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Two short films from the distant shores of Australia are amongst the line-up of the 2018 Brussels Independent Film Festival, which relaunches after a six year hiatus in Belgium’s de jure capital this weekend. Morteza Halimi’s animation Drifting Away, an ethereal, dream-state ode to cubism and sportscars, and Melina Maraki’s moody retail space thriller Tricks, already an international festival circuit favourite, will vie for festival honours from the week-long program comprising 67 films culled from over 2000 submissions from 23 countries.

The re-emergence of the Brussels Independent Film Festival is cause for celebration amongst auteurs whose works have a more idiosyncratic, individualistic aesthetic. Founded in 1974 as the Festival International du Film Independent de Bruxelles, its primary aim was to celebrate experimental cinema shot on Super-8 film, before expanding its vision to include many different forms of cutting-edge filmmaking styles. It ran in its original incarnation for 38 years, during which it welcomed the likes of Pedro Almodovar, Francois Ozon and Nanni Moretti, before funding and resource shortfalls forced its closure in 2012.

In addition to the two-pronged Australian contingent, the 2018 roster of films includes the World Premiere of Anshul Chaunan’s Bad Poetry Tokyo, starring Shuna Iijima as a broken woman reconnecting with her past in countryside Japan; a Valentine Day session of Brazillian Luciana Canton’s confronting examination of modern sexual mores, Public Intimacy (pictured, left); competitive-eating legend-turned-offbeat film visionary Crazy Legs Conti’s cult short Soulfinger vs Goldfinger, which stars Denzel Washington and Al Pacino, somehow; co-directors Mark Olexa and Francesca Scalisi’s Half-Life in Fukushima, a documentary on farming practices in Japan’s radiation red zone; and, Belgian filmmaker Nathalie Teirlinck’s feature Past Imperfect, the story of a high-level escort forced to suddenly deal with the responsibilities of motherhood.

The Brussels Independent Film Festival has also paired with the arts initiative l’Heure d’Hiver (Winter Time) to present the Belgian premiere of Flatland, a video installation by Iranian artists Alireza Keymanesh and Amir Pousti. The special presentation runs in conjunction with a series of short films from the Islamic Republic of Iran, including Anahita Ghazvinizadeh’s When a Kid Was a Kid, Omid Adibparvar’s Die Hard and Asma Ebrahimzadegan’s Common Hole.

The competition categories are spread across all forms and disciplines, with festival organisers set to honour Best Narrative Feature Film, Best Documentary Feature Film, Best Narrative Short Film, Best Documentary Short Film, Best Animated Film, Best Experimental Film and Best Belgian Film. The trophy awarded to prize winners is one of the most coveted European festival gongs; the seven winners will receive their own edible monument to the national landmark The Atomium, crafted from 100% Belgian chocolate by local culinary legend Wim Vyverman.

The Brussels Independent Film Festival runs February 11 to 18. Admission is free of charge at the event’s screening venues, the Atomium (Atomiumsquare, 1020) and Cinema Galeries (Galerie de la Reine 26, 1000; pictured, above).



The 2018 Hivos Tiger trophy for Best Film at the 47th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) has been awarded to Cai Chengjie’s The Widowed Witch. In a statement issued by the official Jury, Chengjie’s remarkably assured debut feature, “is a film of epic dimensions with a narrative that is greater than one person or moment. Its bold vision, created by a lyrical layering of cinematographic elements, makes [the] film stand out.”

Also singled out from the eight films in contention for the Tiger honour was Muayad Alayan’s The Reports on Sarah and Saleem. Screenwriter Rami Alayan earned a Special Jury Award for the personal and politically charged drama, the Jury declaring, “The screenplay intertwines the personal and the political and it manages to balance a complex plot with convincing characters.” An international co-production between Palestine, The Netherlands, Germany and Mexico, the film also won the coveted Hubert Bals Fund Audience Award, a €10,000 cash prize named after the late festival founder. (Pictured, below: IFFR 2018 winners include, from clockwise, The Widowed Witch, The Reports on Sarah and Saleem, Nina, Azougue Nazaré)

The Bright Future Award, a €10,000 endowment to a first time feature director, went to Tiago Melo’s mystical Brazilian drama Azougue Nazare, a work that employed a non-pro cast from the film's remote location. Malene Choi Jensen’s The Return was also singled out by the Jury for Special Mention for its depiction of, “a personal quest [that] gradually transforms into a reflection on loneliness, belonging, and existential homecoming.”

