It is a crazily humid Monday afternoon in July, and the sun is shining relentlessly on the city of Rotterdam. Inside the only partially air-conditioned IFFR festival office, the cogs continue to be in motion whir for our year-round initiatives and support schemes for filmmakers and dedicated film audiences.
We just came off the high of a very successful five-day 'mini- festival' called IFFR White Nights, in which Rotterdam saw its museum district transformed into a celebration of film, music, food and thought from countries that these days have sadly grown synonymous with the 'refugee crisis' these days. With an interdisciplinary programme ranging from Syria to Algeria, from Pakistan to PalestinaPalestine, IFFR aimed to shine a light on all the talent knocking on the doors of 'Fortress Europe' along with the influx of refugees ofrom war and poverty.
We are astonished by the scope of the stories
Discovering and showcasing talent from underexposed parts of our world has always been one of IFFR’s main goals -– and it has played an important role in the creation of IFFR Unleashed, the festival’s ever-expanding Video-on-Demand distribution initiative. As we are working through our the list of festival alumni to extend them invitations to join our distribution scheme, we are once again astonished by the scope of the stories of these films tell: from South Korea to Argentina, from Kenya to Finland, from the Netherlands to Pakistan, they all use the universal language of film to address themes and stories that are as specific as they are universally recognizable.
To give you a glimpse of the variety of films that are being distributed via IFFR Unleashed, let’ us zoom in for a moment on two examples: American independent filmmakers Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn’s L for Leisure, and young Malaysian filmmaker Edmund Yeo’s River of Exploding Durians. Both films were screened here in Rotterdam in 2015, but they could not be more different: one is a wonderfully deadpan, episodic and absurdist comedy about the 'casual-but-not spirit that is best embodied in the 90’s grad student', the other a highly personal, activist feature debut that was made 'to show that not everything can be silenced by politics'. Can you guess which one is which?
Financed through private investors and a crowdfunding campaign, IFFR regulars Lev and Whitney have cooked up an uncanny recreation of 1990s graduate school apathy in a film as hilarious as it is hard to define. Over the course of four years, they shot the film with nothing but the two of them as crew, with Whitney in charge of the analoganalogue 16mm camera and Lev manning the sound recorder. Their cast consisted of both non-professional and highly professional actors, who then found themselves in California, France, Iceland and Mexico for different parts of the episodically structured film. Besides the face-value joys of the many hilarious scenes and wonderfully odd characters, the filmmakers’ affinity with wildly different styles of filmmaking (ranging from Eric Rohmer and Hal Hartley to Ben Rivers and Gabriel Arantes) lends the film an additional cinematic flair and cinephile pleasure on at a meta level.
This has sometimes also proven challenging, too, explains Lev Kalman explains. "People either really connect to the film, or they aren’t into it at all." He feels that the experimental aspects of the film, which stop it from being 'a standard nostalgia indie-comedy', have the potential to alienate and frustrate certain viewers. At the same time, positive reactions have come from unexpected directions, too, such as older audiences and film students. "One of the best experiences we had was at Rotterdam, where the festival invited a class of the Dutch Film Academy to a screening and special Q&A. From questions in the audience and emails we got later, it seems L for Leisure’s iconoclastic and DIY attitude really spoke to them as filmmakers, and inspired them to break the film school rules."
One of the best experiences we had was at Rotterdam, where the festival invited a class of the Dutch Film Academy
Debutant director Edmund Yeo has a wholly different experience with his equally personal and political River of Exploding Durians. "Due to its sensitive political content, the film is unable to have any public screenings in Malaysia," he explains. "I wanted to make a film that could encapsulate the changes that my country had been undergoing in the past decade, and also how the cycle of violence is repeated throughout the Southeast Asian region." He has found that this socially engaged ‘edge’ has made his mostly self-funded film stand out positively for festival audiences all over the world. Also, Edmund claims he benefited greatly from his cast, which includes well-known Taiwanese actress Zhu Zhi-Ying (Lust, Caution). "They were the reason why the film could happen regardless of the adversity that we had to face during its making," Edmund admits. He hopes River of Exploding Durians will shine a light on the stories and experiences that make Malaysia both unique and connected to our universal experience as human beings: "It is also a coming-of-age love story, to know what is it like when you are on the verge of adulthood, yet you live in a surrounding which is constantly being driven by fear."
Lev Kalman and Edmund Yeo have shared their own thoughts and insights about their films via IFFR Unleashed's intake procedure, in which the festival's dedicated impact producer uses the input ofrom the filmmakers themselves to set up a tailor-made strategy for releasing the film via VOD and finding it audiences for it across the globe. This personal guidance and collaboration is one of the elements that differentiates IFFR Unleashed from other online distribution initiatives, as it is grounded in IFFR’s overall emphasis on loyal, year-round relationships with filmmakers.
L for Leisure and River of Exploding Durians will become available online this August.
We aim to update this blog twice monthly. In the meantime, if you are interested in IFFR Unleashed or if you have any specific questions particularly concerning about the distribution potential of your own film (previously screened at IFFR), feel free to reach out to us at [email protected].