Kevin Macdonald was one of the filmmakers on hand at this inaugural film festival, which opened with his documentary Marley.

The first Curacao International Film Festival Rotterdam ran March 29-April 1, screening more than 25 features and 11 shorts in Willemstad, the Carribean island’s capital.

More than 7,000 people attended the first edition, organisers said, comprising the largest film festival audience in the area.

The festival kicked off with Kevin Macdonald on hand to introduce his Bob Marley documentary Marley, which had its Caribbean premiere in a sold-out screening at new six-screen complex The Cinemas, in the Otrobanda area of Willemstad.

The festival was initiated by Gregory Elias of Curacao-based cultural foundation Fundashon Bon Intenshon, which partnered on the programme with the International Film Festival Rotterdam (their partnership was announced in June 2011.]

The successful first edition has led organisers to announce that there is already a second edition planned, with dates set for March 28-31 2013.

Gregory Elias said: “Visitors have warmly embraced the film festival. We had expected a good turn-out, but the enthusiasm of locals and tourists alike, and the great interest generated in the media, took us by surprise. We have broadened the scope of films on offer in Curaçao and by doing so created a new audience for art house cinema.”

He added: “The meetings between local filmmakers and the international film professionals attending the festival were extremely fruitful. The first steps have been taken towards allowing the Curaçao IFFR to become a meeting place for the development and support of local, Caribbean and Latin American film talent. This provides the energy to organise a fantastic festival again next year.”

IFFR festival director Rutger Wolfson told Screen: “It went really well, it far exceeded our expectations. The films shown here are usually Hollywood films, so we didn’t know what to expect from audiences. But turnout was really great, and the audiences were really open to the films we screened.”

The Rotterdam festival organisers, which run industry programmes such as the Hubert Bals Fund and Cinemart co-production market, will also think about how to further engage the local filmmaking community in coming years. “We can work to figure out how we can help develop talent here,” Wolfson added.

Features screened during the festival include Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s Mexican fishing family story Alamar (a 2010 IFFR Tiger winner); Eran Kolirin’s 2007 award winner The Band’s Visit; Chinese 2012 Tiger winner Egg and Stone by Huang Ji; Cannes 2011 Directors Fortnight winner The Giants (Les geants) by Bouli Lannesr; teenage dancer story Rania from Brazil; Daniel Nettheim’s Willem Dafoe-starring The Hunter; Dutch children’s film Kikkerdril by Simone van Dusseldorp; Canadian Oscar nominee Monsieur Lazhar by Philippe Falardeau; IFFR 2012 opener 38 Witnesses (38 temoins) by Lucas Belvaux; and Michael Fassbender’s sex addiction drama Shame.

The Caribbean Classics programme included new steel pan documentary Panman, The Rhythm of the Palms by Sander Burger as well as Cuban feature Suite Habana.

The festival presented one world premiere, Catrien Ariens’ The Night Holds Me Back (Nochi no ke laga mi bai), a documentary about tambu, the traditional music of Curacao.

In addition to Macdonald, other directors in attendance included Pedro Gonazlez-Rubio, Tata Amaral, Carlos Marcovich, Jo Hendriquez, and Marco Bechis. These experts participated in meetings with young aspiring filmmakers.

The festival offered free educational screenings for groups of local students, as well as performances by youth orchestras. For example, nearly 2,000 students saw screenings of Tata Amaral’s Antonia, about young hip-hop girls in Brazil.

Locals aged 14-25 were also encouraged to make their own films, as part of the Short Movies, BIG Stories competition. The themes for the short films were identity, the environment and music. 34 shorts were entered, with three jury prizes awarded (each receiving cash prizes): WDDH (What The Deaf Don’t Hear) by Benjamin Boyce and Kelsey Gittesn [fiction]; Empty by Inez Fariza and Elyse Josefine [music video] and Petroli by Vincent Lauffer [documentary].

Wallie Polle, general director of Dutch distributor Cineart, made the trip to Curacao and was encouraged by the passionate post-film discussions after screenings of the company’s titles The Artist and Shame. “I was happy about the response of the people on the festival and indeed impressed by the local support. I think the organisers can achieve a role in this area if they can stick to a long-term vision and have patience.”

For a slideshow from the festival, click here.