30 Years of Support

Former IFFR director Sandra den Hamer and current HBF manager Fay Breeman discuss three decades of funding brilliant and audacious cinema from all corners of the globe.

It all started in 1988 at a Cannes breakfast meeting when the late Huub Bals, then-director of IFFR, and future director Sandra den Hamer were quizzing Chinese director Chen Kaige about a follow-up to his audacious debut Yellow Earth. Yes, Kaige was busy on a new script in New York, but the only way he was able to finance it was by teaching American housewives how to eat with chopsticks, he replied. Bals was horrified, but a lightbulb went on inside his head.

Den Hamer takes up the tale. “Huub said that’s impossible, you need free time to write a script, and asked how much Chen would need to survive in NY while writing it. I think they discussed something like $25,000 and Huub turned to me and said ‘ok, let’s arrange that’. From then on it was very much Huub’s idea that filmmakers should have the time and money to write their scripts. It was the mid-80s and there was lots of production money, but the luxury of having the time to write, to think and to reflect on a script was not something that was being financed.”

Two other factors played a vital role in the development of a new fund at that time. The distribution arm of the festival became a separate entity, which restricted IFFR’s ongoing involvement with selected films outside the standard ten days of the festival. Also, Bals came to a fundamental realisation that it was the less developed film industries outside of the US and Europe that held the key to cinema’s future artistic development. And this was where financial resources should be re-directed, he argued.

That said, the first iteration of the new IFFR Fund, then called the Tarkovsky Fund, looked to fund scripts from Europe as well as from across the globe. But the emergence of the EC MEDIA programme in the late 1980s determined that European projects were destined to be well catered for in the future, and therefore IFFR’s funding emphasis was placed squarely on the developing film cultures via monies derived from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Development Corporation. In 1988, Huub Bals died, and the burgeoning fund was renamed in his honour in 1989.

“Very soon we decided that we wanted to help either at the beginning of a project or at the end during post-production, either to kickstart a production or to help finish it,” explains Den Hamer. “And that is the way it has been more or less for these past 30 years. In subsequent years we explained the model to other international festivals and to their respective ministries of foreign affairs, how film can be a very important tool in development co-operation. And how, when filmmakers are given the opportunity to tell their stories, it becomes a form of emancipation.”

“When I look at the names of directors whose early work we supported, such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose feature debut Mysterious Object at Noon we gave script support to and helped finalise at post-production stage, I am very proud. He will say that Rotterdam was very important for his career. Also, someone like Carlos Reygadas, a very young filmmaker who came to Rotterdam, got a little bit of help from his friends at HBF and started his illustrious career here.”

Current HBF manager Fay Breeman takes up the theme. “I was speaking to Muayad Alayan recently who directed The Reports on Sarah and Saleem (Palestine) that screened at IFFR 2018, and he said that when he was a student he would look at the web pages of HBF and use it as a goal for future funding. He, of course, reached that goal (HBF Script Development 2016, HBF Audience Award IFFR 2018) but he is also teaching film in Palestine and he says that all his students still know what the Hubert Bals Fund is, and what it represents. That is an indication of the international appeal and reach of the fund and a reason why so many international filmmakers come to us.”

Breeman looks to the 2019 HBF harvest with pride after a bumper 2018 that saw numerous prizes awarded to HBF-supported films at major international festivals. These included Yeo Siew Hua’s contemporary noir A Land Imagined (HBF script development) that took the Golden Leopard award in Locarno international competition.

 Also at Locarno, Chile’s Dominga Sotomayor was named Best Director for her third feature Tarde para morir joven (HBF script development. Benjamin Naishtat’s Rojo premiered at TIFF before winning three major prize at San Sebastian (best director, best actor and best cinematography). The film received HBF script development support as well as NFF+HBF funding. Meanwhile, French-born Syrian director Soudade Kaadan won the Lion of the Future award at Venice for her debut feature The Day I Lost My Shadow (HBF+Europe). “2018 was a truly remarkable year for HBF-backed films,” Breeman concludes.

30 Years HBF on IFFR Unleashed

To celebrate 30 Years of HBF, you can find a selection of over 40 HBF-supported films on IFFR Unleashed. From When Mother Comes Home for Christmas, shown at IFFR 1995, we travel through a wide variety of films, including three Tiger Award winners, De jueves a domingo (Dominga Sotomayor), Vanishing Point (Jakrawal Nilthamrong) and Videophilia (and Other Vital Syndromes) (Juan Daniel F. Molero), and audience favourite Los decentes (Lukas Valenta Rinner). Check out the whole collection here.