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Kristin McCracken

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A Gold Star for Amsterdam Film Week

Posted: 11/11/11 11:40 AM ET

The first edition of this international, audience-focused festival—a showcase for prize-winning films from around the world—went off without a hitch.

Amsterdam Film Week

Matthijs ten Berge (left) and Fulko Kuindersma (right) / credit: Roel Vincken

Though it often goes without saying, I love my job. I get paid to watch movies, interview filmmakers, promote a film festival and distribution business I take pride in, and share Tribeca’s riches with a community of film fans via social media. However, some weeks the pot gets sweetened even more, and I just have to pinch myself.

As part of their collaboration with Tribeca Film Festival, I spent last week in Amsterdam at the first ever Amsterdam Film Week (AFW). This festival is a showcase for prize-winning films from festivals around the world (including Tribeca), designed to bring these films to a film-loving Dutch audience that might not otherwise get to see them. (Independent films that win Cannes and Venice and Toronto and Sundance don’t always get distribution in a tiny market like Benelux—a nifty acronym for Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg.) I soon learned that Amsterdam (and Holland, more generally) is home to a friendly, passionate, intimate film industry; it seemed that everyone working the festival had worked on some project together before, and their fondness for one another was palpable, as was their commitment to connecting films with audiences.

Amsterdam Film Week

Pathé Tuschinski / credit: Roel Vincken

So, of course, the movies were top-notch. I saw several films that I’d been looking forward to—Carnage, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)—and Tribeca made introductions that facilitated the addition of five TFF 2011 films to the lineup: Rid of Me, She Monkeys, The Journals of Musan, Black Butterflies, and Newlyweds. (Tribeca Film Festival has served as a kind of model for AFW, as the founders explain below, and we also guided them in getting several AFW films onto the local cable provider’s VOD platform, following TFF’s recent path. More about that later.) You can see the whole program here.

Amsterdam Film Week Amsterdam Film Week

The Night of the Artist / credit: Reuben Hamburger

In addition, AFW was able to put together a stellar lineup of extracurriculars, including a spectacular opening night black-tie affair that included a canal ride from cocktails to the extraordinary Pathé Tuschinski, an Art Deco gem of a theater in which Amsterdamians (?) take great pride. A few days later, AFW hosted “The Night of The Artist,” a combo screening-of-the-silent-film-everyone-is-predicting-as-Best-Picture and Roaring 20s afterparty at the Stanislavski, just across the Leidseplein from the theater. In between, there were talk shows (their version of a panel, held late-night in DeBalie, a nearby cultural center) and a traveling international event known as Wok + Wine, where 40 creative people shared conversation, sauvignon blanc, and 40 pounds of jumbo prawns. (Learn more on their Facebook page.)

It’s not often that one gets to experience the inaugural edition of something destined to become an institution, so before I left Holland, I caught up with the three founders (Fulko Kuindersma, Matthijs ten Berge, and Ferry van Zijderveld) to talk about their backgrounds, their inspiration, and how they got everyone they know to pitch in to get this festival off the ground.

Amsterdam Film Week

Ferry van Zijderveld and Matthijs ten Berge / credit: Kristin McCracken

Kristin McCracken: First of all, could each of you tell me about your backgrounds?

Ferry van Zijderveld: I have been a graphic designer for 11 years, and I’ve worked a lot for the film industry, from campaigns for film festivals to film titles to poster design. That’s actually how I met Matthijs.

Matthijs ten Berge: I am a film producer. I’ve produced a bunch of shorts, I used to work for different production companies in Holland, and I’ve worked been an independent film producer since 2004. One of the shorts, Little Sister, was selected for competition in Cannes in 2006. And that was made by a director of a film now in our selection—Among Us—which also played at Locarno.

Fulko Kuindersma: I’ve worked at film festivals in Utrecht and Rotterdam. I’ve been a unit production manager on low-budget feature films in New York City. I worked in a production company, IDTV, on the sponsorship/marketing side, and for the last 5 years, I’ve been working with distribution companies as a marketing manager. The last few years I’ve done a lot of Dutch films—marketing and production for theatrical release in the Netherlands. It’s been film all the time, but around different areas of expertise, which makes it interesting.

Amsterdam Film Week

credit: Kristin McCracken

KMc: Where did the idea for Amsterdam Film Week come from? How long did it take to make this happen?

Matthijs ten Berge: Well, we made it happen in a very brief time. The idea had been in my head for quite some time, but we didn’t start to really work on it, I think, until January.

KMc: And what did you envision it to be?

Matthijs ten Berge: It was quite simple—we really just wanted to create a big film event in Amsterdam for the people. One that would have its own place among other film events, something that would stand out, with an Amsterdam identity.

KMc: What void do you think the Amsterdam Film Week fills?

Fulko Kuindersma: In Amsterdam, you have hundreds of film festivals aimed at particular niches: gays and lesbians, Asians, food—but there wasn’t one like ours, one for a broader audience. If you aren’t able to travel around the world to all the festivals, we will bring them to you. There is only one festival in one city where you can find it all together. And that’s Amsterdam Film Week. There’s also a certain risk management up front—you can’t miss, because they are all winners!

