The 38th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) will open tonight(January 21) with outdoor screenings of three specially commissioned films by Carlos Reygadas, Guy Maddin and Nanouk Leopold.

The films will be projected high on the sides of buildings in the city's centre.

In Maddin's Send Me to the 'lectric Chair, which screens on a permanent 7 minute loop from 6pm until 1am, audiences will see Maddin's regular muse Isabella Rossellini being slowly fried on a wooden electric chair.

Reygadas' Serenghetti is a film of a woman's football match high in the mountains of Mexico. Leopold's Close-Up, made in collaboration with visual artist Daan Emmen, is a 420 minute close-up of three faces.

All three films, screening in IFFR's Signals: Size matters section, were produced by London-based Illuminations.

The official opening film is Michael Imperioli's The Hungry Ghosts, a world premiere in the festival's Tiger competition.

IFFR runs from January 21 to February 1. Guests expected in town over the next 10 days include Claire Denis, Jean-Claude Brisseau, Jerzy Skolimwoski (subject of a retrospective) and Raul Ruiz.

Despite the credit crunch, the festival reports no decline in interest in its coproduction market, CineMart, which runs January 25-29.

This year, the Festival's Hubert Bals Fund (HBF), supporting filmmaking in developing countries, is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Just prior to the Festival, the Fund received heartening news. Finally, after a prolonged debate, The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has agreed to continue its support of the HBF. Interim funding is already in place for this year and long-term funding arrangements will be made after the festival for 2010 onwards.

'It is a huge relief,' HBF manager Bianca Taal commented this week on the Ministry's long-term commitment. 'We are very, very happy that we can go into the future with this prospect of continuing to work with the Ministry.'

The uncertainty surrounding HBF, dating back more than two years, can be traced to changes in the way foreign aid money is invested in the Netherlands. The chief aim of aid initiatives is to alleviate hunger and poverty. The challenge the Fund has faced has been persuading the Ministry to maintain its backing of cultural projects as well.

HBF has long been recognised as one of the key parts of IFFR. Life On A String by Chen Kaige was the first film to receive funding from the Fund in 1989. Since then, hundreds of further projects have received HBF production, post-production and distribution backing. This year, a record 33 films in Rotterdam's programme have been made with HBF support.