many years of which we will show the entire body of work to see the ongoing spirit of innovative art to understand that it is not just a momentary phenomenon but it goes many many decades ago.
And to build that bridge is something I find very illuminating and it can go very deep and for cinephiles to have also links to present extremes, to new and fresh work. This year we will have a retrospective of the School of Barcelona.
The last section is called Perspectives and here we allow filmmaking to be viewed from different angles - different disciplines, genres or people - we have here an expansion of Critics´ Choice which gives a space to critics we invite to do a video essay on certain theme of certain film of their choosing. We are doing a section on genres where we explore artistic freedom of filmmakers working through genres.
And we are doing something I found very nice and it is an overlap of creative energy and artistic freedom in what we usually call TV but where a lot of filmmakers have been working always. Actually, the grey area between episodic storytelling of TV and feature films is becoming bigger and more interesting in terms of - let´s call it our IFFR DNA of filmmakers - is what we shine our light on and what we showcase. These are the four distinct sections that encompass probably a quite broad spectrum of what we can show as a festival, we are pretty huge, and what I found personally the invigorating part of festival and this combination of how we go about it, is always connected to industry and audience.
We have huge audience industry and we have also huge section dedicated to the industry and this combination gives the festival a special feel. We can really have an audience on one side of the screen and the rest really comes through of what was happening on the other side of the screen and this givers Rotterdam its unique charm
What it means to give the films from Hivos Tiger Awards Competition a wider context?
We figured it would be a smart idea to introduce eight films in the main competition to be able to dedicate a whole day to each film. Let them shine though the one day and let them be seen as exemplary pieces of art the Rotterdam Film Festival stands for in the Hivos Tiger Awards Competition.
Every nominated Tiger film will get its own set of press meetings, press moments, their own posters but we will also try to find the best context-giving which can be in the form of discussion, art exhibition. And every evening, we are having a public talk-show we will record based on the particular film. Even though if somebody would not see the film, they will get an idea of what the festival stands for and why this film was programmed.
Every attention and support invested in the films will be also from an angle "this is why we think this film is so special." One does not have to necessary agree with our vision but we should be clear why it´s on our slate and we will have nicer and sharper discourse why the film was programmed. The first competition title we announced is Fiona Tan´s History´s Future.
She is an artist in her own right and we are actually opening on Thursday a second exhibition of her work, so there will be double opening, an exhibition of her art in a gallery space we created and from there we will go to the premiere of her film and afterwards, we will have a talk-show why the film is so special.
How did the programming policy change?
We have couple of very brilliant programmers in our team and I think we can be even clearer if we are discussing the titles like in a newsroom. Because we restructuralized the sections we no longer needed film quotas based on territories which used to be the case.
I wanted us to discuss the tittles and to clarify why this title should be in Bright Future and why that titles should in Voices and to do so, it requires a level of interaction among the programmers. It is a luxury to a certain extent but I think it gives a real additional layer to our programming. These are of course fierce debates and choices and that is what makes cinema interesting.
Does the restructuralization impact also quantity of films in the programme?
The most important is quality. The films should be good and we are in a privilege situation that there is plenty of fantastic cinema to choose from. In previous editions, we have already trimmed down the number of films in the programme slightly. We found some many interesting titles we still want to show that we will remain quantity-wise on the same level as last year.
The main influx is because it is also about managing expectation. If there can be films we find very special for specific reasons but if you go into those films unprepared, not knowing why they are there or in what realm they are presented in, that cannot be clear and it can be a frustrating experience.
Whereas if we say, we find this film special because - a) we believe in the filmmaker, b) we are celebrating this as a continuation of an era consisting of twenty films c) new way of filmmaking - we should say so. Then it becomes much easier to programme films that are not obvious. And there is many of those around, many great ones.
Creating four sections enable us to remain bold and crazy in the programming because if you reveal the context, those films can have better impact and provide nicer and deeper experience for audience and industry. We will remain on the same quantity as last year since we kept retrospectives, in depth section and also themed programmes, we can show more films.
There are films grouped in themed sections which allow us a space to programme films underscoring the theme and to bring the sensibilities of filmmakers and experience of the film to discussions.
The main theme is identity which is up-to-date even though we, in Europe, have been occupied by the immigration situation throughout the year.
We are trying to move beyond the anecdotal and the obvious and we should start thinking a bit further down the road. Just the fact that we experienced a huge influx of new people into the Europe created a tension in various ways. We know this by now and it is obvious on our streets.
We should think what this actually means towards us as individuals and to us as communities because it is here to stay. This is going to be a longer thing. Every section has its specific programme - like ID: gender(dot)net2016 for instance - it is clear we have to deal with our own identity first before mirroring ourselves on others which has to do with the very basis of identifying our identity as sexuality.