Amsterdam Film Week Amsterdam Film Week

Around the festival / credit: Kristin McCracken

KMc: How did you reach out to get the films?

Fulko Kuindersma: Before everything really took off, we had some conversations with the industry about the concept. We wanted to make sure the partnerships with distributors would benefit both sides. Not only do we think showcasing the films at AFW will benefit their eventual box office in the long term, but our founding partner, UPC (one of the leading cable providers in the Netherlands) has its own on-demand channel, and we thought, “Okay, some of the films may be out of the cinema, and they could use the festival as a promotional opportunity to gain some extra buzz for VOD.”

Once we were able to explain all of this, it wasn’t that hard to get the films. People really wanted to support this first edition of Amsterdam Film Week, and they understood the potential.

KMc: I understand two of the Tribeca films are playing on VOD now?

Fulko Kuindersma: Producers and filmmakers are wary of VOD release in the Netherlands. So it took some time to convince distributors to convince producers to put their films on VOD. We have two at this moment—Black Butterflies and Rid of Me are on demand now, for a promotional window of 3-4 months—and we are talking with some others. If there is a distribution company interested in buying the rights, we will stop the VOD so it can go in theatrical release or on DVD.

Amsterdam Film Week

Mayor Eberhard van der Laan on opening night / credit: Roel Vincken

KMc: So it’s Day 5 of 6. How do you think things have gone so far?

Matthijs ten Berge: Very well, actually. Our opening was very nice, and had a positive response. Of course, it’s a lot of work, and it’s our first time, and it’s also a big city; we’ve had to create a lot of awareness that the festival is going on, and people are finding us. [laughs] We’ve always said this is our “beta” edition—we’re trying out some things, and we’ll show Amsterdam what we have in mind.

We’re very happy that you and our other guests are here, and this is a starting point. That’s what the mayor said in his speech on opening night: it’s the start, and hopefully, it will grow out in its next few years, getting a little bigger each year.

Fulko Kuindersma: We’ve also been able, in the last weeks and months, to motivate and energize this great group of people working with us to make this event as good as it can be. All these people around the city are helping us out with their own expertise—designers, producers, musicians, a whole synergy of people working to make this an exciting event for the Amsterdam public—and we’re very grateful. We couldn’t have done it without them. Not only with the distribution partners, but also with the sponsors and the volunteers, and the City Council, who helped us out with permits and everything. With everyone helping, we’ve gotten it all done on a shoestring budget. Now, on Day 5, we start to realize more and more what an achievement it is!

credit: Kristin McCracken

Amsterdam Film Week

KMc: Can you talk a bit about the partnership with Tribeca?

Matthijs ten Berge: The Tribeca Film Festival was something we looked at as a very great example of what we would hope to maybe establish in the future; looking at international film events, TFF stood out.

Fulko Kuindersma: We talked with Tribeca’s Sponsorship Department about how Tribeca works with their partners to add value on both sides. Not just with logos, but with true collaborations that both help the brand and make the festival a bigger event. The programmers at Tribeca were interested in collaborating because we have the same ideas about putting films on VOD alongside the festival—to help the films reach a broader audience. Tribeca has been a great partner.

Matthijs ten Berge: We also feel a connection between Amsterdam and New York City—both a historical connection and a modern one that both the people and the municipality [of Amsterdam] cherish. And another thing we admired is what Tribeca did in really focusing on one neighborhood, and creating a complete film atmosphere during that specific period.

This neighborhood [the Leidseplein] is a very popular part of town, and we would like Amsterdam Film Week to establish a home here in the next few years, and to grow within the neighborhood.

Fulko Kuindersma: Yes, we want to make an impact on this area. It’s been under construction for quite some time. We want to connect all these different dots and bits and pieces around the square. Everything is within walking distance.

Matthijs ten Berge: And there are many big theaters, so we can expand as well into other venues very easily. So if we were to grow, then we can grow here.

Ferry van Zijderveld: Maybe not necessarily more films, I think, but just establishing what we started this year, with more reach, more people, more content each year.

Amsterdam Film Week

credit: Kristin McCracken

KMc: Can you talk a bit about how you got the word out to people?

Ferry van Zijderveld: We’ve built up a campaign both online and offline. We’ve also gotten our partners to reach out to their networks as well, which is a good way to reach more people. It could be better, and it will be better, but that’s what we’ve been doing this year.

Fulko Kuindersma: We tried to be on every device and every channel where we think our audience is as well. So whether that’s an iPhone app, or Facebook and Twitter, or a traditional outdoor campaign, including giant screens on the square; we had a big presence in the city. And because of the image and the logo and the way Ferry designed it, people noticed.

KMc: Do you hope to develop more partnerships with other festivals?

Fulko Kuindersma: I think the idea was never, “This year, Tribeca, next year, Cannes, next year, someone else.” It would be Tribeca every year, and we would make it better, with more films on VOD, maybe get some of the Dutch films to Tribeca... We would really like to build up the relationship and the partnership. That’s not a one-off, as far as we’re concerned.

KMc: I’ll come back!

Matthijs ten Berge: Every year. It’s now a tradition. And now it’s on record. You’ll be back.

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