Marit van den Elshout • Head, IFFR Pro CineMart & Hubert Bals Fund
"The audience is looking for something real and meaningful that can stir the mind and the soul"
by Vassilis Economou
- Cineuropa chatted to Marit van den Elshout, head of IFFR Pro (25-30 January), about what to expect from the industry section of the 48th IFFR
Cineuropa had a chance to talk with Marit van den Elshout, head of IFFR Pro (set to unspool from 25-30 January), about what to expect this year from the industry section of the 48th International Film Festival Rotterdam (23 January-3 February).
Cineuropa: This will be the third edition of IFFR Pro Days; what is your main focus this time around?
Marit van den Elshout: We are doing a lot of things with different focuses, and yet it all fits together. The most important thing is to connect IFFR Pro more to the festival programme and ensure a good exchange. Also, we want to bring the efforts of the Hubert Bals Fund (HBF) and CineMart even closer in terms of supporting the projects – no separate segments.
For CineMart, thanks to the feedback we got last year from filmmakers and the professionals who attended, we are following the same path, improving the structure, selecting fewer projects and offering a more tailor-made programme of mentoring sessions and meetings. Furthermore, to tie in with IFFR Pro’s third year, we are having a few other “thirds” as well. The third batch of BoostNL projects will be at CineMart, where eight projects that received expert mentoring at the Netherlands Film Festival will be presented to potential partners. The third collaboration with VR Days Europe for IFFR Pro X VR Days, organised by Jolinde den Haas, who also scouted some experiences for the festival, will be a follow-up to the events we organised in October at VR Days, but with new projects and a day-long programme. So, really, the focus is to tie everything together in a meaningful way in order to elevate IFFR Pro to a higher level.
After 36 years, how hard is it to keep CineMart attractive as one of the industry’s leading co-production markets?
Curation is very important, so the project selection is one area where we can distinguish ourselves; the same goes for the guest list, our hospitality and the fairly thorough organisation of our services, which we work on all year round. I think what differentiates us is that we adopt an integrated approach with other parts of the festival. You visit Rotterdam as a CineMart guest, but you are not “just at a co-production market”; there is a lot more on offer.
Reality Check 2019 will be focusing on the content-development process; could you give us an overview of this?
Last year, we focused on distribution and audiences, so we wanted to return to the early stages of content creation. The abundance of media in both creation and consumption brings challenges and opportunities. There are plenty of choices when it comes to consuming content, encompassing both formats and spaces, so there is a lot of autonomy on both the creator’s and the consumer’s side.
We explore how funding structures can be adapted to the new formats, as they are still quite restrictive, and the lengthy development processes in cinema allow for very little movement of form. The project is only “fluid” for a very short time. Also, we try to discover how to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world. By looking at statistics on the projects at the development stage, we can find out how funding is organised and who the gatekeepers are. We will have three panels covering these different topics, but we will also add an interactive element to the conference, like last year, with breakout sessions at the end of the day to look for potential solutions and to offer different angles.
What has been the impact of the HBF, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary?
I believe the HBF has contributed greatly to opening up the world by supporting talents and stories in countries with little infrastructure for film development and production. The fund has worked as a catalyst for financing and in some ways has offered access to stories that might not have reached the screen otherwise. This was very much the case in the early days of the fund. Now that a lot of the countries that we are working in have become much more professional when it comes to their film production, the role of the fund has shifted a bit, and is focusing much more on being a matchmaker between talent and the industry. The co-development and co-production schemes with the Netherlands Film Fund have given Dutch producers a much broader playground internationally, which in return is enriching their work in many ways as well.
The new initiatives with the NPA and NFF are taking that a step further. One interesting development for the HBF is that we have gone from being completely dependent on subsidies, when we were funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to a very different structure in which we combine soft and private money, and are again connecting our festival supporters and audiences to the fund much more closely through Tigress and the Tiger Film Mecenaat [a patronage scheme]. This means that we are raising awareness of the fund among the festival audience.
For the future, we will again be looking at some more tailor-made funding programmes through which a moderate but early commitment can make a big difference. And as for other projects, we will work more in partnership with the filmmakers, rather than as a funder, like we do within BoostNL, for example.
With 16 features that were previously either at CineMart or supported by the HBF being screened at the 48th IFFR, do you have high expectations?
Life would get boring if our expectations were not higher! We see a strong appetite for the films we support, both in the festival selections and worldwide – the award nominations stand as a testament to this. In a world where many real-life things are often way more absurd than fiction, the audience is looking for something real and meaningful that can stir the mind and the soul. Films like Rafiki [+see also:
interview: Wanuri Kahiu
film profile], I Am Not a Witch [+see also:
interview: Rungano Nyoni
film profile], The Reports on Sarah and Saleem [+see also:
film profile], A Land Imagined [+see also:
film profile], The Day I Lost My Shadow [+see also:
interview: Soudade Kaadan
film profile] and Rojo [+see also:
interview: Benjamín Naishtat
film profile] are reaching audiences. With our distribution initiatives such as IFFR Unleashed and our monthly screenings at the Kino cinema in Rotterdam, plus the strong relationship that we have with Dutch distributors, we are investing a lot of effort in increasing audience awareness of the films that IFFR finds important. But this will always remain the goal, and we’re not easily satisfied.
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