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Shanghai: Director Rolf de Heer on Joining Competition Jury, Seeking “New Worlds to Explore” in Cinema

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Multi-award-winning Dutch-Australian director Rolf de Heer’s films expand creative horizons in the ways he deals with character, narrative and dialogue. Heads were turned with the Venice Grand Jury Prize-winner Bad Boy Bubby (1993), the story of a 35-year-old man-child who, after being locked away his entire life by his mother, escapes into a “real” world that appears more bizarre than his previous existence.

De Heer’s Cannes Un Certain Regard-winner Ten Canoes (2006) was a riotously funny morality tale set in pre-colonized Australia — the first shot entirely using Indigenous languages. The Survival of Kindness, winner of Berlin’s 2022 FIPRESCI award, meanwhile, was a gripping dystopian tale stripped almost entirely of any dialogue — but one that still made its message about the horrors of racism perfectly clear.

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In the days ahead, the 73-year-old De Heer will turn film watcher rather than maker as he takes up a place on the main competition jury of the 26th Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF).

Talking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the festival, De Heer shared that he is attracted to films that take him out of his own world, and into another. The diversity of the selection at SIFF this year certainly offers the promise of just that sort of cinematic teleportation.

Films from 11 nations are represented in Shanghai this year, from a domestic Bangladeshi drama shadowed by politics (the Kamar Ahmad Simon-directed Silence of the Seashell) to the latest from a crop of China’s rising stars (including the pandemic-themed drama A Man and A Woman, from recent Cannes Un Certain Regard winner Guan Hu).

The hope, De Heer says, is that these films will transport him to places he has never been.

How do you approach the role of a jury member, and what excites you about being on this particular jury in Shanghai?

I prefer to wait until the first jury meeting before thinking about a particular approach. Often enough, the jury president has thoughts as to how we should go about things, or even the festival may have some requests. I’m excited any time I have the opportunity to sit down and watch three films a day under good conditions, and that only really happens when I’m on a jury.

What are the types of films that draw you instantly into the cinema, and how has that evolved with time — or has it?

I’m drawn into any film that creates a different world for me, that engages me in that world and doesn’t let me go. I think it’s always been like that, a new world I can explore; a story that holds me and presents nothing untoward that has me thinking of my reality.

In terms of contemporary Chinese cinema, how much exposure have you had to emerging talent from the country?

Living remotely as I do — the nearest cinema is 100 kilometers away — and being a cinema purist (I need to see them on the big screen), I’m not well versed in emerging Chinese talent. A little of that may be rectified at SIFF.

What or who first drew you into the world of story-telling, and why do you think you have followed this path?

I have no recollection of the process that led me to the world of storytelling. Perhaps it was a combination of Wednesday afternoon movie matinées when I was a small child in Holland, and my being an avid reader from an early age. It’s not a path I followed at all, more like I stumbled upon it and found myself at home.

Do you have a way of describing the films you like to make, or prefer to leave that to others?

I really only like to make films that interest me sufficiently to spend the necessary year or more creating a script for. I absolutely try to avoid intellectualizing anything about style or content beyond that point. Other people do that much better than I can.

What excites you about contemporary cinema … and what scares you?

What excites me about contemporary cinema is what has always excited me about cinema — to discover in a cinema a film that gives me something of a unique and emotionally satisfying experience. What scares me? Irrelevance.

In terms of your own work, can you share anything about any projects you might have going on?

I have just begun writing a new script. I very much dislike talking about a script that is not written yet, or is in the process, so we’ll just see what emerges.

What is the best advice you can give to emerging filmmakers?

What advice I would give any emerging filmmaker is that more than 50 percent of the making of a great film lies in the script. The shoot is significant, but it is just a small part of the process, so stop fixating on that and fixate on the script instead.

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Hollywood Reporter Original Article

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