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IFFR 2023 IFFR Pro

Rotterdam looks to the future of film festivals after the pandemic


- The panellists discussed how the market and curatorial strategies have changed as well as the impact of streaming platforms and reduced budgets on the festival circuit

Rotterdam looks to the future of film festivals after the pandemic
l-r: Mimi Plauché, Nico Marzano, Laura Citarella, Maialen Beloki, Hayet Benkara, Anna Datsiuk and Ellen Kim during the panel

On 28 January, IFFR’s Pro Hub hosted a panel titled “IFFR Pro Dialogue: Film Festival Redux – What Film Festivals Can Do for Filmmakers”. The talk, moderated by producer and industry consultant Hayet Benkara, saw the participation of filmmaker Laura Citarella (Trenque Lauquen [+see also:
film review
interview: Laura Citarella
film profile
), San Sebastián International Film Festival deputy director Maialen Beloki, Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival head programmer Ellen Kim, Chicago International Film Festival artistic director Mimi Plauché, ICA/Frames of Representation representative Nico Marzano and Anna Datsiuk, programmer at the Kyiv Critics’ Week.

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First, the floor was given to Plauché, who spoke about her festival – now in its 59th edition – defining its scope as “international with a focus on first- and second-time directors”. While in terms of curation, “things remained the same” during COVID-19, she said: “The biggest change was our approach to how we’re exhibiting.” In terms of venues, the team moved from a “centralised” approach to a more widespread one, involving more of the city’s neighbourhoods and working on easing accessibility both on site and online. In terms of volume, the number of films screened decreased, but luckily enough, audience attendance is now back to pre-pandemic levels. “We were more than pleasantly surprised,” she admitted.

Next, Citarella touched upon her work with El Pampero Cine, “a group of very indie filmmakers in Argentina” working with “non-traditional ways of producing”. Among other things, she raised concerns about the lower budgets being made available to festivals and other film bodies. “If festivals continue only having budgets to bring people from Europe, it’ll be very difficult to have diverse films and to have this real ‘exchange’, which is the festivals’ main objective.”

Beloki stressed San Sebastián’s efforts to discover new talents and defined it as “a nine-day event taking place in September” but also as “an institution working all year long”, committed to conducting research into festivals, and organising training and support initiatives for emerging filmmakers.

Datsiuk talked about the Kyiv Critics’ Week, now in its sixth edition. The event showcases the best titles of the festival season along with Ukrainian works and retrospectives. Every year, Ukrainian critics curate the programme in conjunction with a group of critics from another country. She explained that, after the full-scale invasion, many festivals had to be postponed or were forced to go virtual. Ukrainian gatherings, however, already knew how to manage online environments thanks to the experience they gained during the pandemic. Docudays, for example, adapted Festival Scope so that the local audience could watch the titles in the national competition. “For our film festival, as we’re a young event, it’s very important for us to build a community-based moment, so we never considered any online option in that sense,” she said, adding how crucial it is for directors to attend premieres in person and to meet with the audience.

Kim explained that Bucheon kicked off one year after the launch of the Busan Film Festival, and it’s now the second-largest film event in South Korea. Last year, the competitive gathering screened 268 films, split equally between shorts and features. She added that during the pandemic, the online environment helped make up for the missing seats owing to reduced capacity. The festival team also cut many large gatherings – including the opening gala – out of the programme, which allowed them to save a huge amount, and to invest up to ten times more financial resources in helping filmmakers develop and shoot their films. The festival plans to expand these support initiatives to filmmakers based in other Asian countries who are planning to develop their projects in South Korea. Since the pandemic seems to be coming to an end and the festival is due to unspool at its original size, Bucheon will need a significantly higher budget. “It would be very difficult to reduce [support for filmmakers] now,” she said.

In his contribution, Marzano highlighted how the pandemic shifted different industry paradigms. While large, mainstream gatherings and more specialised festivals continue to act as a catalyst for communities, the gulf between venues programming films on a daily basis and festivals has got wider, he argued. He also pointed out how some countries are still struggling with cinema attendance across Europe – including bigger markets such as France, Italy and the UK. “Habits have been reshaped. Now it’s even more important for festivals to work with distributors and sales agents so that they can act as a launchpad,” he said.

The panel was brought to a close by a short Q&A session.

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