Interview with managing director Marjan van der Haar
As managing director, Marjan van der Haar has been running IFFR, together with festival director Bero Beyer, since October. Now she’s bedded in, this is a good time to get to know her better. She talks about IFFR’s DNA, her film tips for the upcoming festival and the course being set for that glistening dot on the horizon: the fiftieth anniversary of IFFR.
Your career in film started at IFFR back in the day. Now you’ve been the managing director here for just over two months. How does it feel?
"Of course, it’s wonderful to be involved with the kind of films I find beautiful and exceptional. When I was a student, in Huub Bals’ last year at the festival, I started working here as a volunteer on the box office and the info desk – that was a great way to get to see lots of films. Then, in the early nineties, I worked for the IFFR programme department, with Emile Fallaux. Later, I followed my old university friend Wouter Barendrecht – who was working at CineMart at the time – to Fortissimo, promoting and distributing films with the distinctive IFFR DNA worldwide. Exceptional films that enthused us and which we wanted to share with audiences all over the world. The same mission in fact that IFFR has: it’s an event that allows you to make the difference. The festival and its reach have undergone massive growth. The team now numbers over one hundred people – and soon they’ll be joined by another 950 volunteers. I started here in October, so the upcoming festival was pretty much on the rails already. So I’ve had the great privilege of being able to jump onto a train that’s already up to speed. My job is to help out where I can, while in the meantime we all work towards that glistening dot on the horizon: the festival’s fiftieth anniversary, in 2021."
This, in fact, is Rotterdam’s mission: it’s an event that allows you to make a difference.
— Marjan van der Haar
Which film that you saw at IFFR will you never forget?
"Chungking Express. A hip, extremely cheerful film, really fresh – thanks in part to Christopher Doyle’s amazing camerawork. That film was the main reason why we at Fortissimo wanted to work with Wong Kar-Wai, to distribute his films. And we did. It was a different world back then though, we didn’t work with contracts, just an agreement you could write on the back of a beermat."
What kind of managing director are you?
"One who looks to the future, with an eye for content and the team. It’s not just me who decides how we get this event produced: this is only possible with a team that works well together. Thanks to my professional background, I also know how the international film world works from a financial point of view. For the last eight years, I worked as the director of Film Producers Netherlands (FPN), the body representing film producers in the Netherlands. The idea was for this to become a collective, with everyone from all the different, fragmented parties and sectors pulling in the same direction. This political-strategic experience is a good addition to the in-depth financial knowledge I picked up at Fortissimo. Both qualities that are very useful in relation to the festival. At the same time, together with festival director Bero Beyer, I want to think about the festival’s ambitions for the years ahead. In terms of film DNA, we’re a good match. Which is a nice additional factor; it makes it easier to work towards the same goals. Organising an international event like IFFR demands very close cooperation – you really have to be able to rely on one another for support."
What is one of the challenges you are most looking forward to?
"Raising and maintaining IFFR’s international profile as a platform for innovative, challenging cinema is something that demands constant attention. But if we succeed in this mission, we are bringing something really unique to audiences in Rotterdam and the Netherlands. And, to put it more broadly: to continue appealing to broader audiences and increasing the scope of the festival. So that audiences are enthusiastic all year round about 'our kind' of cinema – whether here, at a film evening in KINO, an open-air screening on Afrikaanderplein or at home, watching an IFFR film online."
What are you most looking forward to at the upcoming festival?
"The opening night, when the party really gets started. It’s great to be able to welcome everyone and then dive straight into the opening film together. This year, it’s Dirty God by Sacha Polak. A film that gets under your skin right away and fits perfectly with our Feel IFFR campaign. It brings intense, raw emotions right up close. A real mega-Rotterdam film."
Which other film would you particularly recommend?
"I have the advantage that I’ve been able to see a lot of films in advance this year which are having their Dutch premières here. One of my personal favourites is Leto by Kirill Serebrennikov, who is under house arrest in Russia. An eighties Russian rock rebellion film with beautiful images; the triangle relationship between the friends moved me greatly. I left the cinema feeling intensely. That feeling, that’s what it’s all about. Of course, at IFFR you’re not always going to come out of the screening feeling cheerful or happy – and you don’t have to. A film like Leto is one that stays with you, that you continue to feel and are still thinking about a week later."
Did you ever miss an edition of IFFR?
"No, I don’t think so – IFFR has always been part of my routine. My sons were born in December and in January, so there must have been years when I only came for one day. When my youngest son was a month old, I took him into a screening as a little bundle on my belly, thinking 'we’ll see how long he holds out'. It went brilliantly: he was completely quiet, for the whole 114 minutes of Memento! Every other year IFFR has been a must attend, mainly filled with meetings, networking, listening to pitches and making deals – so less time to watch films, unfortunately."
If Marjan van der Haar were a film, what kind of film would she be?
"I would say a lovely, small-scale drama centred around interpersonal relations. A story that makes special contact. No, no, not a big costume drama; rather a modest portrait that moves you."
Finally: what are the plans for the festival’s fiftieth anniversary?
"I can’t tell you that yet – partly because we are still working on them! But the main thing is that IFFR is not ours, but belongs to lots and lots of different people. To film watchers and to filmmakers. We are planning something big, but something that stays close to the essence. So while we may well be looking back at the makers who ‘made’ half a century of IFFR, we will also be devoting special attention to the new generation of up-and-coming talent."