How do you solve the puzzle of the IFFR programme?

The IFFR programme is a huge, complex structure made up of new and older films, premières, installations, artist talks and much more besides. And that’s not even counting the short films – which make up a whole programme by themselves. The programme sections Perspectives, Voices, Bright Future and Deep Focus comprise some four hundred (400!!) films. Films which all have to be allocated slots on screens, one by one. And, contrary to what a lot of people think, this next-level scheduling job is not done by a computer, but by hand. We decided to find out just how this ‘film pinning’ process works.

There are two huge boards mounted on the long side wall of the office. A rather chaotic-looking collection of red, blue, green and yellow notes are stuck to the boards. Three people are standing, peering with wrinkled brows at this ingenious creation. With less than a month to go until the official opening of IFFR, it really is time the programme started to fall into place – which is why these people are standing staring at the boards with such concentration (and consternation). Taking a closer look at the programme, it is actually far from chaotic: every day of the festival is neatly listed down the left-hand border. Along the top are all the venues and their exact capacities, ranging from 50 to 750. Pieces of string join these together, creating a neat grid with a slot for each screen on each day. Some of these slots are filled with a note, while others are still empty.

Selection and preparation

Of course, creating a film programme starts with selecting the films. A team of programmers spend the whole year travelling film festivals all over the world, watching and selecting films. Films are also submitted by filmmakers, and all of these have to be seen too. Once a film has been selected, as much information about it as possible is entered into a database. And this is when the real work starts: negotiations with distributors, invitations for cast and crew, requesting press information, film stills, writing texts. So it can take a while before a film is finally confirmed.

Around the end of December, enough titles have been confirmed for the big scheduling job to start. To complete the puzzle, every year the two big boards are taken out of the cupboard and updated with the right venues and festival dates. Different coloured notes are then printed out stating all the film titles. The colours match the programme sections, which is important for an even spread of the programme sections over the days and locations. The boards are hung up in a relatively quiet part of the IFFR offices, and remain there until the whole puzzle is finished. Finally, an email is sent to everyone in the office with a firm but friendly warning not to even think about touching the boards.

The order of 'pinning'

The first films to be scheduled – or ‘pinned’ as they say here – are the special (advance) screenings for the press and industry: sometimes they need to see a film in advance to write about it or take part in a panel discussion on the film. Then the special screenings are scheduled. These are screenings at which the cast and crew are present or which are accompanied by a masterclass or artist talk. As these are often premières with special (international) guests present, for example Dutch king Willem-Alexander. These screenings are given priority. Here the puzzling really starts, as together with the guest department it has to be determined when guests and invitees are in Rotterdam and when they will leave again.

Then the films selected for the competition programmes are scheduled. All of the nominees for the Hivos Tiger Competition are allocated their own day. On this day, the nominated film and the filmmaker will receive extra attention, for example through talkshows. At the same time, the Bright Future Award Competition is scheduled: these films are also often premières, with the directors and producers attending. These dates are also checked with the guest department..

Loose ends

Checking the availability of guests is one thing, but there is still a long way to go before the whole puzzle has been solved. As not all films can be projected in the same format (DCP, 3 mm, etc.), it has to be checked that the film can be shown in the location allocated. After all, not every venue has a 35mm projector. In some cases, a copy of the film might even be shared with another festival, so the screenings at various festivals have to be coordinated. A lot of copies are still sent by post, so the amount of time the film is in transit also has to be taken into account.

Then there are some more ‘general’ issues the schedulers have to take into account. For example, we try not to screen a particular film only in the evenings, but also in the morning or the afternoon. And we don’t want all the premières to have happened by the end of the first weekend, so these too have to be spread throughout the week. Oh, and we also don’t like to have a film screen twice on the same screen. And there are the Talks and introductions to be considered … it really is a miracle that our schedulers are even still on their feet. But we know we can rely on them every single year, and that without them there would be no IFFR programme schedule.

The result of all these hours of blood sweat and tears will be announced on 18 January, when the entire programme will be published online and in the Volkskrant newspaper.

Text: Anne van de Wetering
Timelapse: Sarah Famke Oortgijsen and Kirsten Lipman