One year ago, while the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) was celebrating its 40th anniversary, the people of Egypt started their revolution. Commentators in the West were quick to point out that many Egyptian youth were involved in the revolt and that social media were being used to organize demonstrations on Tahir Square and elsewhere. The events were quickly dubbed the ‘first Facebook revolution’.
One of the Signals programmes in this year’s festival, called ‘Power Cut Middle East’, will demonstrate that this revolution was not as spontaneous as many in the West might think. It shows how this revolution had in fact already announced itself though Egyptian films and video art. The Arab Spring is far from having reached its conclusion. The developments currently going on in Syria are particularly worrying. As part of Power Cut Middle East, the IFFR is offering a home-in-exile to the Visual Arts Festival Damascus, since for obvious reasons it cannot take place in Syria this year. In China as well, filmmakers and artists play an important role in defining an image, or even making visible what has deliberately been kept hidden. This year’s Signals programme ‘Hidden Histories’ focuses on courageous and determined Chinese documentary filmmakers who show us aspects of their society that the Chinese government does not want us to see: poverty, corruption and misrule. The word ‘hidden’ also applies to the films themselves. The screening and distribution of these films is regularly discouraged or even forbidden in China. As part of this programme, we will also show new works by Ai Weiwei, who not only is one of the most prominent visual artists of our time, but a famous opponent of the Chinese government as well. Showing the work of committed filmmakers is one way to make the world visible through film. Genre films can offer more than pleasure and entertainment; often they also reflect the society in which they are made. This is certainly the case with the quick-and- dirty, low-budget Brazilian films from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The festival has dedicated a Signals programme to these films called ‘The Mouth of Garbage’, after the red light district in São Paolo where most of these films were made. They highlight the underbelly of Brazilian society and often use established genres like film noir, horror, Westerns and pornography. Some of them were ingeniously critical of the Brazilian dictatorship. Others rebelled against Cinema Novo, the movement in Brazilian art film that was considered good taste at the time.
Together, these very different programmes illustrate cinema’s extraordinary potential to help us see the world around us, identify and interpret new artistic and social developments, and give meaning. Someone who has made the exploration of this potential his life’s work is the writer, director, film critic and film festival director Peter von Bagh. The IFFR is honouring Von Bagh this year with a Signals focus programme, bringing a selection of his work: mostly documentaries on Finnish filmmakers, artists and history, but also feature films he has directed and collaborated on. This focus programme is not only a rare chance to see Von Bagh’s work outside of Finland, it’s a chance to get more familiar with a country that, oddly enough, is unfamiliar to most of us. Cinema can not only help us see the world around us, it can quite literally shape how we see it. The Signals programme ‘For Real’ takes a closer look at the extent to which cinema has become part of how we view everyday reality. Cinema is so deeply imbedded in our consciousness today that we very easily experience reality as film. With a series of subtle interventions, For Real evokes cinematic experiences in reality, for example by adding an extra audio-visual element to a location, scripting real situations and animating a metropolitan experience with a soundtrack. Stretching the boundaries of cinema to reveal an unexplored intersection between film and real life is a very topical subject. But this year’s revamped ‘Regained’ Signals programme proves that historical cinema can be equally modern. Regained now combines recently restored masterpieces with contemporary ones, like the colour version of Le voyage dans la lune and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, which is inspired by the life and work of Méliès. Regained now also employs a wider perspective and includes non-Western treasures from film history as well as several performances and multimedia installations. In the summer of 2011, a long-term festival friend sadly passed away. Raúl Ruiz was one of the great storytellers of modern cinema and a versatile artist, active in theatre, opera, visual arts as well as writing. The festival honoured his work with retrospective, in 1982 and in 2004. With an oeuvre of over a hundred films, and ideas for many more to come (some of them currently in production), Raúl Ruiz leaves behind an impressive legacy. We’d like to celebrate his life and works by screening two of his films: La maleta (1963), his very first film, and Ballet aquatique (2011), one of the last projects he worked on. During the festival, one of the Smart Talks (January 31) will be dedicated to Raúl Ruiz. An important change in this year’s programme is the downsizing of ‘Bright Future’, the section that presents the most promising debut or second-time filmmakers. Also the number of short films, an integral part of ‘Spectrum’ which presents powerful new work by veterans and less well-known directors, has been significantly reduced. This will help give the individual films in these sections the attention they so deserve. It also means that the overall programme is even more focused and outspoken. Also on behalf of managing director Janneke Staarink and the festival staff, I wish you an exciting 41st edition, full of crazy, profound, meditative, worrying and wonderful films.