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Rotterdam 2005

Young Film Critics at the 34th International Film Festival Rotterdam

The 34th International Film Festival Rotterdam (26th January - 6th February) invited three young talents from around the world to join the annual trainee project for young film critics. For the 7 th edition of this successful trainee programme, that was followed by the festivals of Berlin and Vienna, three young talents from Russia, Colombia and Scotland were chosen to participate in the deliberations of the Fipresci jury, to write about their festival experiences in the festival daily 'The Daily Tiger' and to explore the world of an international film festival devoted to independent world cinema.

Hassouna Mansouri, president of this year's Fipresci jury in Rotterdam, states: "The trainee programme is a very nice way to get a younger generation of film critics involved in Fipresci. The young critics, that were all in their twenties, participated in our jury debates, and were very eager to discuss the films with us, the official jury members. I think, for them it is a nice way to get aquainted to this exciting world of a big film festival, and for us it was just refreshing to have three 'young dogs' in our middle. It made the jury deliberations more lively, for sure."

The three young film critics that were involved in this year's trainee programme will shortly introduce themselves:

Evgeny Gusyatrnskiy: "Hi, I am from Moscow, Russia. And I am 21 years old. I studied film theory and film history (VGIK), and I am working as a film critic and an editor for Film Art Monthly Review (Iskusstvo Kino Magazine). This is the third time that I visit a film festival. I have been to the film festivals of Moscow and Venice before. In my article for the Fipresci website I will concentrate on one of the films that was in this year's Tiger Award competition: Paradise Girls by Dutch-Chinese director Fow Pyng Hu."

Susitha R. Fernando: "I am from Colombo, Sri Lanka. And I am 27 years old. I am an undergraduate in arts (BA), and I studied English literature/communications and methodology. I am a filmcritic for the Daily Mirror Newspaper, an English daily in Sri Lanka. This is the first time that I visit an international film festival. In my article for the Fipresci website I will focus on the Tiger Cub Competition, the new installed competition for short films that brought forward three winners: Nuuk by German director Thomas Koener, Interlude by Dutch director Joost van Veen and Veere by Dutch director David Lammers."

Ninian Doff: "I am from Edinburgh, Scotland. And I am 23 years old. I studied film & theatre in Bristol University (BA), and right now I am working for BBC Radio Scotland. I have only been in one film festival before, in my hometown Edinburgh. For the Fipresci website I will reflect on the fourteen films that were selected by festival director Sandra den Hamer to compete for this year's Tiger Awards."

Belinda van de Graaf


From left to right:
Ninian Doff (23) from Edingburgh,
Evgeny Gusyatrnskiy (21) from Moscow
and Sushita R. Fernando (27) from Colombo.

Photo : Angelique van Woerkom


Comparisons and Contrasts
By Ninian Doff

The Tiger Awards Competition is the main prize of the Rotterdam Film Festival. It is from this selection of 14 films that the Tiger Jury and the FIPRESCI Jury had to choose the winning films (the Tiger Jury presented three equal prizes).

This year's Tiger selection was truly international with films coming from Brazil, Spain, Vietnam, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Malaysia, The Netherlands, Russia, Norway, Japan and South Korea. All the films must be a debut or second feature to qualify for selection, this year eleven Tiger films where debuts.

