The 53rd edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam, taking place between Jan. 25 – Feb. 4, will be the first for Clare Stewart as managing director. Functioning under a dual leadership structure where the managing director and festival director oversee the commercial and creative elements of the organization respectively, IFFR appointed Stewart back in June 2023 to focus on the festival’s program structure and content strategy.
Speaking to Variety ahead of the festival and joined by festival director Vanja Kaludjercic, the former director of the Sydney Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival emphasized it feels like a “full circle moment” to be back in Rotterdam after first attending IFFR over 20 years ago as her first international film event outside of her home country of Australia.
“It’s also interesting to be coming in as the managing director, having previously held roles that either combined the two or were more of a creative director role,” she added. “To bring the experiences of my past festival work with London, Sydney and most recently Sheffield from a managerial direction is very interesting.”
Kaludjercic emphasized how inspired she feels to be heading into another edition, highlighting how joining IFFR during its 50th anniversary back in 2020 allowed her to “really understand the legacy of the festival, where it is now and where it is going.”
“I find it endlessly inspiring, to see what the festival has built, the audiences it has and its DNA, which all shape our understanding of how to create the program and how to cultivate new audiences while continuing to be here for existing ones.”
Kaludjercic went on to praise the festival’s opening film, Jonathan Ogilvie’s “Head South.” A coming-of-age comedy about a private schoolboy enamored with all things post-punk, the film is Ogilvie’s follow up to 2021 sci-fi thriller “Lone Wolf,” which also premiered at IFFR.
“We are always curious to see what [Ogilvie] is coming up with next because he is the perfect example of the voice we like to champion in that he likes to creatively reinvent himself with each film. If you put ‘Lone Wolf’ and ‘Head South’ next to each other you’ll be really impressed at how somebody can have that level of creative rage and vision. His latest is immensely heartwarming but also melancholic. For a lot of us, it brings a certain flair of nostalgia.”
Despite proudly wearing the badge of a discovery festival with a mission of championing new talent, IFFR selects some of the biggest hits of the international festival circuit every year for its Limelight section. This year, the strand features recent Oscar nominees in Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest” and Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Four Daughters,” plus new films by Bertrand Bonello (“The Beast”), Alice Rohrwacher (“La Chimera”) and Agnieszka Holland (“Green Border”).
“We know this is a very welcoming festival from an audience point of view, but we also face the challenges that festivals are faced with everywhere in terms of diversifying their audiences,” said Stewart of the strand. “The Limelight section is very integral to audience development because it helps to attract those who may be more responsive to talent they might recognize on screen. These are wonderful films that also have a real purpose of widening audiences and making the festival a comfortable space for people to be introduced to potentially more challenging cinema.”
Speaking to Variety two years ago, Kaludjercic quipped that the Rotterdam version of a phenomenon like Timothée Chalamet would be Japanese director Yuasa Masaaki. When asked who would be their Chalamet this year, the festival director picked singer Debbie Harry, who narrates Amanda Kramer’s “So Unreal” and will be at the festival for an in-depth talk with the American director, and Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio, also in town for a career talk and to present Cannes competition title “Rapito” (Kidnapped).
“I love the idea that Debbie Harry and Marco Bellocchio might be the new Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet [laughs],” added Stewart, before going on to expand on what a successful first edition of IFFR in post would look like.
“The challenge going into this year is one all festivals are facing, a financial challenge festivals have had coming out of the pandemic, with the cessation of support money for COVID recovery relief and the challenges of rising costs. Those challenges are still very real for this edition,” she said, adding: “I want to see the festival in a really healthy place that will allow us to dream for the future. That would be a successful edition for me.”