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Rotterdam’s Eclectic Discoveries

Shengze Zhu’s Present.Perfect. (2019)

If cinema were to release a vinyl single each January, an opening salvo for the new year, Sundance would be the A-side, the stab at scoring a chart-topping hit. The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) would be the B-side, traditionally the set of grooves showing off what else an artist can do. The focus of Rotterdam, whose forty-eighth edition wrapped this past weekend, is on the discovery of emerging filmmakers few of us know much about yet and unduly neglected treasures from the archives.

Notebook editor Daniel Kasman’s diary-like dispatches from the IFFR give us a sense of the festival’s eclectic range. He’s written about Natsuka Kusano’s Domains, “a fiction film without what one normally would assume would be in it”; the sound//vision section, “a nightly expanded cinema presentation confronting different ideas of cinema’s sensorial split”; formally innovative essay films by Federico Atehortúa Arteaga and Peter Schreiner; and perhaps most intriguingly, the Laboratory of Unseen Beauty, “a series whose code word, as its curator Olaf Möller described it, was ‘ruin films’—movies unfinished, abandoned, some picked up by others, some left in a state of incompletion, some never really intended to be shown in a cinema, and all, by dint of them being shown now, are shown as finished films—films finished as unfinished. This state could be ‘a description of cinema as such,’ Möller gleefully noted, and in this laboratory ‘whatever happens will be interesting.’”

The winner of Rotterdam’s top prize, the Tiger Award, is Present.Perfect., whose title “is a reference to grammar and a meditation on cinema’s function of recording the past and live-streaming’s function of broadcasting the present,” director Shengze Zhu tells Becca Voelcker at Film Comment. The two-hour film has been pieced together from over 800 hours Zhu recorded from a dozen online “anchors” in China who stream whatever it is they might be up to. Viewers reward popular anchors with virtual gifts that can be traded for real cash, and as the IFFR points out, within just a few years, live-streaming has become an industry worth billions.

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