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IFFR 2009: Where blind pigs & rosaries can conquer tigers

Paul F. Agusta ,  CONTRIBUTOR ,  ROTTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS   |  Sun, 02/15/2009 11:48 AM  |  Screen

For almost four decades, The Netherlands' International Film Festival Rotterdam has maintained a reputation as a viable source of new cinematic talent from all over the world, especially the newly emerging movie makers of developing nations.

It is the dream of many young filmmakers to make it into this esteemed event. Now in its 38th year, the IFFR still possesses its never-ending drive to spotlight first- and second-time feature filmmakers as well as to expose European audiences to films they would not find at any of the larger festivals.

IFFR 2009, which ran from Jan. 21 to Feb. 1, continued the festival's long-standing reputation as being a home for experimental and offbeat films despite undergoing a massive image overhaul.

 Pong Harjatmo as Halim in Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly by Edwin. This film won the prestigious FIPRESCI AWARD at the IFFR 2009. (Courtesy of Babibuta Film) Pong Harjatmo as Halim in Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly by Edwin. This film won the prestigious FIPRESCI AWARD at the IFFR 2009. (Courtesy of Babibuta Film)

The festival has a fairly new director in Rutger Wolfson - this being his second year at the helm - who replaced Sandra den Hamer last year. More so than in 2008, the new administration initiated some changes this year that have caused quite a stir among festival-goers, the most controversial being the revamping of their mascot and logo, The Tiger.

The programming format has also been reworked slightly, with the integration of their short films section into other thematic sections as a good example.

Overall, this year's IFFR was a success - a success in proving to the world that change isn't always a bad thing. The festival may have a new face, but its noble original purpose remains intact and stronger than ever; The International Film Festival Rotterdam will continue to provide an international platform for filmmakers all over the world for many years to come.

List of sections IFFR presented this year:

+ Bright Future

Bright Future is the platform for filmmakers of the future. Here, the festival presents the most important, idiosyncratic and adventurous new work by novice makers from all over the world. The section mainly consists of first or second films. The competitive part of the festival, the VPRO Tiger Awards Competition for first and second features (in which one Indonesian film, director Edwin's Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly, was chosen to compete) and the Tiger Awards Competition for short films are part of this section.

+ Spectrum

Spectrum comprises work by experienced filmmakers and artists who provide, in the opinion of the IFFR, an essential contribution to international film culture. Spectrum brings together highlights of the film year, new work by prominent auteurs and topical, strong and innovative films by accomplished filmmakers. Closely linked to Bright Future, Spectrum sets a high quality standard in substance and style.

+ Signals

Signals is made up of a series of thematic film programs, exhibitions or performances. Here the festival focuses on specific themes and oeuvres of striking filmmakers or visual artists. The programs within Signals offer insight into topical as well as timeless ideas within cinema. Signals included retrospectives on the works of Polish filmmaker/playwright/actor Jerzy Skolimowski, underrated Italian maestro Paolo Benvenuti, and Swiss experimental filmmaker Peter Liechti.

Other programs featured in Signals were:

Size Matters: A thematic program, which examines the evolution and ubiquitous presence of audiovisual screens, included the screening of specially commissioned films created by Guy Maddin & Isabella Rosselini, Carlos Reygadas, and Nanouk Leopold that were projected onto high-rise office buildings in Rotterdam every night from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. for the entire duration of the festival

Hungry Ghosts: Hungry Ghosts features films from East Asian countries about ghosts and supernatural apparitions. A real Haunted House group exhibition is also part of Hungry Ghosts with Southeast Asian filmmakers Amir Muhammad (Malaysia), Wisit Sasanatieng (Thailand), Nguyen Vinh Son (Vietnam), Lav Diaz (Philippines), Garin Nugroho (Indonesia) and Riri Riza (Indonesia) each having converted a room in an exhibition hall into their version of a haunted space.

First Things First: A section that features the first films of renowned filmmakers such as Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, Lars Von Trier, Hou Hsiao-hsien, and Shinya Tsukamoto

Young Turkish Cinema: A section that spotlights the remarkable rise and recent development of independent filmmaking in Turkey.

Regained: a special section that takes a close look at recently rediscovered or restored films, as well as films about film and filmmakers.

In the competition section this year, the IFFR saw a large number of powerful new cinematic voices and awarded them accordingly. During the ceremony held on Friday, Jan. 30, at the Rotterdamse Schouwburg, the following prizes were handed out.

The 2009 VPRO Tiger Awards: These most coveted prizes went to three films as is the custom of IFFR. This year's winners were: Be Calm and Count to Seven (Aram bash va ta haft beshmar) by Ramtin Lavafipour (Iran, 2008), a vivid and realistic drama on the subject of human trafficking; Breathless (Ddongpari) by Yang Ik-June (South Korea, 2008), a powerful expose of domestic abuse, an issue still often covered up in Korean culture; and the Wrong Rosary (Uzak ihtimal) by Mahmut Fazil Coskun (Turkey, 2008) a film that tells the highly controversial story of an Imam (Islamic religious leader) who falls in love with a Catholic nun. Each VPRO Tiger Award comes with a prize of 15,000 euro and guaranteed broadcast by Dutch public television network VPRO.

The NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) award was presented to The Land (Dadi) by He Jia (China, 2008), an affecting albeit nontraditional portrayal of a remote minority community in China. A Special Mention was awarded to Agrarian Utopia by Uruphong Raksasad (Thailand, 2009), a visually breathtaking documentary on Thai rice farmers.

The FIPRESCI Award is a prize that is handed out by the international association of film critics FIPRESCI (F*d*ration Internationale de la Presse Cin*matographique). This year, The FIPRESCI decided to award the International Critics' Prize to Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly (Babi Buta yang Ingin Terbang - Indonesia, 2008) by Indonesia's own Edwin, a brave film that tackles the controversial subject of race and what it means to be of the Chinese ethnic minority in Indonesia. This film was also part of the VPRO Tiger Awards Competition.

KNF Award is given by the Association of Dutch film, and this year they saw fit to award Tony Manero by Pablo Larra*n (Chile/Brazil, 2008). It's a black comedy with strong political undertones.

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