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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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ROTTERDAM REPORT

ITíS A RIPPER
Budding young film critic VERONICA GLEESON was the guest of the Rotterdam Film Festival as part of the festivalís (enlightened) trainee film critics scheme. She spotted the invitation in Urban Cinefile and was astounded when her application was accepted. This is her personal report on the experience.

Fellow Bondi resident and film director Paul Middleditch could easily talk the leg off an iron pot. Sitting opposite me at a table in the decidedly cosy upstairs foyer of the Rotterdam Hilton, he's explaining the genesis for the plot of his feature debut, Terra Nova - a task he'll be equally comfortable performing in front of hundreds of inquisitive European festival goers at multiple Q&A sessions.

"spotted the news item on Urban Cinefile"

It's Day 7 of the 1999 Rotterdam Film Festival (end of Jan to early Feb), and by now I'm comfortable with the city's public transport system, I'm practically a pro when it comes to ensuring I get tickets to screenings, I've seen at least few dozen films (some of them great), and chatting to directors like Middleditch has become par for the course. But I just can't stop marvelling at the fact that I'm actually here...

Two days before Christmas (having spotted the news item on Urban Cinefile) I paid $27 to send my application to the Rotterdam Film Festival in the vain hope of being chosen for their Young Film Critics' Trainee Program. I'd been review writing in various incarnations for a few years, and producing the movies category for the ninemsn websites Sydney and Melbourne Sidewalk for a while, and whilst the phrase "golden opportunity" tends to get a tad worn out, there isn't a better way to describe the prospect of a fortnight of fully funded filmwatching. Miraculously (considering that over half the applications came from Australia), a two-sentence e-mail arrived early January informing me that I had been selected, and a couple of weeks later I was checking into the Wilgenhof Hotel, Rotterdam.

"my first experience of a festival outside Australia"

My first few days are dizzily disorienting. I meet with Christian de Schutter, editor of the daily newspaper published during the festival and work out a trainee report schedule with the webmaster in the impressively vast, brand spanking new offices of the festival. This being my first experience of a festival outside Australia, I'm somewhat overawed by the number of staff - several hundred at the height of proceedings - and the scale of diversity of the films being shown. At any given time there will be four or five simultaneous screenings, most of them taking place in the Pathe complex, a towering modernist shed in the middle of town that features seven state-of-the-art theatres (one of which seats 1000).

Over the course of two weeks a total of 1,999 guests (journalists, filmmakers, producers and actors) will visit the festival, among them Larry Clark (Kids, Another Day In Paradise), Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine), Whit Stillman (Last Days of Disco), the legendary Hou Hsiao-hsien (Flowers of Shanghai), Catherine Breillard (Romance). And given the intimacy of the setting (candidly, there aren't that many places to go for a beer in Rotterdam), there's a good chance that we'll run into each other more than a few times.

So what of the films?

So what of the films? One well-known U.S. reviewer wearily informs me that the selection this year is weak (but after about 10 days I realise it's almost mandatory for film journalists to decry some aspect of a film festival). My feeling is that there are some very exciting offerings - namely Olivier Assayas' Fin Aout, Debut Septembre, Flowers of Shanghai by Hou Hsiao-hsien, and at a late night screening Todd Solondz's Happiness (the vastly superior follow-up to Welcome To The Dollhouse) has the audience† rolling in the aisles.

The excellent Disney feature Rushmore is an unofficial favourite with the Fipresci jury - I'm lucky enough to dine with them on a few occasions - and not surprisingly the audience favourite is Festen (directed by Thomas Vinterberg), a film produced according to the Dogma '95 rules. Suffice to say it is with a great deal of regret that I pack my bags, because there are many films I simply have no time to see, but it's great to see that some of the films I missed (namely Black Cat White Cat, La Vie Revee Des Anges (Erick Zonca) and Paul Auster's Lulu On the Bridge) will all be releasing in Australia.

"It's a festival for filmmakers, not stars"

If Rotterdam isn't as well known as Cannes, Sundance or even Berlin, it's because of its unassuming stature. It's a festival for filmmakers, not stars (although the local press does get rather excited when Bridget Fonda drops in to promote A Simple Plan). And even though deals are being done as part of the Cinemart (a four-day long opportunity for producers/filmmakers to find investors and distributors for their projects) commercial concerns don't necessarily come first.

And young and emerging Australian filmmakers take note: if you're looking for European exposure, Rotterdam is the very best place to start. But perhaps the greatest endorsement I can give the festival is a more personally motivated one - I'll be moving heaven and earth (via British Airways) to get back there next year.

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Happiness


Bridget Fonda, Simple Plan


Velvet Goldmine


Last Days of Disco







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