On the 28th June 1972, the opening night of the inaugural Film International Rotterdam did not go as well as hoped: just seventeen people turned up for the first screening, and the entire festival only managed 4,500 attendees for 31 subsequent film showings. Luckily for lovers of bold and inventive cinema, its organizer Hubert Bals was not deterred.
Still running, still going strong, and now one of the largest audience and industry-driven film events in the world, the renamed International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) is heading into its 44th edition in 2015 with a bulging slate of screenings, premieres and supporting activities. From its earliest years, the fest’s mission was to promote ground-breaking, unconventional and non-commercial films and shorts to a wider audience in the newly established circuit of art house cinemas in the Netherlands, with a strong focus on work from developing countries and the Far East. Bals was right to believe the festival would become a success: 2014 saw the 12-day fest achieve 287,000 admissions and 2,400 film professionals attend; its Official Selection programme saw 220 feature films and 320 short films from 60 countries screen at multiple venues across the city.
Such is its prestigious standing today, the IFFR is now recognized as one of the premier occasions to launch new films and filmmaking talent, and as it is comparable in size to many of the other major European festivals – such as Venice, Cannes and Berlin – the industry’s eyes are often upon it, with many independent works finding major distribution. The IFFR doesn’t do red carpet celebrity events either, and strives to develop a special bond between cinephiles and the artists who create the films being watched – they encourage filmmakers to mix with attendees to create a unique atmosphere, which has helped develop a fiercely loyal following with many fans continuing to return year after year.
Now boasting two competitions and three non-competitive sections, several thematic strands and retrospectives, the Hubert Bals Fund (named after the founder, who died suddenly in 1988) which provides money and support for filmmaking from developing nations, a Rotterdam Lab for training young film producers, the IFFR Trainee Project for Young Film Critics, and CineMart which provides a platform for filmmakers to connect with and pitch to industry insiders, the IFFR continues to go from strength to strength.
The 2015 International Film Festival Rotterdam runs from 21st January to the 1st February at several venues across the city, including the Pathé cinema at Schouwburgplein, the Old Luxor Theater and the Rotterdamse Schouwburg