Rotterdam Restructuring Sparks Debate as Festival Sets to Reshuffle Programming Team | News

A debate has erupted in the Dutch press and European industry over the radical restructuring of the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) announced last month.

It has now emerged that the festival is getting rid of almost its entire staff of senior programmers whose positions are being made redundant. Some of these programmers, talking to Filter on condition of anonymity, accuse the festival management, led by general manager Marjan van der Haar and festival director Vanja Kaludjercic, of treating them unfairly and delivering the news to them out of the blue.

Others argue that the festival needs to be “reinvented”.

IFFR has yet to confirm the names of the affected full-time and part-time programmers. “Under Dutch law, it is not possible for the organization to release details of individuals,” a spokesperson commented.

However, the redundancy list is said to include experienced and widely respected figures, all permanent members of staff, including Bianca Taal, Gerwin Tamsma, Edwin Carels and Peter van Hoof. A host of other freelance contract programmers were also fired.

Regular participants of the IFFR with whom Filter spoke of considering these programmers as the “blood” and “DNA” of the festival. They have expressed dismay at their sudden departures and are threatening to stay away from next year’s edition in protest. They see it as actions contrary to the collegial spirit in which the festival has always been carried out since its creation by Hubert Bals in 1972.

Talk to Screen, veteran producer Ilse Hughan of Amsterdam-based Fortuna Filmproductions, whose latest feature by Fabian Hernández A male is screened at the Directors’ Fortnight later this month, was wasting away changes at IFFR.

“To me it looks like a coup,” Hughan said. “I’m shocked. I really don’t understand what’s going on, why the artistic director and the general manager made this decision. [The press release announcing the restructure] is all corporate nonsense, very cliché. I have no vision.

Hughan has had ties to IFFR for many years, primarily as a member of the festival’s Hubert Bals Fund selection committee. She now says she will give up the role: “No more Rotterdam for me.”

His words were echoed by Christian De Schutter, director of Flanders Image, who worked for the festival under former directors Emile Fallaux, Simon Field and Sandra den Hamer.

“I am very worried because this goes against the true spirit of Rotterdam; it’s totally against the DNA of the festival,” he said. Filter. “To me, I feel like Rotterdam is losing a lot of the human warmth that it was known and praised for in the industry. And in addition to losing its warmth, it’s also spilling the expert knowledge [of the programmers] about films and filmmakers, as well as the expertise slowly accumulated over decades.

A festival spokesperson said the decisions were not made easily. “There has been tremendous thought and collaborative consultation behind the overall restructuring and the team has a strong vision to honor the roots of the festival in future editions,” they said.

New way of working

Kaludjercic’s predecessor as director of the festival, Bero Beyer, now CEO of the Netherlands Film Fund, gave his qualified support to the actions of the IFFR.

“Reorganized Sundance, Reorganized Toronto, Sheffield [Doc Fest] obviously did a severe overhaul. Everyone is trying to find a new path that stems from the need to keep changing,” Beyer said. Filter. “I think it’s a good thing [Vanja] has the courage to make changes because she will receive a lot of criticism. But she has to do something and, for the sake of this great festival, I hope she does.

Beyer also acknowledged the considerable debt the festival owes its programmers. “Since all of us, including funders, press and audiences, rely heavily on the curation of programmers at festivals, I think it’s crucial that they are treated and compensated accordingly.”

As announced on April 14, IFFR will reduce its core team by 15% and realign remaining staff members into five divisions: Content, Communications and Audience, Fundraising and Business Growth, Business Affairs and Operations. This is due to a decrease of 2 million euros in its annual budget, from 9.8 million euros in 2020, last year when the festival took place as a physical event, to 6.7 million. euros in 2021. The festival said it had no confirmed figure for 2022 but the estimated budget for 2023 is €7.8m.

IFFR has felt the financial pressure largely due to the pandemic which saw two editions in 2021 and 2022 go online. Lost ticket sales during the pandemic would have put a big hole in the festival’s finances. In terms of audience, IFFR remains one of the largest public festivals in the world. Its 2020 edition, the most recent complete physical edition before the pandemic, recorded 340,000 visits.

But sources suggest many staff would have been willing to take a 15% pay cut rather than have their jobs cut.

Public debate

The IFFR is a beloved and popular cultural event in the Netherlands and various Dutch newspapers commented, publicizing the debate.

Under the headline ‘Kiss of Death’, film magazine Filmkrant last week called the festival’s new initiatives a “bad development”.

“This message had the effect of a bomb,” said the cultural news agency Cultuurpress. “What’s going on in Rotterdam?” Will the IFFR still be this avant-garde festival where the distance between the public and the creator is so small? The festival where you can see fragile little films, discover new directors, see things you don’t understand but which fascinate you?

Meanwhile, the NRC daily spoke of “trouble” at the festival due to cuts and staff departures, noting that over the past two years, “at least 40 people have left the organization of the International Film Festival of Rotterdam”.

A concern cited by observers is that IFFR risks losing its traditionally strong connection to local audiences. Long-term programmers and executives leaving the organization are predominantly Dutch.

It is now envisaged that IFFR will rely on freelance programmers, many of whom come from abroad.

The festival continues negotiations for new team roles, actively recruiting and finalizing offers and new signings, with the new team to be announced at Cannes on May 19.

“I understand the logic of using a pool of freelance programmers rather than long-term programmers. But it will be interesting to see how IFFR retains both the local Dutch flavor and the long-term network,” Beyer said. .

“It is difficult to change the programming of a major festival without making drastic choices. It’s not an easy ship to steer,” Beyer added. “It may come at a cost, but you have to constantly reinvent yourself, as well as strike a balance between keeping the festival DNA intact and innovating.”

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