The most popular film of IFFR 2018 was Gustav Möller’s The Guilty (pictured, right), which took out two honours – the highly-prized Audience Award and the Youth Jury Award. The tense police procedural subverted plot and genre conventions to deliver a thriller which delivered, in the words of the Youth Jury members, “a master class in suspense.” From a program of 20 short films from 18 countries, Oscar Hudson’s Joy in People took out Voices Short Audience Award.

The other audience honour is the VPRO Big Screen Award, chosen by a jury of five audience members that ensures the winning film plays in Dutch theatres and is broadcast on national television. In 2018, that film was Nina, from Polish filmmaker Olga Chajdas.

The local filmmaker chosen by the Circle of Dutch Film Journalists as the festival’s Best Dutch, or Dutch co-produced work was Lucrecia Martel’s Zama. The body of international critics deciding upon this year’s Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique (FIPRESCI) honour chose Ere Gowda’s charming Kanarees language Balekempa. 


The NETPAC Award for Best Asian film having its World Premiere at IFFR 2018 was Shireen Seno’s Nervous Translation. The NETPAC Jury stated, “its singularly original representation of childhood beautifully captures a unique view full of contradictory interactions, introspection, social and political dissonance, and disquietude. With this film, the director has succeeded in creating an unforgettable cinematic universe.”

The Found Footage Award, an inaugural category introduced to honour those filmmakers employing archive or recycled footage to create fresh narratives, was awarded Slovenian Nika Autor’s mid-length feature, Newsreel 63: The Train of Shadows. 

Festival director Bero Beyer (pictured, right) thanked, “The crazy, daring, outspoken and warm people” of both IFFR and Rotterdam for ensuring the event reached new heights. Several aspects of past festivals were reworked and relaunched in 2018, most notably the Cinemart professional marketplace. The festival has one full day of screenings left before Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin closes out the 2018 program.



Terry Gilliam says the surrealistic masterpieces of Jan Švankmajer are, “magical, because they make reality mysterious.” One of the most unique visual artists that world cinema has ever known, the Czech visionary defied the strict regime of his homeland with a wave of subversive short films throughout 60s and 70s. When censorship eased in the mid-80s, Švankmajer directed such unclassifiable, often nightmarish features as the Lewis Carroll reinterpretation, Alice (1988); an unforgettable vision of the classic tale, Faust (1994); perhaps his masterwork, Conspirators of Pleasure (1996); and, his family drama Little Otik (2000), in which a husband and wife raise a tree root as their own.

The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) welcomed the 83 year-old master for the World Premiere of his first feature in eight years, Insects (Hmyz). Based upon the 1922 play by brothers Karel and Josef Capek, Švankmajer focuses on the group of amateur theatre players trying to resurrect the text, yet find theimselves being torn asunder by jealousy, greed, ego…and bugs. The director broke away from a Czech Film Industry function to sit with SCREEN-SPACE and discuss (via translator) his latest mesmerizing film…

SCREEN-SPACE: You are returning to material that you first explored back in 1970. What makes it relevant and still creatively satisfying to you in 2018?

ŠVANKMAJER: This was one of many, many ideas and subjects that I wasn’t allowed shoot back in the 1970s because of the regime and the strict censorship. The 1970s was a very fruitful, very creative time for me. Ideas were just flowing from me, so many interesting stories that I admit I took for granted back then. So I just put those interesting stories into my drawer, a very big drawer, and now, or more accurately from about the 90s onwards, I have been revisiting them one by one and shooting the movies. Of course, certain details have changed from what I envisioned back in the 70s, but the themes and characters are still very relevant to me. I’m not interested in fleeting themes, but material that is deeper and constant in all our lives. It was just my good luck that I stashed them in these drawers around my home, so that I could eventually open those drawers and use the ideas of a younger man to tell stories as an older one. (Pictured, above; a scene from Insects)

SCREEN-SPACE: I find those comments interesting because I found this is to be one of your most buoyant, even playful films, as if you are enjoying the storytelling process with renewed vigour.

ŠVANKMAJER: It is certainly true that I did enjoy the process and that the material inspired new creativity in me, which is perhaps what you have sensed when watching the film. But I don’t think ‘playful’ is the right word. Thematically, the film is actually one of the darkest I have ever made. There is humour, but to observe it more closely it casts a very dark perspective, seeks out the very darkest edges of our persona. I don’t want anyone going into this film thinking they will find the light humour you may find in an American film (laughs). (Pictured, above; Svankmajer, left, directing actor Jirí Lábus in Insects)

SCREEN-SPACE: Your decision to top-and-tail the film with your own direct-to-camera thoughts, as you say in the film like a foreword from a book’s author, is an inspired device. Was that always in the script or did it become apparent that the film needed context as the final edit drew near?