And this is very important element to discuss. In gender programme, we are very specific to our own identity and in the theme programme, we are finding out what it means, when entering a community, when entering a generic space, to lose part of one´s identity or giving it up in order to become part of bigger community.
This can be a tragedy, kind of, but it can also give a certain kind of safety and anonymity. But it might represent a danger because you are susceptible for other influences. In our third theme section, focus, we are investigating the idea what it takes and how long it takes to become a new community, it often takes time and extreme events to bind us together and we are searching for the role that camera and cinema plays in bringing communities together.
We are having a whole new demographic situation in the Europe, it is ongoing thing, on a much more extreme level than a few years ago. This has impact on us that lasts and we need to be aware of what that means to our own identity and how can we become a new identity as a community.
And this takes time and deeper sense of understanding. And this is why I think cinema is such an important part because the emotional experience that cinema can bring is not necessarily anecdotal, immediate or based on actuality but it gives you a more emotional experience which often takes time, and that is what cinema is, art in time.
Will there be any development in the IFFR Live! initiative?
It is now in its second year and we retuned it and adjusted to become even stronger signal of new kind of distribution in which festivals play a key role. Last year, we initiated the project of streaming of films and subsequent interactive Q&A in 40 cinemas across the Europe. We are expanding this concept this year and really making it like a mini-festival and huge after-screening show at which people can actually interactively participate wherever they are.
I am really psyched about this because it really underscores the importance of film festivals in present distribution landscape in Europe as launching platforms or sometimes even as alternative to the distribution. Actually, last film I produced, Atlantis, was the opening film on IFFR! Live last year so I could experience the initiative also from the filmmaker´s perspective.
What I felt was amazing was the concept to begin with and what I felt was missing or that we could improve was to make clear we are exporting the festival experience rather than film by film. The level of attendance and atmosphere we get at our festival gives it a special zing and that fell should be exportable.
So, we are grouping the screening in two and half days but five films again to have two sessions a day no matter whether you are in Italy, Slovenia, Poland or Spain to have the festival´s experience, it is almost as good as being in Rotterdam. That means we wanted to expand the level of interactivity and we want to have a two-way connection going on to see what is happening in those theatres and we will collaborate with befriended festivals closely to stress the fact that we are celebrating films in festival setting.
What would be the criteria for IFFR Live! titles?
The interesting part and often the challenging one is that those films should breathe out what we think is good, what are great films. Just the way we programme the whole festival. We are not programming separate films for separate sections. We are programming the IFFR and films which is auteur cinema, can be enriching as well as challenging experience nonetheless because of that.
At the same time, they should be able to speak to audience and this is the big challenge - how do we do that. We have Venice winner As I Open My Eyes, La Novia from Spain, Belgian film Prejudice, Danish The Model and Scandinavian film The Garbage Helicopter.
Some of them have been already screened at other festivals, some of them have distribution in several countries, some are premieres and they all bear the sign of auteur cinema as we cherish it. They also have the power to speak to a wide audience that appreciates these films and to make that happen in a festival setting is our goal.
And to be honest, what we are hoping is by continuing these kinds of special projects we can expand the role festivals play and that of distribution in general, whether it is by creating the launching pad to advance a critical mass or just saying we have all this marketing power we are putting behind these films or in the way this becomes a mean to distribute films in a manner.
Not every film will be sold into every territory and that´s a shame. People should be able to see them. And festivals are the space where you can see those films and we want to maximize the space the best we can.
In 2013, Inge de Leeuw curated a special Signal section revolving around TV and episodic storytelling which has boomed this year thanks also to streaming services. You have brought Léo Soesanto on the board to investigate the matter closely.
I am happy to hear you remember the programme Inge did. I wanted to take it a step further this year and to say that this is a constant element of our festival. Just like we are putting some much emphasis on the realm of short and mid-length films since there is so much innovation, we are having the same vision regarding what is happening - for the lack of a better word - in a TV world. But you know, Netflix is not technically a TV.
And to make this a more profound element from no-budget webseries to huge budgeted miniseries and everything in between, I thought it would be good to have an additional voice on the team and I wanted to have another international perspective on the programming anyway and I was happy Léo Soeasanto´s second term at Cannes Critics Week was over, he has been there for six years which means he was available and particularly that he could bring his level expertise and knowledge of the television production.
The previous edition also had the Signals section, which I believe was not barred entirely from the upcoming edition but somehow assimilated into the new structure.
I am not using the word Signals any more because people used it in separate programmes, each retrospective used to be called a signal as well. The core of what it meant, those themed programmes, is not going to be just big this year but even bigger in years to come because cinema is not just entertainment or art, it is also relevant. In that sense, it is a distinct part of Rotterdam and we will keep it that way.
To find more about joining the festival via IFFR Live! platform, refer to the IFFR Live! website.
The 45th edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam starts this evening, and runs until Sunday the 7th of February.