Photos by Zuzanna Stawiska
“Jäger” was one of five short films nominated for the Noordsterren, an award for young filmmakers from the northern provinces. Verkerk, a young director from Groningen, and Thom de Bie (colour mixing, cinematography for “Jäger”), said they were both honoured to be part of the festival and nominated for the prize.
“Jäger” was also recently recognised by CineSud, a talent programme for film professionals from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, which means Verkerk and de Bie will have a backstage pass and chance to network at Festival de Cannes 2023. Madeleine Homan took home the 2023 KersVers prize for her film, “Vacht”.
Back on site again
This year’s festival experience could only truly be appreciated behind the doors of DNK (De Nieuwe Kolk), where the International Film Festival Assen took place from 10 to 12 March. As the first fully in person edition post-covid, many of the years-long attendees embraced the festival as a moment to catch up with friends after not seeing one another in real life for years, in some cases.
Verkerk includes himself among the loyal attendees who plan to attend IFA even a year ahead, and one of many who has been here multiple times. “Seeing all those people again is exciting! All the people from the film culture of the north are here.”
“I’m happy we have people here, it’s nice to be together and good to see the audience react to films”, says Hesterliena Wolthuis, responsible for the film contests and film projects. “It’s nice to be back after covid, it’s so cool to be here – you can hear from guests and participants.”
Slowly growing audience
The energy of the festival is tangible from the moment you step off the train at the station, from the overheard snippets of French spoken on one side of a phone call to the crowds of hipsters with white socks and snow-inappropriate shows heading to DNK. The foyer filled up with film goers on each day of the festival, but it was still noticeable that given the number of screening rooms and their size, the audience for most of the films is rather small. Wolthuis attributes that to the long shadow of the pandemic.
“I hope next year there will be more people. It’s so nice to see the audience react to the movies, not just everyone in front of their screens.”
After the peak of their 40th anniversary edition, the festival had to close down because of coronavirus regulations. It has been slowly rebuilding its popularity on-site since 2022, and the organisers are ready to welcome more visitors, especially internationals.
Filmmakers of tomorrow
Wolthuis, who gets to choose them for the competition, said she was impressed by the nominees this year, including several animations, which is somewhat rare. Her work is a lot of binge-watching on a laptop screen, which makes her appreciate the cinematic scope of the pictures and the community of seeing movies together. “I’m always surprised how good the directors are in fitting a story into such short time”, she adds. “Those are the filmmakers of tomorrow and hopefully, being part of IFA can help them achieve more.”
Films and beyond
Talks and workshops surrounding the film programme featured makers of other festivals (such as Marrit Greidanus from the Noordelijk Film Festival or Werner Borkes of the Roze Filmdagen), film journalists, directors and screenwriters (like Sia Hermanides – “White Berry”, Mari Soppela – “It’s Raining Women”, Véronique Jadin – “Employee of the Month”).
An especially exciting event was an interview with Nafiss Nia, a Dutch-Iranian director after the screening of her “Middag”. One new addition in particular to the 2023 festival is a talkshow, which IFA programme director Henriëtte Poelman says seemed to click and will likely continue in future editions.
The feminist focus of the festival was perhaps best embodied by Nina Menkes’ piece, “Brainwashed” Sex, Camera, Power”. Menkes’ film analyses the causal link between the subconscious patterns in which we see women fit in film and how they shape our perception of them in real life. In the film industry and beyond, the image of femininity perpetrates discriminatory action patterns.
In her introduction to the film, Poelman said, “Women and men characters are constructed differently on screen, and that must and can change”.
But does it matter how fiction portrays fictitious people? Why bother changing films, if they only mirror what we see in real life? “It’s important how we look and what gaze we have”, Poelman says.
From a “crazy killer comedy” to Oscar nominees and offbeat science fiction, Poelman looks back with pride at the offerings that IFA brings to the screen. They are the kinds of things you don’t see in cinemas in the Netherlands, she says. “We pick those very exceptional films.”