Netherlands Film Festival Director Willemien van Aalst has called on any new Dutch Government to respect the “social significance” of Dutch cinema.

“Like in England, there are black clouds in the air,” van Aalst said of the situation facing public financing of the arts. “There is a tendency in society to think art and culture is not important and that it is something for the elite,” the Festival director noted.

Her remarks come in advance of what are expected to be sweeping cuts of between 20 and 22% to the Dutch cultural sector once a new coalition Government is finally formed.

In a bid to remind audiences and politicians of cinema’s social significance, van Aalst has programmed a section for this year’s Festival in Utrecht – the 30th edition – called Mirror Of Holland. “We want to show everybody – politicians and public – that we have a mirror through Dutch film to look at ourselves, to look at our landscape and our cities.”

The Festival currently runs on a budget of 3.5 million Euros. One third of this comes from public sources. If the budget is cut, van Aalst has warned that she will have to make the festival programme smaller. She points out that the Utrecht city authorities are fully behind the event and that it should emerge relatively unscathed. However, production is likely to suffer badly if subsidies are cut and if Government doesn’t provide Government with its own tax shelter system.

Changes are afoot at the festival for next year. Ellis Driessen, director of industry event The Holland Film
Meeting, will be stepping down. Her position is to be taken next year by Signe Zeilich-Jensen. Van Aalst says that she is looking to move industries activities (which now largely take place at the Grand Hotel Karel V), closer to the heart of the festival in the Neude Square.

This year’s event opened with the premiere of Rudolf van den Berg’s controversial Tirza (Holland’s foreign language Oscar candidate.) During the festival, Dutch filmmakers, writers, producers and actors are competing for Golden Calf awards, the most prestigious prizes in Dutch cinema. The festival, which started on 22nd October, runs until October 1st.

Advance ticket sales have been brisk (up 15% on last year) and van Aalst said the Festival should be able to match or exceed last year’s admission figures of 151,000. The local media have been broadly supportive of the event. Among the new initiatives this year is a “drive in cinema” where selected Dutch films are screened to audiences in cars. Torrential rain fell during the Thursday screening of Will Koopman’s The Dark House. “It rained so hard that they (audiences) had to have their windscreenwipers on but hopefully they had fun,” the Festival director remarked.