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Rotterdam opens with a bang...and a Bastard

A stylish local film, opening night speeches that were (gasp!) entertaining and a cloud installation get the 42nd IFFR started in style.

Guido van Driel and Rutger Wolfson

Guido van Driel and Rutger Wolfson

Rotterdam opened its 42nd edition last night with the world premiere of Guido van Driel’s The Resurrection of A Bastard, marking the first time in about 15 years that the festival opened with a Dutch film. The good news is that this local film wasn’t like one of those hockey films opening Toronto; this was a stylish, ambitious work that provided an energetic kick start for the festival. There were some crowd-pleasing moments of dark humour, as well as a certain scene involving a vacuum cleaner that everyone will be talking about for the rest of the festival. And it’s always helpful to learn a foreign swear word (Bastard=Klootzak).

van Driel spoke of the project’s beginnings as a graphic novel in 2003, when he got a commission from the town of Dokkum in Friesland in the North of the Netherlands to work on a project about the area, which is famous becaues St Boniface was martyred there in the 8th Century. “I thought if I got the commission, I wanted to make a modern story,” he said, although the story still references St Boniface. The plot involves asylum seekers and a crook who gets a second lease on life after a near-death experience.

Resurrection of a Bastard

Resurrection of a Bastard

About 20 members of cast and crew were on hand for the celebrations, although unfortunately leader man Yorick van Wageningen wasn’t among them. The film was dedicated to the memory of Jeroen Willems, the award-winning Dutch actor who died on December 3; he has a scene-stealing part in the film as a crime boss named James Joyce.

As someone who has sat through hours and hours of butt-numbing opening night speeches, special kudos go to Rutger Woflson and Janneke Staarink for making their speeches creative, impactful and entertaining (multimedia slides and video were used to great effect). They also got their points across quite clearly — that cultural funding (at risk in the Netherlands due to big budget cuts) is crucial; that Rotterdam is more than a festival, it can be a booster for a film’s entire life cycle; and that festival sponsorship is about more than money, it’s about connecting those films to the greater world. (More on those speeches here.)

Rotterdam is one of my favourite festivals to visit. Despite screening 255 features and welcoming more than 2,500 professional guests, it feels more like a family reunion (a very global one) over drinks each night at De Doelen bar. There are many reasons to love Rotterdam: for its programme which always pushes cinema’s boundaries; for the grandaddy of all co-production markets, CineMart; for the huge and dedicated public audiences that can tally 300,0000 admissions; and for the year-round industry support from initiatives such as the Hubert Bals Fund. To be fair, there are some films that are too out-there for me (or most paying audiences), but in a world where the same 50 films seem to dominate 800 different film festivals across the globe, I admire Rotterdam for dancing to the beat of its own drum. The beats this year range from webisodes by auteur film-makers, to pitches by visual artists, plus world premieres such as Hideo Nakata’s The Complex.

The festival’s visual identity evolves every year — this year’s T-shirts and bags are inspired by scripts. And the hang-out area in de Doelen has an amazing cloud light sculpture hanging from the ceiling and water feature on the ground, evoking a sense of calm amidst all those films.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of our special Rotterdam 2013 supplement, you can view it here.

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