Abstracted from Screen International

The International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherlands is unashamedly obscure and cutting edge. Uncovering and supporting new talent is the sole raison d'etre for the event, which opened on Jan 23.

The main competition - where the competitors are dubbed "tiger films", the sidebars, the prizes and the projects market are all about discoveries. Uncovering and supporting new talent is the sole raison d'etre for the Film Festival. And in comparison with Sundance, which focuses chiefly on US films, while Rotterdam's is, well the world, that is a much bigger task. With hindsight some of its selections will turn out to have been clangers, others the first public sighting of an important new directorial career. The point is to uncover, select, test and then uplift the names of tomorrow.

Co-director, and for several years chief selector, Simon Field says: "We have three pillars: the Hubert Bals Fund, the festival and Cinemart - all aimed at fulfilling the same ambition. Hopefully getting films started, offering financial support and marriage broking."

The result may be a number of virtuous circles. In one instance, The Hubert Fund - named after the festival's founder - supports script development, post production and distribution of films from around the world.

On completion, many return to the festival in a special sidebar. In another, the main prize for the competition section, the VPRO Tiger Award, is worth Euros 10,000 in cash, but perhaps more valuably, also guarantees theatrical distribution and TV broadcast in the Netherlands. Good for the film and good for the festival. "Distribution of [our kind of] prizes gives these films a circulation outside the festival. That in turn enhances the value of the prize," argues Field, who otherwise fights shy of talking about the competition in isolation. "We are not a festival focussing on premieres - although premieres are available to with the Tigers. But we like to do is make a case." And for that the sidebars are just as important as the competitive section.

Rotterdam this year has set itself the task of addressing the question What (Is) Cinema', a subject which Field says emerged quite quickly after last year's event. "It is a very good time to sit back and reconsider what cinema is about. The climate of the past 2-3 years with its emphasis on market forces, for instance, has not been enriching for cinema or for audiences. Rotterdam has a responsibility to discuss rather than simply consume. A festival like Rotterdam really needs to show that people speak with different voices," says Field.

It will do so through a number of set piece debates and panel discussions digital cinema, hybrid forms of cinema, film in an era of globalisation and an examination of the auteur voice. To set the debates rolling there are special screenings of films by Jean-Luc Godard, Alexander Sokurov, Mike Figgis and David Lynch. These are complemented by the Desert Of The Real section which presents a number of overtly political films and the Looking Glass sidebar, showcasing films about film-making.

The film production process gets a major boost with Cinemart , the five day (Jan 27-31) projects market and co-production forum that has become the model for others around the world. The principle sounds simple; bring together producers and projects in need of cash with financiers and distributors seeking pictures to back. But Rotterdam's track record is second to none.

"The track record of our "works in progress" is very good," says Cinemart Co-ordinator Ido Abrams of the handful of pictures which have already shot, but are looking for completion funds. "Hashiguchi Ryosuke's Hush! found its outstanding finance and a foreign sales agent in the course of last year's Cinemart. Bela Tarr's Werckmeister Harmoniak did exactly the same two years ago."

Cinemart already co-operates with Independent Feature Project in New York and at South Korean Pusan Promotion Project (PPP). Other international partners are: IFFCON (LA), Film Creators Forum (Tokyo), Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum en Sithengi, Film & Television Market (Cape Town).

And in a sign of growing co-operation between the two festivals, Rotterdam is set to export a number of its projects to Berlin in a new feature dubbed the Rotterdam-Berlinale Express. Details will be announced on Wednesday (Jan 30).