ŠVANKMAJER: Neither, frankly. Not back in the 70s nor recently when I was rewriting the original story to accommodate some new scenarios. Those moments in the film that adopt a documentary aesthetic or the scenes when the actors are relating their dreams are not passages you can conjure in script form. Those are moments that arise during the creative process on-set

SCREEN-SPACE: You draw from the Capek Brothers play, of course, and Kafka’s Metamorphoses. But I also noted Fellini-esque flourishes. What other filmmakers, artists, authors still inspire your work?

ŠVANKMAJER: I love Fellini! I still often think about his work, I have to admit. La Strada is wonderful, although Armacord is closest to my heart. But Fellini can be for me, and certainly for this project, too ornamental, too busy. Do you understand? I think the strongest influence on Insect was Bunuel. He is very close to my heart. 

SCREEN-SPACE: The online diary that wrote while in production gives fascinating insight into your directing methodology. I read with interest the passage, “I direct them as if they were puppets in an animated film…”

ŠVANKMAJER: (Laughs) I’m making imaginative films, works that draw upon specific imagery not always of this world. These are not ‘actor’ films; the story, and so much more, that is important to the film I want to make is not necessarily the responsibility of the cast. Each aspect of the production is equally crucial to what I want to make as any other aspect. Costumes, sound, editing – all those things have to combine for my films to work. My actors always take some time to get used my sets, because the way I make my films is something different. I play with them to get the effect, the end result that I need. I am their puppet master.




IFFR 2018: The setting provided to meet with Paul Schrader is appropriately magisterial. A corner boardroom, high-walled and white carpeted, near the third floor film festival offices in Rotterdam’s de Doelen building, has been turned into bare space; tall windows allow the steely grey morning light to fill the room. The 72 year-old industry icon sits alone at a small table in the far corner, checking his phone; despite the imposing space he commands, Schrader appears, in every respect, to be a respectable if unremarkable elderly gentleman. But his legacy is remarkable; after half a century as a gifted screenwriter (Taxi Driver; Rolling Thunder; Obsession; The Mosquito Coast; The Last Temptation of Christ; Bringing Out the Dead) and director, often of his own scripts (Hardcore; American Gigolo; Cat People; Mishima A Life in Four Chapters; Affliction; Auto Focus; The Canyons), his immense reputation fills the room.

Schrader is attending the International Film Festival Rotterdam with his latest film First Reformed, a dark spiritual journey in which a damaged chaplain (Ethan Hawke) crusades via increasingly desperate means for environmental change. He is also presenting ‘Dark and the Lessons Learned’, a frank account of his torrid experiences shooting, relinquishing, then resurrecting his 2014 Nicholas Cage thriller, Dying of The Light. His handshake is soft; his voice strong, if a little congested. Thankfully, Paul Schrader, once considered one of Hollywood’s darker personalities, is in a good mood. By the time SCREEN-SPACE settled into the chair opposite him, he was already talking movies…

SCREEN-SPACE: You come to Rotterdam on a wave of good will for First Reformed, which is getting some of the best reviews of your career.

SCHRADER: I’ve not had a bad screening of this film. It seems to work for people. In fact, because the film pulls so many things together, themes that I’ve worked with over the last 15 years – writing about spiritual things, making spiritual films – I’ve decided to enjoy this moment, this victory lap of touring around the world with the film. I’m doing a whole lecture tour at various seminaries around the US. I’ve updated a book that I wrote 45 years ago, called Transcendental Style in Film, and that gets republished in May. (Pictured, above; First Reformed stars Ethan Hawke, left, and Amanda Seyfried, with their director)

SCREEN-SPACE: Is this the first time you’ve ever fully explored in film what you wrote about in your book?

SCHRADER: It’s the first time I’ve ever had the desire to. It came about maybe 3 years ago. I was giving an award to Pawel Pawlikowski for his film Ida and we had dinner together, and I was taken back by how much I liked [Ida], responded to its themes and story. And I was alone, walking home, and just said out loud to myself, “It’s time you made one of these.” I had never thought I would make a contemplative film, but after that dinner with Pawel it struck me that I was 70 years old and that I should make one.

SCREEN-SPACE: How did that desire manifest through the lead character Toller, played by Ethan Hawke? How is your contemplative protagonist different from other Schrader leads?

