Rotterdam's CineMartyesterday got off to both a bang and a whimper. Some 900 film producers, buyersand financiers poured into town, many directly from Sundance, to pick throughthe details of some 48 art-house film projects in various stages of completion.And for those not tied up in deal-making CineMart ran the third Rotterdam FilmParliament of recent years.

With so many delegates inattendance the market's facilities were bursting at the seams, theNFVF-sponsored lunch was standing room only for many and spare meeting slotsvirtually impossible to find.

In front of the assembledmasses, Market chief, Ido Abram was able to proclaim that eight CineMartprojects had screened as completed films in Cannes last year, some 14 inToronto 2004 and Paradise Now, one of the highest-profile films in nextweek's Berlin competition. "I'm not saying that these films would not have beenmade without CineMart, but it has certainly made it easier for them to get offthe ground," he said.

The line-up of projects looksto be one of the event's strongest ever, with top-drawer art-house directorssubmitting projects including John Sayles with The Honeydripper, PeterGreenaway with 55 Men On Horseback and Nicholas Roeg with Puffball.

With CineMart up andrunning, the day then became a celebration of Theo van Gogh, the local directorwho was brutally murdered in November and who had been a regular at theRotterdam festival as host of the late night "Talkshows".

His film 0605, afictionalised account of the events immediately following the assassination ofright-wing politician Pim Fortuyn was the evening gala. Previously screened viabroadband internet, on its theatrical world premiere the film emerged as amuscular and exciting thriller.

Unfortunately the same couldnot be said for the Parliament. In honour of Van Gogh, the organisers hadchosen the theme "Courage And Conviction: Film-Making In An Age Of Turbulence".Although the building was cloaked in a veil of security guards, metal detectorsand bag searches far removed from Rotterdam's usual laid-back style, thesession started out weakly. It was announced that Gijs van de Westelaken,producer of Submission, the short made-for-TV film that got Van Goghkilled, had changed his mind and withdrawn permission for it to be screened atthe debate. He cited security grounds and an unwillingness to stir up moretrouble for Submission's co-director Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Some locals pointed out thatthe film had already been seen in The Netherlands, while others weredisappointed that Rotterdam was being deprived of a chance to continue itstradition of screening ground-breaking films. Still more argued that theproducer's stance smacked of precisely the self-censorship that panellistssubsequently deplored.

The debate that followed wasnothing of the sort. Instead, what followed was nearly two hours of long-windedpolitical correctness from the lectern, with next to no interaction or debatebetween panellists. The chairman, producer Nik Powell, said the speeches by thelikes of historian Geert Mak and film-makers Goran Paskaljevic and GarinNugroho were too important to cut short. Curiously too, given that Van Gogh's Submissionfocused on the position of women in Muslim society, the panel contained nowomen and only one Muslim.

The only speaker with real fire in his belly was operadirector-turned-film producer, Peter Sellers who argued: "culture goes deeperthan politics. Therefore we can only deal with these problems through culture'.People will do what they think the climate will allow. So as cultural workerswe need to address the climate." With searing relevance to the Van Goghslaying, he later added: "If the only way someone can get through to you is byputting a bomb in your car, then you have serious problems listening."