Short Films

in 44th International Film Festival Rotterdam

by Jan Pieter Ekker

If there is one programme section in which the signature of outgoing festival director Rutger Wolfson can be clearly seen, it is the shorts: at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) you can search for a joke, a punch line or a traditional, well-made mini-feature until you are blue in the face. The selection is made up of hybrid little art films and films by artists, ranging from abstract computer animations to groundbreaking experiments with form. From both debut makers and old hands such as Ben Rivers from the UK and American film output champ Ben Russell – for the 20th and 21st times in the IFFR selection – and from all corners of the world, including the Netherlands.

In “Tijd en plaats, een gesprek met mijn moeder” (Time and Place, a Talk with my Mom), Martijn Veldhoen enters into a conversation with his elderly, infirm mother Lotje – the first thing she says is that she doesn’t want to be filmed. So Veldhoen’s camera floats around the canal side house where she has lived for over fifty years, in search of details and reminiscences. He intersperses these images with archive material and black-and-white photographs, time-lapse sequences of Amsterdam and 3D animations of the stately home. In the meantime, Lotje talks about the 1960s, her divorce from the dissolute artist Aat Veldhoen and how she brought up their four children. The result is an unorthodox reconstruction of the maker’s mother’s past. And of his own, of course. Introspection, it seems, is appreciated in Rotterdam.

Tim Leyendekker made “Blinder”, a highly sensory formal experiment in which, during 11 minutes, 6,386 photos depicting all the objects and characters from the English translation of José Saramago’s novel “Ensaio sobre a Cegueira” (Blindness), are combined with the same number of audio clips from “Blindness”, Fernando Meirelles’ film of the same name. Melanie Bonajo directed “Night Soil – Fake Paradise”, an entertaining, artistic study of the effects of Ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic drink from the Amazon, on the already disturbed minds of modern man.

Visual artist Roy Villevoye was spending some time with the Asmat, a people who live in Papua, in the far East of Indonesia, when one of their men suddenly died. He then recorded, almost anthropologically, how the best wood-carvers in the village created a wooden state for their (and his) departed friend.

In the meantime, we hear the artist carrying on an incomprehensible telephone conversation with his gallery about another statue: “The Clearing”. Villevoye is angry: he wants money from the gallery, which has sold the statue. “What do you think we live on, thin air?”, the galley owner replies, indignant. A voice actor is credited on the closing titles of Voice-Over, but the text is authentic.

This year painter and visual artist Erik van Lieshout, who won a Tiger Award two years ago for his short film “Janus”, goes a step further: in his feature debut “Werk” (Work), the artist presents all of the discussions he has had with Funds and his producers. “You are getting a lot for your money,” one of these promises the Netherlands Film Fund.

Van Lieshout decides that his film must be an ‘epic about the artist as worker’. “I think the workers as a theme is a great theme”, the producer foresees. Through a factory, the ebullient verbal torrent Van Lieshout arrives at yet another arts event; and through his parents, with Dutch Minister of Culture, Bussemaker, the cats in the cellars of the Winter Palace at the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg (footage Van Lieshout shot during Manifesta 10, and previously used in the 20-minute film “Basement”, which also screened at IFFR) and the Russian activist Alexander Dolatov, who died in a Rotterdam detention centre. Van Lieshout associates and manipulates: the producers are also made to act and eat cat food on command.

The result of all this work is at times hilarious, at others exhausting (the camera shoots all over the place, the framing is askew). Nevertheless, this fascinating combination of making-of and ego-document would not be out of place in the Tiger Awards competition. But at IFFR it was hidden away in a sidebar. Getting “Werk” a regular cinema release after the festival will not be an easy task, even though this was one of the preconditions for the Funds. The producers act insouciant: “We’ve already got the three hundred thousand”, one of them says. “So why on earth, in this Dutch subsidy system, would you then want to go and make a good film?”

Jan Pieter Ekker
(Edited by Tara Judah)