SCHRADER: The main character stems from Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest. The setting is from Bergman’s Winter Light; there’s a levitation scene I’ve taken from Tarkovsky. The ending, sort of from Borzage. And it’s all held together by the glue of Taxi Driver (laughs). Toller is a sick man, his main sickness being what Kierkegaard called ‘the sickness unto death’, which is despair and angst. He is trying to find any way he can through his sickness, be it drink or keeping his journal or the ritual of church services. When he meets this kid with another kind of despair, a sad resignation about the environment, he tries to counsel the kid but the kid kills himself. So Toller adopts the boy’s sickness, adapts it into his own despair, and becomes an environmentalist jihadist. Now, that despair has become much more immediate in our current times. In the past, 2000 years ago, when mankind spoke about the future they spoke hypothetically, will no real notion of the end of days. Nowadays, such discussions are not so hypothetical. (Pictured above; Ethan Hawke as Toller, in First Reformed) 

SCREEN-SPACE: Let me read from Owen Gleiberman’s Variety review, in which he states your film exhibits, “the transcendental austerity of Bresson, Dreyer and Ozu”. What does it mean to be spoken of in that sort of company?

SCHRADER: It is a contemplative film. Most films lean into you, are desperate for your attention. Here’s a beautiful naked person, here’s some loud music to tell you how to feel. Another way a film can work, the way I think and hope First Reformed works, is to lean away from you. They give you less, slow it down, delay the cuts, don’t have music. When movies lean away, which is inherently an uncommercial thing to do, then the viewer can lean into the film, or they can leave. That’s the delicate dance that a filmmaker who works on the slow side has to do. Asking of yourself, ‘How can I slow it down? How can I withhold things from you and get you to come and join this story without boring you? Or at least boring you too much.’ (Laughs) (Pictured, above; Robert Bresson)

SCREEN-SPACE: I find it interesting that both you and your Taxi Driver collaborator Martin Scorsese, with his recent film Silence, have turned to the spiritual, contemplative narrative at this point in your creative lives…

SCHRADER: That was material I had once considered. After Mishima, producers in Japan asked if there was something I would like to do in their country. I knew that Marty had let the rights lapse on that book and I never thought he was ever going to make it. So I tried to secure it, but he caught me.

SCREEN-SPACE: When I spoke with Bret Easton Ellis about The Canyons, he said, “Schrader is a drill sargeant on the set and a lot of crazy as well, but all in a good way.” Does that sum up your directorial mantra?

SCHRADER: (Laughs) A film set is not a democracy and has to move very efficiently. Directors tend to be alpha types, whether male or female. You don’t really get recessive personality types becoming directors. And that is what’s expected of you, to be decisive and driven. You don’t want a drill sargeant who says, ‘What should we do today?’ Today, a film shoot goes so fast. A shoot that would’ve once been 40 days is now a 20-day shoot, and you have more footage. Someone like Ethan prefers the pace, because he says he never leaves ‘the zone’. A long shoot has a lot of dead time, whereas at the modern pace you just work, work, work. (Pictured, left; Schrader, centre, directing The Canyons)

SCREEN-SPACE: You have spent the last two decades writing narratives for the more mature leading man. Ethan Hawke, two films with Nicholas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Nick Nolte, the late James Coburn. Given the key demographic for the Hollywood suits are the under 25s, dealing with the financiers must be a challenge?

SCHRADER: I don’t think a film should unnecessarily expose anyone to financial risk. It should fit within key financial parameters. If I make a film like First Reformed, it has to have a certain budget. Whether it fails or succeeds commercially, we shot it responsibly. If I keep my budget down, that affords me the freedom to do things that other people can’t do, work that I find creatively interesting. Also, we are moving away from the theatrical distribution model, which, frankly, I don’t think is a necessarily bad thing. We have had theatrical distribution solely as a means by which to monetize movies, and it’s been the best way to do it for 100 years. Now, I’m thinking it’s not the best, most efficient way to do it. The theatre experience came out of a certain environment, and now there’s a different environment. For a film like First Reformed, which operates on the quiet side, it is good to start the conversation in a theatre. Critics should see it in a theatre; festival audiences will appreciate it in a theatre. But once the identity of the film is established, audiences can watch it anywhere that works for them. (Pictured, above; Nick Nolte, left, and Schrader on the set of Affliction)

SCREEN-SPACE: During your Masterclass, you derided a new breed of producer, one central to the horrible experience you had on Dying of The Light. Surely the ‘just-in-it-for-the-money’ producer is not a new Hollywood thing to a seasoned veteran such as you?

