Rotterdam Film Festival online: unique films, on a cluttered website

Film in the Time of Corona: part 8


Downheartedness and self-pity. Those are the prevailing emotions in the Vluggen household at the moment. The reason is that this is the week when we invariably made our way to the Côte d’Azur for the annual highlight on a film lover’s calendar: the Cannes Film Festival. I would then subsequently have complained for the next ten days about the long queues for the theatres, arrogant French people jumping said queues, and the exorbitant prices of oysters and Chablis, but oh how I miss the sun-drenched film heaven.

There were speculations about a festival in July, but now the decision has been taken: no Cannes this year. A list will be published at the beginning of June with a number of films that were selected for the festival. We can expect those in the cinemas in autumn. In the meantime, the film industry is nervously waiting to see if the important festivals can take place in September – Venice and Toronto.

The largest Dutch film festivals – IDFA (in November 2020) and Rotterdam (end of January 2021) – are still quite far away, but still people will be shocked by the discussion about a ban on large national events, as long as there is no vaccine. 

In the anticipation of news, it seemed like a good idea to enlighten you about Rotterdam’s and IDFA’s online selection. Rotterdam first, or IFFR (International Film Festival Rotterdam), which launched its own online selection in 2018: IFFR Unleashed. Films from the festival can be seen all year long.

How does it work?

You can take a subscription for 5 euro per month, after which you can watch films without any limitation. Renting single films costs 4.50 euro per film (and 1 euro for short films).

Is it worth it?

You would have to be a very fanatical film festival visitor to become excited about the selection ( It consists of films that were not touched by Dutch distributers and quite often could only be seen in the Netherlands during IFFR. A unique chance to still see those festival titles, but there is a lot of mediocrity among them. It is very sympathetic, though, that they donate half of the proceeds to the film makers; that fits in well with IFFR’s mission of supporting independent filmmakers.

There are a few things to mention about the website. The categories are a mess; there is an overview page with what seems like rather haphazardly chosen ‘collections’, including a bunch of French films, master classes by directors, music documentaries, and winners of the IFFR edition on Curaçao. It looks like a random collection of ideas by the IFFR programmers without any further classification or structure.

Even the Search function is poor. The films can be sorted by title from A to Z, but that’s about it. That is okay for viewers who have decided to watch a film starting with the letter B, but not for anyone who wants to search by festival year, country/region or genre.

Judgement of Solomon

IFFR Unleashed is an amateurish clutter and unworthy of the Netherlands’ largest film festival.

Top 3 recommendations (May 2020)

1. Neighbouring Sounds – Kleber Mendonça Filho (Brazil, 2012)

For decades, IFFR has offered a podium for debut film makers. And sometimes talented people are discovered, who then go on to make a breakthrough to a greater audience. Christopher Nolan – who won a Tiger Award in Rotterdam for his debut feature film Following – is the most prominent example of that. But the greatest IFFR discovery of the last decade is Brazilian film maker Kleber Mendonça Filho, who by now has managed to compete on two occasions for the Golden Palm in Cannes, with Aquarius (2016) and Bacurau (2019). In his debut film Neighbouring Sounds Mendonça Filho sketches an image of life in a prosperous neighbourhood in Recife. Life takes an unsuspecting turn when a dubious security firm offers its services to the inhabitants. A claustrophobic masterpiece, to be viewed temporarily for free on IFFR Unleashed.

2. Tokyo Sonata – Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Japan, 2008)

A touching tragedy about a Japanese family that falls apart when the father loses his job. Feeling ashamed, he decides to keep it a secret and feigns going to work every day, all the while hoping for a miracle. 

3. Mon-Rak Transistor – Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Thailand 2001)

A delightful musical comedy about a passionate amateur singer of Thai country music (look thoong) who is drafted by the army, but who deserts in order to pursue his showbiz dream. Meandering in all kinds of directions, this unpredictable film is one to fall madly in love with. This director is lovingly referred to as ‘Penneke’ in the Vluggen household.

Mark Vluggen

Rotterdam Film Festival online: unique films, on a cluttered website