The International Film Festival in Rotterdam was the first serious film event I ever attended, back in 2004.
Actually, it’s not true. Cannes was the first – year 2000 – one of my school shorts made it to a side-kick showcase on the Croisette. I was present at the screening not because it was important or I could afford to travel all the way from Poland (where I was studying), but because Kodak’s Polish branch had believed in my talent and sponsored the trip for me and my Director of Photography.
But I was barely twenty, a second-year student, I spent the whole time at the festival exchanging food coupons for red wine and pinching myself in disbelief that I was even there. How did THAT happen!? Was I famous already?
When four years later I arrived in Rotterdam on a train from Paris, I had already graduated from film school, I had a feature script on my hands, and I was MUCH more nervous. I had spent the past five months on a prestigious scholarship at La Résidence of the Cinéfondation, I had put all my screenwriting gems into finishing a decent draft for what I thought would become my debut film.
I arrived in Rotterdam together with the other 5 directors I was sharing my Parisian residence experience with. We were going to have our little corner at the Cinemart, where we were given a chance to take advantage of what this amazing project market has to offer – a shot at pitching our projects to some of the most influential professionals in our industry. We arrived armed up to our teeth: business cards and pamphlets presenting our projects, a long list of names we wanted to set up meetings with, our best clothes and fake-casual cocktail smiles.
That time, those few days I spent at the IFFR twelve years ago, were the first real taste of the professional world I had gotten myself into. I met producers, distributors, I heard for the first time about sales agents, I got acquainted with the concept of “cocktail pitch” and I talked so much with so many people and with such intensity I’d end every day in my hotel room with a beer and a slight headache, wondering if I could do it. If I could actually belong to this world.
Over a decade has passed and the twists my personal storyline has taken are something I could have never imagined back then. I zigzagged all across Europe developing several different projects, became a screenwriting professor for three bright years, fell in and out of love with people, places and stories. In these years I attended most of Europe’s international festivals at least once, pitched and presented a number of scripts, got trained in almost every project development program available out here.
But coming back to Rotterdam is special. I love this festival for it’s friendly and at the same time badass. I love the variety of hand-picked films you can see here, the social occasions, the easy approach and warmth with which such a professional event is brought forward. I love it because, despite all the years, this festival stays always young, always welcoming and dynamic, always interesting. Because, even if I don’t show up for a few years, when I finally do, I can be sure I’ll meet friends – people I will hug or high-five, or congratulate on their new movie in competition this year. I know I will catch up with their stories, listen to what they have been up to, go to eat a Chinese dinner together, gossip, laugh.
And at night I will sit with a beer and a slight headache feeling energized, inspired, ready to keep going with all the passion I still have in me. Dwelling in that warm electric feeling that comes from being in touch with your tribe. That comes from knowing this crazy awesome place, the International Film Festival in Rotterdam, has somehow become my home.