Off the shelf

Ben Walters samples the surprising wares on offer at IFFR's groundbreaking new venture, the Break Even Store.

At IFFR 2009, Ken Jacobs approached the festival DVD stand to ask if they would stock his latest release. Filmmaker and longtime Rotterdam programmer Edwin Carels witnessed the exchange. “He shouldn't be asking us”, Carels remembers thinking. “We should be asking him.”

And not just him. Head to the southeast corner of De Doelen this year and you'll find the Break Even Store, a pop-up venture Carels has established on the fault lines between commercial, artistic and social space. As well as offering a place for artists and niche distributors to present products, it will be a platform to view work and discuss ideas. “It's a store as a space to exhibit, to project, to present, to sell and – most of all – as a meeting point,” Carels says.

As its name suggests, the project's main impetus was less profit than curatorial zeal. “Instead of compiling programmes,” Carels thought, “I'll compile shelves.” So he has arranged selections of DVDs and other material on such subjects as geography, futurology, animism, economy and Afrology – “broad themes,” as he calls them, “a backbone to bring stuff together.” Non-mainstream DVD labels are also invited to showcase their catalogues.

Other items on sale range from limited-edition sculptures at €5,000 to a large-format publication with illustrations by the likes of Chantal Akerman and Apitchatpong Weerasethakul for free. Spanish artist Dora Garcia will be presenting her new collection Steal This Book and has designed T-shirts, branded 'Last Days', for the store's staff, who are under instructions not to allow her book to be stolen.

Das Kapital
From 5pm to 6pm, the 'Free Trade' slot will make the venue available to any artists with material to offer, while every day a different invitee vendor will open up a suitcase of their wares. Expect items from the likes of Chris Marker, Bruce McClure and New York retro-electronica duo LoVid, who offer their own pop-up supermarket once a year. There will also be coffee from Tsai Ming-liang's export enterprise and wine for tasting from one of the festival projectionists' French vineyards.

The store's working day will be punctuated with regular exhibition slots. Opening time, at noon, brings a looped video piece showing under the tag 'Making Ends Meet', such as Harun Farocki's update of the Lumières' 'Workers Leaving the Factory' or Alexander Kluge's take on Eisenstein's plan to film Das Kapital. 'Talking Shop' at 3pm will feature such pieces as Vincent Meessen's look at the intersection of Paris-Match and the Congo's colonial past and Lene Berg's take on Picasso and Stalin. And  'Foreclosure' at 7.30pm offers the likes of a pickpocketing masterclass filmed by Sven Augustijnen, and Zoe Beloff's inquiry into Freud and Coney Island.

Cottage-industry-style models of digital distribution, with their ability to connect artists and consumers without commercial middlemen, were one of several areas of economic and social change to nudge Carels towards the Break Even idea. Others included the popularity at IFFR of various fanzines; the inability of niche specialist stores such as Le Bonheur in Brussels and Kim's Video in New York to survive in the internet age; and the widespread implications of the credit crunch. (“I had these visions of empty stores in the square outside the festival”, Carels says.)

Burning Love
Meanwhile, IFFR 2010's Cinema Reloaded project (see our interview with Rutger Wolfson) was underway, exploring new ways of producing and presenting films online, while complementary RE:Reloaded strands engage with the industry's economic shifts and challenges. The store idea seemed to fit. “We want to raise the concerns of generosity versus calculation, which are intrinsic to film,” Carels says. “As an industry we're overproducing films to an absurd degree but it's wonderful that this desire to share work is there.”

Perhaps the most efficient way of sharing work at the Break Even Store goes under the name Burning Love: a station where customers can burn DVDs filled with new content, from features to avant-garde shorts to children's animation, made by more than 20 filmmakers. Ken Jacobs is, of course, among them.