"Making a film is not the same as building an airplane"
- Carlos Reygadas, IFFR Master Class
Following a panel of four Tiger Competition filmmakers in discussion with IFFR festival director Bero Beyer, I was greeted by a festival delegate; given Rotterdam's highly interactive atmosphere, this was not at all unusual. Our conversation veered toward gender representation, a topic of much debate in the cinema landscape. The Berlinale had just signed the 50/50 by 2020 gender parity initiative launched at Cannes last year. What did I, mere journalist, make of these efforts toward equality?
Despite its good intentions, the 50/50 by 2020 initiative feels strangely hollow—a symbolic gesture that will, in practical terms, do very little to address the root problems of unequal representation. First there is the fact that, more often than not, a festival premiere represents one of the final stages in a film's life cycle; imposing a quota in festival line-ups will only spotlight the works of female directors lucky enough to have made a film in the first place. Female representation on curatorial boards will similarly do little to get female-helmed projects made. Second, such a singular focus on gender representation has the potential to exacerbate other forms of exclusion—racial, ethnic, non-binary, socioeconomic, political—to say nothing of intersectionality. These voices will remain adrift. Lastly, quotas not only violate a festival's right to blind selection, but are patronizing to female filmmakers who wish for their works to be judged on their own merits. So where does that leave the very real issue of female representation on the festival circuit, and beyond?
The 48th edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam coincided not only with the 30-year anniversary of the Hubert Bals fund—among the most reputed sources of support for filmmakers historically marginalized or excluded from traditional funding schemes—but also the festival's most ambitious programming to date. Masterclasses with filmmakers Carlos Reygadas, Claire Denis, Jia Zhangke, and Alfredo Jaar unfolded alongside a Freedom Lecture with Agnieszka Holland and a Call to Action for at-risk filmmakers. Audiovisual experiments included Jean-Luc Godard's Le livre d'image in its originally-intended installation format, and a deep focus at the city's Kunsthal. This latter project, entitled Blackout and extending beyond the festival, interrogates privilege and forms of exclusion via an embodied spectatorial experience— as a 35mm carousel slide projector flickers images across Rotterdam's cavernous art museum, one's attention is drawn toward the space between images, to the images conspicuously absent. What stories get to be told, and which remain hidden? Lingering on rather than eliding complex issues of representation, Blackout delves into questions of individual and collective identity that form not only the basis of cinema but also of art, culture, and society.
It is interesting that Rotterdam never signed the 50/50 by 2020 pledge. Rather, public engagement prevails over platitudes at the Benelux festival, and the fight for inclusion consists in cultivating a new consciousness. The majority of IFFR's public screenings are sold out, providing a rare opportunity for non-industry audiences to engage with these works and reward the pursuits of marginalized filmmakers. This year Zhu Shengze's Present.Perfect. took home the Tiger Competition and Ena Sendijarevic's Take Me Somewhere Nice the Special Jury Award; the Youth Jury Award went to Alice Rohrwacher's Lazzaro Felice. Other stand-out films include Miko Revereza's No Data Plan, a stunning passage through the vicissitudes of undocumented existence in America, and Seus ossos e seus olhos (Your Bones and Your Eyes), Caetano Gotardo's poetic meditation on love, loss and non-normative sexuality in contemporary Brazil— portraits made all the more urgent by their respective countries' political landscapes.