Cult Japanese film-maker Takeshi Kitano will make his third trip to Europe in four months when he returns to Rotterdam with his swordplay action vehicle Zatoichi, which has won major prizes ever since it premiered in competition at Venice. The film has now been set as the opening film at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) (Jan 21 - Feb 1, 2004).

The festival also announced its third sidebar, "Once We Were Birds: Romani Cinema", a thematic section of features, documentaries and shorts about and by the Romany or gypsy people. It is expected to include premieres of documentaries including Aleksander Manic's Shutka (Yugoslavia/Czech Republic) and Zelimir Zilnik's Kenedi Comes Home (former-Yugoslavia). Previously announced sidebars include "Homefront USA" and "Power : Play".

The British artist and film-maker Isaac Julien is to be the second Artist in Focus presented by the IFFR . The festival said "it is a choice that marks the festival's commitment to exploring and highlighting the growing cross-over between cinema and the visual arts and the strength of its partnership with the other arts institutions in Rotterdam." Last year it kicked off with France's Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster.

Ten directors, many Rotterdam regulars, have been commissioned to direct one-minute shorts as a project to encourage adventurous shorts film-making. They are The film-makers participating in the 'Just a Minute'-programme are Yael Bartana (The Netherlands), Anouk de Clercq (Belgium), Tony Cokes (USA), Werther Germondari (Italy), Christoph Girardet (Germany), Lewis Klahr (US), Miguel Gomes (Portugal), Nicolas Provost (Belgium), the Quay brothers (UK) and Bea de Visser (The Netherlands).

Speaking of Zatoichi, the festival's departing co-director, Simon Field said: "We have chosen this film not only to represent the festival's long-standing enthusiasm for Japanese cinema but also our admiration for the work of Takeshi Kitano in particular. It's a great honour for me personally in my last year as a director of the festival and for the festival itself that Mr Kitano has broken into a very hectic schedule to be present in Rotterdam."