SCHRADER: It is a new Hollywood thing. In the past, people came to filmmaking through filmmaking, rising through the ranks of production companies or agencies or television, some entity within the community. Now, you are getting investors who really aren’t film people, who don’t watch a lot of movies. In the past, if you ran a film company, you were a film person. Now, the executives come from Coca-Cola, or from a toy company; people that just move from one boardroom to the next. I started out in the studio system, the first five films I did were studio pictures. But by the 80s the studios had changed, so I started making independent films. And now, the independent world is changing and you are doing essentially ‘internet films’. (Pictured, above; Nicholas Cage in Dying of The Light)

SCREEN-SPACE: I find it fascinating that so many of your films - Hardcore, Cat People, Mishima, Light of Day, Light Sleeper, Auto Focus - didn’t find favour with critics or audiences, yet have this enduring quality that makes them resonate today. What aspect of your storytelling gives these films such a life?

SCHRADER: I guess because they are singular. There’s only one film like Mishima. There’s certainly only one film like Auto Focus (laughs). They don’t blend into the landscape. Taxi Driver still stands out there. They are idiosyncratic; perhaps engage the mind more actively. A film like Patty Hearst, which is essentially about a person in a closet, doesn’t happen much. (Pictured, above; Schrader, left, directing Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett in Light of Day)

SCREEN-SPACE: Finally, please indulge me a story about the version of Close Encounters of The Third Kind that you wrote called Kingdom Come. An extraordinary script that Mr Spielberg perhaps did not fully appreciate…

SCHRADER: Oh, gosh. I remember when I met with Steven on it, which became an argumentative discussion. I had partly based the lead character on St Paul, a guy who debunked extra-terrestrial stories but has his own Road to Damascus experience and becomes a proselytiser for the phenomenon. I said to Steven, “I refuse to write a story about the first man to leave our solar system with the sole goal of setting up a McDonalds.” He said, “That’s exactly who I want.” (Laughs



IFFR 2018: Works from all corners of the international short film community earned plaudits when the judging panel at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) announced the Ammodo Tiger Short Film competition winners on Sunday January 28.

The jury consisted of Chinese filmmaker Ying Liang, who won a Tiger Short trophy in 2009 for Condolences; Dutch graphic designer Mieke Gerritzen; and, Kenyan filmmaker Jim Chuchu, founder of Nairobi-based arts initiative The Nest Collective. The winners were chosen from a field of 22 entrants, including 14 world premieres.

The three films to each earn the €5,000 cash prize were Mountain Plain Mountain, a co-production from Spain, Japan and The Netherlands co-directed by Araki Yu and Daniel Jacoby; director Sara Cwynar’s iPhone teen odyssey Rose Gold (pictured, right), from The USA; and, the latest installment of Thai artist Korakrit Arunanondchai’s meditative and sombre consideration of death, With History in a Room Filled with People with Funny Names 4, which draws upon the cultures of The USA, Thailand, South Africa and The United Kingdom. (Pictured, top; IFFR directors Bero Beyer, left, and Janneke Staarink, right, with Daniel Jacoby, Araki Yu, Sara Cwynar, and European Film Award nominee Heather Phillipson).

The jury commended the diversity of the narratives while recognising the humanism that binds the winning films. On Mountain Plain Mountain, they stated  “the directors find the microcosmos into which all the loneliness and the isolation of human beings is to be found.” In discussing Rose Gold, the jury said, “The film has been chosen because of the innocent imagery that also makes us feel uncomfortable, because we know that our world isn’t sweet and soft only.”

Arunanondchai’s work (pictured, left) earned particularly high praise, the jury remarking, “There are moments of breathtaking beauty in this ambitious, sprawling, yet deeply moving film. This film reminds us that for all our tech-enabled and capital-fuelled hubris, we remain lonely as we reach for greater meaning, staying inevitably mortal.”

Also honoured was Heather Phillipson’s WHAT’S THE DAMAGE from the U.K. (pictured, right), a timely reaction to the patriarchal white power cabals that govern world. The film was nominated by the IFFR judging panel to compete in the short film category at European Film Awards, to be held in Seville on December 15. "An amazing and original work with unexpected imagery composed as a new aesthetic,” noted the Tiger Short jury, noting, "There is infinite room in the world for cultural works that dissect, critique and rebuke the ghastly political phenomenon that is Trump, and WHAT’S THE DAMAGE is a worthy addition to that canon."

Amongst those competing for the IFFR Tiger Short awards were Australian-born, Paris-based Mel O’Callaghan with Dangerous on the Way, a shared production between Australia and Borneo.

All the nominated films will be screened over the remaining days of the IFFR, which runs until Sunday February 4 at various venues across Rotterdam.