The Impact Of Covid On Moviemaking and Seeing

in 52nd International Film Festival Rotterdam

by Boaz van Luijk

After a few years of resorting to hosting the festival online due to Covid-19 regulations, the International Film Festival Rotterdam has found its feet again in 2023. With more than 200 world premieres of a total of 455 movies, the festival once again managed to offer a wide variety of interesting choices for movie lovers, film critics and art connoisseurs. The high grades given by the public after screenings indicate the widespread longing for a physical film festival after the two year absence. This feeling was tangible during the entire festival: from the screenings, the Q&A’s, the talks and meetings to the conversations at the various food stalls in the heart of the festival location.

Eager to forget about the years of Covid regulation, moviegoers sometimes were transported back to these earlier years. While a lot of movies screening at the festival were made during the Covid years, the theme and/or visible presence of Covid returned many times on the big screen. Sometimes face masks or sanitizing regulations were an important part of the visual make up of a movie (for instance in Artemis Shaw and Prashanth Kamalakanthan‘s movie New Strains), at other times you would see them merely as signs of the times.

The themes that Covid seemed to highlight were seen in almost every film. In one way, this was because these themes existed before Covid, but in another because the Covid heightened our awareness of these themes. We will never look at an intimate gathering of friends the same way – as in Last Evening (Letzer Abend) or forget about the impact face masks have on our reading of emotions. Social distancing made us aware of the distance between each other, a sense of distrust that the other maybe carrying a deadly disease. But also wanting to be with the other, no matter the rules or risks. Imposed quarantine made us feel lonely and gave rise to an increase of mental illnesses. People inherently are social beings; a film festival isn’t the same without screenings with the audience laughing, crying, shivering or booing together.

Being together and being different are not only social themes but also political themes. In a negative way the sum of the two will lead to barriers, exclusion and abuse. In a positive way, communities will grow, become even more open and understanding. International film festivals feel like the latter: here we celebrate differences and wonder about the lives of all sorts of people. Sometimes movies critically expose the evil sum of the two themes. Philip Sotnychenko‘s FIPRESCI Award winner La Palisiada has at its heart a clash of these themes: the two shots that are fired more than 20 years apart have at its core the otherness of the killed persons and the protection of a group. Throughout the movie we see more instances of separateness – the single father, the widowed wife and the grieving mother – but also of togetherness – the team investigating the first murder, the intertwined families and the political power block.

While La Palisiade was shot before Covid, the fear of the other that was heightened during the Covid period is an integral part of the movie. Sometimes this fear even seems to seep into the normal relations of the characters, just as it did during Covid. Gaps in families caused by their history together became even more visible, just like the movie shows us. While the movie gives us many questions and not that lot of answers, we are no longer shocked by this. The constant influx of fake news certainly peaked during Covid and we are suspicious of there just being one truth to explain everything.

Hopefully Covid and its negative influences on our perception and thinking will slowly fade away and help us become even more open and wondering people. That way the otherness of people only shows our own otherness and makes us embrace each other. In no small way movies can help this by keep showing us the immense variety of (human) life and look critically on the exclusion or abuse of others.

Boaz van Luijk
Edited by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas