International Film Festival Rotterdam festival director Rutger Wolfson has decided to step down from his post after eight years.

He will leave the job after the 2015 edition (which runs Jan 21-Feb 1), one year before his current contract was due to expire in 2016.

IFFR managing director Janneke Staarink will continue in her role; the festival’s advisory board will begin the process of looking for a new festival director after the 2015 festival ends.

“I’ve been doing it for eight years, that’s pretty long for someone in this position,” Wolfson explained in an exclusive interview with Screen. “I think I’ve achieved everything I wanted to achieve. I’m truthfully excited about his festival coming up, it’s going to be a high point and I want to leave on a high point.”

“The festival is in a good place at the moment, we are financially stable, and Janneke is doing a great job,” he continued. “The transition to a new director could be very smooth, so it feels like the right time to go.”

Wolfson said he can look back over his time at the festival and be proud about “keeping the profile of the festival very clear and sharp.”

His tenure has seen the festival do even more exploration of the connections between the art and film worlds. Wolfson joined the festival board in 2004 and was named festival director in 2007. He came from an art world background, previously serving as director of arts venue De Vleeshal and curator at contemporary art centre Witte de With.

“Obviously from my own personal background, where these two fields overlap or touch is interesting to me,” Wolfson said. “I like that we not only investigated this new development showing films made by artists, but we got practical in ways to connect visual artists to make a feature film, these worlds are usually pretty divided,” he said. For instance there are two Art:Film projects selected for this year’s CineMart co-production market. 

New initiatives at Rotterdam 2015 include the launch of IFFR Live!, a series of screenings held at the festival simultaneously screened in cinemas and VOD platforms across Europe; and Tiger Release, which will help films in the festival’s official selection be made available on VOD platforms via Infostrada. The streamlined programme also introduces a new Limelight strand of contemporary cinema selections that will play in Dutch art-house cinemas later in the year.

Wolfson said of his eight-year run: “The spirit of the festival is still very much the same: the love for cinema, the interest in new talent, the support we give filmmakers — all those basic principles are still there. But the world has evolved and the industry has evolved, and I think we’ve managed to stay innovative.”

The 2015 edition of IFFR will be his last and he is likely to formally depart the organisation around April or May 2015. He will confirm his next career move after the 2015 festival is finished. “I want to do the festival first then have some time to decompress, there is nothing concrete lined up, I want some time to think things over,” he said.

The decision to step down comes after an autoimmune disease meant he had to miss most of the 2014 festival. “Being so seriously ill makes you realize that life is fragile and if you are curious about more stuff, you’d better not postpone anything in your life,” he says.

Wolfson explained that he wanted to announce his decision at now so there wouldn’t be speculation distracting from the 2015 edition of IFFR. “I’ve already made the decision and the wheels are set in motion, and I wanted to make sure that I allowed the festival enough time to find a good successor. By announcing it now, I don’t want this to distract from the next festival.”

Chairman of the IFFR Supervisory Board, Pieter Broertjes, said in a statement: “Rutger has had an immeasurably positive impact on the Festival having created a distinctive and relevant programme and proved so valuable in helping build new and innovative industry initiatives that will benefit the Dutch and international film industry in the years to come. We would like to thank Rutger for his commitment, dedication and hard work over the past eight years, we respect his decision to step down in search of a new challenge and once the upcoming edition of the Festival is over we will turn our attention to the process of identifying the right person to continue in the spirit of this wonderful Festival, a key fixture on the international calendar and we look forward to collaborating with this person on the next stage in the life of IFFR.”