Respons to Dekalog 3 On Film Festivals

The compilation of ‘slow criticism’ and personal comments on film festivals, edited by Richard Porton, offered a wide range of thought provoking insights and dilemmas.

Response to Dekalog 3 – On Film Festivals
by Peter Bosma, programmer of the Cinematheque of Lantaren/Venster (Rotterdam)
July 2009

An international film festival should be able to perform a key function in the national film culture, because it builds a body of new film releases and an audience throughout the year. All critical trendwatchers agree however that worldwide the amount of new releases are diminishing and that the few festivalfilms which are released attract no big attendance.
This observation is also recognizable in the Netherlands. Still, we have a sizeable amount of around 30 festivalfilms which make it each year to Dutch distribution. We are lucky to have a good infrastructure of a handfull of small indepent Dutch distribution companies (several of them have a structural cooperation with Belgian distribution). However, this niche of the market is vulnerable, because the big money is not interested to invest and the Dutch Ministry of Culture is still searching for an adequate policy in this field. The network of Europa Cinemas is a lot more helpful, but limited in scope. Therefore, we theatre programmers have a responsibility to create a cinephile context around each festival related release, to attract each time a large dedicated audience and as much attention as possible.

It is relatively easy to put an interesting program together. For example: This Spring, the Dutch release of Still Walking (Hirokazu, 2008) coincided with the release of Tokyo Sonate (K.Kurosawa, 2009). We added two more films: Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953 - an obvious choice) and The Taste of Tea (Ishii, 2004). As for disfunctional Japanese families, there is an abundant choice, but there are always practical limits to the amount of indulging into your pleasures. We restricted ourselves to present just a nice quartet of films, but attendance was predictably low. As usual, we screened these films just for the benefit of a few local cinephiles. So, here we are again confronted by the fundamental choice: do we keep on going to cater to the particular taste of a cinephile minority, or do we try to stimulate the taste of a large potential public of young urban cultural omnivores, or are we looking for more specific target groups (for instance in this case employees and students in the health and welfare area)? The debate is still in progress, the struggle continues.
A second strategy to stimulate the national film culture throughout the year is to invite several small festivals to present their programs in our film theatre, as addition to the selection of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. In the Netherlands, there are a lot of special interest filmfestivals (dominated by geographical oriented labels: Latin America, Brazil, Iran, Maroc, Arabic, Jewish). These are in essence social gatherings, their evaluations are mostly based on the number of attendance. The screenings are, depending on your perspective and perception, a fundamental existential condition or just an excuse. I could live with both options, because in either way these minor festivals offer the opportunity to curious cinephiles to explore unknown film cultures. The most interesting basic question however is the quality of this explorations, and this question is difficult to answer. It is evident that there exist a whole circuit of second rate films which tours around the world at minor festivals. Still, it is possible to discover wrongly neglected promising first trials or even a well made film which did not reach a release nor a screening at the international festival circuit. We cooperate as much as possible with all initiatives which occur, because we want to be in touch with new generations and a new audience. The requirement of a 35mm print proves to be old school, we are living in a period of transition and are forced to take the substitute of dvd and videobeam for granted. I console myself with the prospect that this technological problem will be solved soon.
In 2011 we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, this offers a good occasion to assess the position of the festival and the state of cinephile affairs in the Netherlands. I am particulary interested in the opinions of the younger generation, the new group of eager film enthousiasts which is traceable as blogger at the internet, in universities as student of film studies and at festivals as volunteer. The compilation of Dekalog 3 was dominated by the input of the older and tired generation, so there is still a blank space to be filled in the arena of opinions and experiences.