IFFR 2023 – Filmmakers and artists show what cinema can also be

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The 52nd edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) opens on January 25 with Munch by Norwegian filmmaker Henrik Martin Dahlsbakken. A beautiful psychological portrait of the struggling Edvard Munch, the artist who would become known as the creator of The scream. Four actors play the painter in four defining episodes of Munch’s life. Dahlsbakken collects this as a mosaic that gives the story extra expressiveness. Munch can easily appeal to a wide audience, but at the same time shows Dahlsbakken as a filmmaker with his own voice.

A good start to a festival that values ​​its own voice. And it also wants to go a step further by showing works that explore the limits of cinema and connections with other art forms. Just like in the Art Directions program section.

‘Film is film art is art’, goes the oft-quoted statement of Hubert Bals, the patriarch of the IFFR. Because film can be a great storytelling medium, but its power and expression are not exhausted. There are also plenty of examples of this outside the Art Directions programme.

Film as a piece of music

Number Eighteen (Image: Gusto Entertainment)

See e.g Number eighteen – selected for the Tiger Competition – by the Dutch filmmaker Guido van der Werve. Someone who often moves between visual art, performance and film. After a serious accident that almost killed him, he reflects Number eighteen back on his life.

He calls this docu-fiction at the same time dryly poetic and silently moving self-examination. He alternates images of his rehabilitation with recreated fragments from a difficult childhood. So far not particularly unusual in design, until suddenly a musical group with a choir enters the stage and provides a sung immersion. Which is very different from a musical. Guido’s father’s paintings also play an important role here. Then rises Number eighteen transcends the usual formulas and you could perhaps call it a visual piece of music, with which he expresses his feelings in a special way.

Challenging animation

When it comes to connections with the visual arts, we also find a lot to our liking in animation. One of the filmmakers in focus at IFFR is the Japanese animation director Yuasa Masaaki, who is well on his way to a status comparable to that of Hayao Miyazaki. It looks quite conventional Ride Your Wave (two years ago in the Dutch cinema) proved to be an exception in his oeuvre full of challenging excesses.

Inu-Oh (Image: IFFR)

Full of wonder and with growing excitement, I watched his latest film Inu-oh. A rebellious adventure, also as a film, about a non-conformist singing and dancing duo in fourteenth-century Japan. Visually spectacular, with scenes that sometimes refer to classic Japanese prints, then to modern graphic collage art or modern rock stars. Exuberant, brutal animated expressionism. His equally unrestrained debut Mind games can also be seen at IFFR.

Political collage art

So Low You Can’t Get Over It (Screenshot)

Another focus program is dedicated to the American artist Stanya Khan. She also transcends artistic boundaries with animation and performance, music and painting, fiction and documentary. IN So low you can’t get over it For example, she uses her own paintings as raw material for an ultra-short digital animation that is as beautiful as it is mysterious. Floating figures stare at their cell phones in an abstract, ever-changing landscape.

Hair Stand in the Stream is completely different. You can call it documentary collage art. So no traditional documentary discourse on the latest developments in the world. An immersion in a maelstrom of images, from the protests in Egypt’s Tahrir Square to the election of Trump, inspired by a quote from Bertolt Brecht. Compelling, urgent and political. Stay afloat in the maelstrom, lift yourself up!

Kind directions

When looking for the art form that cinema can be, the Art Directions program goes one step further. Just like two years ago, Vive le cinéma, the joint anniversary program of Eye and IFFR, was created. Away from the traditional screening in the cinema room. It can be Virtual Reality, but also film or video image as part of an art installation or audiovisual performance. Sometimes live, sometimes as a presentation on several screens, sometimes as a room where you, as a visitor, become part of the project.

Visitors to the IFFR can now enter the installation immediately after arriving at Rotterdam Central Station Aether (poor items). It promises a poetic immersion, where the digital vlogger world is connected with images of a solar eclipse. Two extremes of elusiveness, I imagine, because I hadn’t yet had a chance to see for myself.

Steve McQueen (Image: IFFR)

Art Directions is certainly curious, and that certainly also applies to the new video installation Sunshine State by Steve McQueen. He achieved his fame mainly as a director of films such as the Oscar winner 12 years a slavethe award-winning one at Cannes hungry and the relatively new series Hatchet with stories from the Caribbean community in London.

But before he became a filmmaker, McQueen already asserted himself as a visual artist. Two disciplines that come together in the installation created at the invitation of the IFFR Sunshine State, installed in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. The festival calls this video project, which takes place on two screens, a ‘monumental work that invites reflection’. Excerpt from the first talking film The jazz singer (1927), is accompanied by a shocking story about a racist incident experienced by McQueen’s father and images of a burning sun. I will definitely watch it.

On Saturday 28 January, Steve McQueen will give a Talk about his work. Stanya Kahn (January 30) and Yuasa Masaaki (January 27) are also present with a Talk. Number eighteen will be in theaters after the festival on March 9. Inu-oh on March 16.

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