I’m not sure what it felt like in Ljubljana or Dundee, but from Rotterdam the first IFFR Live screening of Jan-Willem van Ewijk’s drama Atlantic. was quite exciting.

Marten Rabarts IFFR Live Atlantic

The new initiative from the International Film Festival Rotterdam (Jan 21-Feb 1) - in partnership with sales companies Fortissimo, Doc & Film and TrustNordisk, and backed by the Creative Europe - aims to develop more audiences for festival films, and in its first year is showing five films at 40 cinemas across Europe at the same time as their IFFR premiere.

Atlantic., making its European premiere, was an inspired choice for the first IFFR Live event. It’s the kind of artful, international work the festival has long championed. Exquisite cinematography of beaches and oceans mean this film was designed to be seen on the big screen.

The story follows a Moroccan windsurfer, still mourning the loss of his mother decades earlier, who makes friends with visiting European windsurfers and attempts to cross the ocean to reunite with one of them.

Audiences could interact via Twitter and Instagram with the film’s cast members Fettah Lamara, and Thekla Reuten and director (and co-star) van Ewijk for an interactive Q+A after the screening.

And as a surprise treat, musician Mourad Belouadi (who contributed to Atlantic.) performed a song on stage at Rotterdam’s Schwouburg that was also beamed to the other cinemas.

They gamely fielded questions from Tweeters across Europe - some straightforward about the process of making the film, some a bit more interpretive, such as if love and the ocean are connected (they all agreed it was). Van Ewijk elaborated that “as a windsurfer you are losing yourself, it’s the same thing as love.”

Marten Rabarts, incoming head of international at EYE, was a charming host of the screening and Q+A, even gamely paying tribute to the film by donning a wetsuit to introduce it.

Rabats noted IFFR Live was “the latest innovation from a festival that has created its identity from innovation”.

Festival director Rutger Wolfson added: “We created IFFR Live to share the anticipation and excitement with audiences across Europe…”

He also stated that the festival thinks it has organised the “largest single film festival audience ever assembled”.

At the Schouwburg itself, the sold-out crowd gave the film a rousing round of sustained applause. IFFR has long been known for its enthusiastic, risk-taking audiences (they don’t walk out even from the most ‘challenging’ films) and this new initiative can hopefully bring that spirit to more locations.

The challenge will be getting audiences around Europe, who already have too many film and entertainment options to choose from in a crowded market, to take a chance on a film they’ve never heard of before, from a festival whose brand doesn’t mean anything to average consumers. Whoever took the chance yesterday will have been rewarded for sure.

The series continues over the next four days with Ramon Gieling’s Erbarme Dich ; Bernard Bellefroid’s Melody; Niels Arden Oplev’s Speed Walking; and Marinus Groothof’s The Sky Above Us.

Distrify Media will release the films on VOD in all participating territories outside Benelux and Spain immediately after each screening. Filmin will release the films on VOD in Spain. The films can also be seen by Dutch viewers at home through broadcaster KPN, on Channel 37.

More information on IFFR Live here. http://live.iffr.com/