For over a decade David Pope has been synonymous with IFFR’s Rotterdam Lab, the intensive IFFR programme that shines the spotlight on highly talented emerging producers from all corners of the globe. This year’s Lab may be held online but, as David pointed out on the eve of IFFR, this will not detract from the uniqueness of the overall experience.
Given IFFR’s reputation for cutting edge, audacious programming, what David appreciates most about the Lab are qualities that seem altogether more solid and stable – its adherence to core values and a reputation as a safe space for future production creatives, visionaries and mavericks.
The key to everything is the feeling of camaraderie that the Lab engenders, he maintains, a sense of cool collective that this year began weeks before the event even as new labbies (as they are affectionately referred to) started posting videos and greetings to fellow participants.
David points out another quality of the Lab, which he believes is equally as fundamental, the experience of having both time and attention lavished on fledgeling producers by industry luminaries, with a laser focus trained on their professional development. “Producing is a somewhat solitary experience and you are constantly investing in other people,” he points out. “And it’s very rare, either professionally or personally in our adult lives, when you are put into a situation where people are saying, ‘ok, let’s talk about you, what do you need?’”
“That coupled with the sense of esprit de corps within the Lab is what really excites people, and at the end, it is an experience that they really value,” David underlines. It is, he adds, the place where strong and productive networks of like-minded production partners are created.
When it comes to choosing the participants, which number a whopping 75 from 40 countries in 2021, neither David nor his colleagues at IFFR Pro (Alessia Acone, Lab Coordinator and Inke van Loocke, CineMart & Rotterdam Lab Manager) get too involved. “This is one of the really effective mechanisms of the Lab, that we don't do the selection. This is left to partnership organisations who know the producers in their country or their region, and can best select those who will benefit most at a given time.”
The myriad Lab global partner organisations include the likes of the Netherlands Film Fund, Screen Ireland, Cinema Chile and the Taipei Film Commission. The latest institution to partner with Rotterdam Lab is Projeto Paradiso (Brazil, 2021).
Will this year’s online status mean a diminution of the event’s quality and effectiveness? Not in the slightest, underlines Pope. As much as we’d all like a return to something resembling pre-Covid normality, the industry has coped ably over the past months with the enforced shift in modus operandi. “We just need to electronically manage the questions in our Q & As, and the roundtables becomes breakout rooms. Those formats need the minimum amount of adaptation to online. At the back end of all this are the technical crew that are performing the same magic that the production crew do when we are in Rotterdam.”
One dynamic shift in 2021 has been to split the participants in half, based on geographical locations and the plethora of varying time zones. There is, therefore, an Eastern and a Western group. “It is indicative of how in the film industry we get stuff done - it’s all about creative problem solving,” David points out. “There has been a set of challenges presented to us and we have addressed those and made it happen, and that is the spirit of IFFR.”
David points to two sessions that he is particularly looking forward to in 2021. First is an online conversation with award-winning producer Ewa Puszczynska who will talk about project development, international co-production and managing a slate of projects. The second is a co-production case study Dea Kulumbegashvili’s award-winning feature debut Beginning (Georgia, France), which is selected for IFFR Limelight.
“Rotterdam Lab is speaking to the creative part of producing as well as the business side,” David stresses, and further underlines its place within the entire IFFR set-up. “One of the things during IFFR that I am personally very excited to see is when projects of former Lab participants are selected for the festival. It’s the way Lab sits within the Tiger family. What you are seeing there are real results, very creative films getting made and seen.”
Rotterdam Lab 2021
Even in this challenging year, the aim of Rotterdam Lab is to provide emerging professionals with the means to build and develop an international network.