The 14 Tiger Films were: O amigo Dunor (Dunor My Friend) by Jose Eduardo Alcazar, Brazil/Paraguay: A complex film within a film, which is also an experiment in deconstructing narrative. El cielo gira (The Sky Turns) by Mercedes Alvarez, Spain: A gentle documentary made by the last person to be born in a village that's slowly being abandoned. She documents the lives of the final 14 elderly residents and the landscape around them. Hat mua roi bao lau (Bride of Silence) by Doan Minh Phuong and Doan Thanh Nghia, Vietnam/Germany: A historical drama set in the sweeping Vietnam landscape. Allein (Alone) by Thomas Durchschlag, Germany: Follows the life and relationships of an unstable girl who tries to fix her problems through promiscuity, self-harm and drugs. Onde (Waves) by Francesci Fei, Italy: Explores the relationship between a blind musician and a woman who's extremely self conscious about the large red birthmark on her face. Las mantenidas sin suenos (Kept and Dreamless) by Vera Fogwill and Martin Desalvo, Argentina: Various troubled Mother/Daughter relationships intertwined within the main story of a drug addict mother and her old-before-her-time daughter. Nemmeno il destino (Changing Destiny) by Daniele Gaglianone, Italy: A fragmented story about the friendship between two teenage boys from troubled families. Sanctuary by Ho Yu-hang, Malaysia: A slow study of loneliness and identity in the troubled lives of three characters. Paradise Girls by Fow Pyng Hu, The Netherlands: Three separate stories about Chinese women. Two of the stories explore a Chinese-Dutch angle and the final, longest story, takes place in Hong Kong and follows a mother trying to cope with and fund a serious heart operation for her 3-year-old boy. 4 by Ilya Khrzhanovsky, Russia: As the film follows three characters, with an emphasis on the story of a prostitute visiting her village for a funeral, the director reveals a strange, nightmare vision of Russia. Boginya: kak ya polyubila (Goddess) by Renata Litvinova, Russia: A surreal mix between a police thriller and a fairytale, which goes from a missing girl case to an exploration of death. Hawaii, Oslo by Eric Poppe, Norway: Multiple narrative ensemble piece covering the interwoven lives of various characters on the hottest day of the year in Oslo. Aru asa soup wa (The Soup, One Morning) by Takahashi Izumi, Japan: A marriage becomes increasingly strained and difficult as the husband becomes distanced from reality and obsessed with a cult. Frakchi (Spying Cam) by Whang Cheol-Mean, South Korea: Most of this film takes place in one hotel room in which a policeman is protecting a witness. Their friendship and power balance shifts and subverts as they deal with their boredom by acting out scenes from Crime and Punishment and spying on the sex life of the people in the neighbouring room.

Whenever a group of such disparate films are placed together in a selection a common problem arises: the impossibility of comparison, or even the absurdity of comparison. Some of these films are so different in motivation, intentions and technique that the only common factor is the fact they consist of moving images. To place such films alongside each other and debate which is "better" is a curious challenge. For example, discussing Ho Yu-hang's Sanctuary alongside Eric Poppe's Hawaii, Oslo . Sanctuary is a very slow Malaysian film, shot on a shaky and basic digital camera, which tries to explore the nature of identity and a changing country. On the other hand, Hawaii, Oslo is a far more commercial film (Norway's nomination for the OSCAR), with a far larger budget, and is a multiple narrative film containing bank robberies and car crashes, its principle aim being entertainment. Comparison and debate relies upon a common ground between two subjects, and the discussion of which was more successful within the context of this common area. When the films, such as Sanctuary and Hawaii, Oslo , share no obvious common ground, real debate becomes a challenge. There is even a danger that, as the two are such polar opposites, the result can be an outright dismissal of one simply based on a critic's preference of genre.

Perhaps due to the fact that the award is for first or second time filmmakers, it is true that all of the films in the selection had problems or shortcomings. It seemed like the selection was to encourage and celebrate the beginnings of directors who show promise, rather than reveal a director's first masterpiece. Films either stretched themselves too far, and therefore seemed to lose control of themselves, or didn't dare to push themselves enough and as a result lacked anything new to say. For instance 4, Goddess and Spying Cam all tried to cover a lot of ground in terms of themes and ideas, as a result they also lost most audiences when it came to following the plot. The opposite of these films were those that were too traditional or hesitant with their plots. As a result such films like Allien and Onde had strong performances from the cast but were let down by plots that felt unoriginal or clichéd. Looking at the decisions from the various juries it seems the message is that trying and failing produces more interesting results and should be rewarded, rather than playing it safe and therefore achieving little.

The Tiger Awards went to 4, Nemmeno il destino (Changing Destiny) and El cielo gira (The Sky Turns). The FIPRESCI award went to Frakchi (Spying Cam). 4 also won the Golden Cactus, a new award for maverick filmmakers in memory of Theo Van Gogh.

Ninian Doff


Short Is Beautiful
By Susitha R. Fernando

The highlight of this year's International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR) was the introduction of the Tiger Cub Award- a short film competition. Thirty-two short films from twenty-three countries were presented in this new category and, of these, three films were awarded the Tiger Cub and a prize of 3000 Euros each.

Ranging from two to thirty minutes, all the films were completely different from each other in subject matter, format and genre (documentary, experimental, fiction and narrative). Because each had its own unique identity, it raised questions about how they were to be judged and evaluated.

For example, how can the two-minute Can and Slippers by Filipino director Khavan De La Cruz (which explores why a young soccer fanatic who habitually kicks a coke can across the streets in a Manila slum will never be a Ronaldinho) and the 30-minute Birthday by Singaporean filmmaker Bertrand Lee (which revolves around a young couple struggling to raise their little son amidst financial difficulties) be judged together in one category. How can Dutch director David Lammer's Veere , in which he tries to visually capture the written verses Poems from the Sea by Hans Groeneweegen, be compared to Cypriot Yianna Americanou's Eleni's Olive , which depicts a deep relationship between a young girl and her dependable best friend, an olive tree.

In another diversified cinematic piece, Dutch director Joost Van Veen's Interlude shows a group of fish swimming through chemical layers of high-contrast black and white film-stock. Inspired by the music track of British band Manyfingers, the film is a quiet thought-provoking and imaginative cinematic work. Concentrating on different and novel approaches, the Belgium director Pieter Paul Mortier's In the Midst of. is an experimental cinema work capturing images while reflecting on the impossibility of capturing time and place with a camera. The film is a fine journey without undue physical displacement. Italian director Christian Angeli's Being Good at Mikles is a compact and condensed film with its seriousness making an impact equal to a serious feature film.

However, another side of short filmmaking is that there is an increasing amount of younger people thronging to take up cinema and short films offer a practical means of beginning. It offers a low budget, less time-consuming method. But where to find an audience is a problem most young filmmakers are facing. Except in a few countries, there is hardly any market for short films. And, if not for film festivals, where would these amateur filmmakers go? It was, therefore, timely and appropriate that IFFR opened a competition for short filmmakers. The opportunity is both an encouragement and incentive.

Speaking to some of the directors in the Tiger Cub competition, it was evident that these young people were searching for recognition for their short films. They felt that the short film medium was a powerful form of art that needed recognition and identity independent of feature films. They said their intention was to classify short films as a stepping stone to the feature film or as a means of making it to the big screen, but as a separate entity in itself. The Malaysian director of A Tree in Tanjung Malim , Tan Chui Mui, says recognizing the importance of shorts at the IFFR-2005 is really a great opportunity for young filmmakers. It is a reflection of the festival's reliability and the importance to the art of the short film.  Tan Chui Mui strongly reinforced the opinion that the short film should be recognised as an independent form of art. Khavn De La Cruz (Can and Slippers) is a prolific Filipino poet, novelist and composer turned filmmaker. He asserted that it was important to recognize the strength of the short film, defining it as a short poem. Khavn presented two more short films ( Greaseman and Headless and Sea Eyes ) under his name in the non-competitive section of the IFFR 2005. He expressed some concern about the title 'Tiger Cub' being given to the short film competition. "In a way, it sounds derogatory and gives a biased impression that short films are sort of baby films. This is not the way short films should be recognised. They have a unique identity of their own."

Dutch director David Lammers (Veere) says that the short film is pure cinema, expressing complex ideas in a simple manner. It is this medium that enables you to make films within a short period of time, productively, but within a limited budget. Lammmers continued to say that short films could be so strong in their own concept that they could stay in your memory often longer than a feature film. The cinema began with short films and it is very important to give proper recognition to this form of art.

Completely different from each other in their length, subject matter and style what were the criteria to judge these thirty-two films in this maiden IFFR competition? Mariska Graveland, one of the three-member jury, said that 'it is manner of expression in visual terms more than just narration or story-telling that captured our interest and influenced our selection of three films'. 'Focusing more on the non-narrative than stories with a punch-line, these films say "something else". They were innovative and experimental and therefore gained our attention,' said Mariska Graveland. The organiser of the maiden TV5 Tiger Cub Competition of the IFFR-2005, Erwin Houtenbrink said it is important to recognize and appreciate the talent of young filmmakers involved in this separate form of art. He noted that short filmmaking was mostly non-commercial, non-profitable and, sometimes, just a way of losing money. IFFR-2005 decided to award these young film-makers with the 'Tiger-Cub award' as inducement to continue their art in the hope that it will be appreciated one day on the same platform as the feature film.

Winners Tiger Cub 2005

As predicted, three films that depicted absurdity and had an experimental approach to short film were selected as the winners of Tiger Cub 2005. Interlude by Joost van Veen ( Netherlands ), Nuuk by Thomas Koner ( Germany ) and Veere by David Lammers (The Netherlands) were chosen as the three 'Tiger Cub' winners. The jury had chosen Interlude for its inventive use of the light-sensitive properties of the cinematic medium to bring viewers through the underwater terrain of sensual silver laden alchemy. Nuuk was chosen because it provoked man to become more aware of the human process of perception. The film challenged us to look and listen more actively -- not only to the film itself, but to the landscape of our own lives. Veere was chosen because it intensified the human view of moving objects that you normally overlook, completed with a very delicate use of sound and music. There was also a special mention for Italian Christian Angeli's Being Good at Mikles (Fare Bene Mikles). The three-member jury consisted of Kathleen Fordo (USA, exhibition and programme coordinator for the Eyebeam Centre for Art and Technology in New York), Mariska Graveland (The Netherlands, journalist and film critic of Dutch monthly magazine 'De Filmkrant') and Kerry Laitala (USA filmmaker and teacher of film).

Susitha R. Fernando


Fow Pyng Hu's Paradise Girls
Great Tension in Optimism
By Evgeny Gusyatrnskiy

Paradise Girls , by Fow Pyng Hu, is interesting as a cross-cultural work. It has a European visual style but also a slow and calm oriental rhythm. It combines three stories, comparing three females who don't know each other, and also putting together two different kinds of mentalities: Western and Eastern. Director Hu lives in Holland but he is of Chinese origin. In a light, pure and delicate form of small and minimalist stories, Hu makes his social observations.

The first and shortest story is about a Japanese girl, who comes to Amsterdam and visits her Dutch boyfriend. Yet the meeting of two lovers suddenly fails. The boyfriend seems not to be ready for serious relationships. Almost immediately he asks his Asian girlfriend when she is coming back to her motherland. They become bothered with one another and are going to break up. But Hu makes it open-ended. He registers the permanent loneliness and also the state of alienation between man and women and different countries which are divided by thousand of kilometers.

Paradise Girls has a slowly accumulating power, from the easy and non-fatal first story to the emotionally deep and dramatic last one. In the middle, Hu includes a story about a Chinese community living in Amsterdam. Hu focuses on a girl who works with her father in a snack bar. One day her father goes to barbershop and has his ear cut by a careless hairdresser. Nevertheless he does not complain. But his daughter is very nervous about this accident and interprets it as a sign of a discrimination of another's nationality. She goes to the hairdresser, demands compensation, gets a rejection, and finally makes a mess in a barbershop. Unsatisfied, she returns to her routine everyday work. Her adolescent frustrations and wishes for a better (paradise-like) life are depicted with compassionate care and temperate distance.

The collisions that surround immigrants in a non-native country are viewed not only in a common social or political way but more prominently in an exclusively existential way. The temperature of this humane and delicate film gets to it final boiling point in the third and best story which is more like a brilliantly directed and very well-acted short movie. It is set in Hong Kong and starts like a humorous sketch on advertising. The main heroine attends a casting call for commercials. She has to promote some products or pieces of a virtual 'paradise world'. But her life is far from heaven.

Suddenly she gets to know that her little son has an almost incurable heart disease. He needs an urgent operation that costs a lot of money. But no one can undoubtedly say that the operation will be a success. Her non-paradise reality is not confronted in a glamour media-world - the two are wisely juxtaposed as non-conflicting parts of the same field. Hu finds a striking balance between them. Finally, the heroine gets her part in commercial, finds money for the surgery, which goes successfully. However, we anticipate tragedy in the last shot when all three heroines intersect at the 'paradise beach'. The expected unhappy end does not come. The latent catharsis does not turn into emotional explosion, staying very suggestive. Hu's optimistic and strong view on private hardships is fulfilled with great tension, sensuality, harmony and sophistication.

Evgeny Gusyatrnskiy

© FIPRESCI 2005

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Young Film Critics