I guess I like non European cities the most. It must be that I like extremes and contrasts, something different from home.

 sandra den hamer

Sandra den Hamer

is director of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. This filmfestival has a special meaning for Inspiring Cities. It’s a place where many of the core group of our network meet every year to watch 5 movies a day, eat, drink and talk movies and basically have a great time. It’s also the place where Inspiring Cities organised the official starting dinner in January 2006. So, for these reasons it was an extra pleasure for Inspiring Cities members Jeroen Laven and Stef Fleischeuer to take Sandra for a meal in Rotterdam and ask her the 8 questions on cities and culture.

1 –       Which city do you see as the nicest/best city that you know? What are its most important aspects that make it so good?

New York. Because it is also like a village.
For me New York basically is Manhattan. A small but cosmopolitan place.
When I came there for the first time, it took me just a few hours to develop the feeling that this is a city where I could live with pleasure. A city where I feel at home. Also because of the memories of earlier virtual visits via movies, with symbols such as the taxis, the smoke from the ventilation shafts. I like the mix of people and those small areas with a dominant culture like Little Italy.

Besides New York I have a personal preference for places such as Rio and Cape Town. I like these cities because the magnificent nature in the direct surroundings dominates the horizon in the city. It makes me feel humble.

I guess I like cities with contrast. Cities that have an atmosphere of spontaneity. Cosmopolitan cities. In theNetherlands, although I live in Utrecht, I like Rotterdam the best. Because it is the most cosmopolitan.

Another thing I find intriguing are cities like Tokyo. If you stay there, everything is small but of very high quality. Like a hotel room. A 4 star hotel room can be one of 2 by 2 meters, but with high quality. I also find it extremely clean in Tokyo.

Talking about my answers, I guess I like non-European cities the most. It must be that I like extremes and contrasts, something different from home.

2 –       What are the most important aspects to dislike in a city? Is there a city or place that you dislike for any particular reason.

I don’t like overplanned cities. Cities where I miss the spontaneity.

There are some cities I have never visited that I don’t like. Cities like Lagos and Mexico City. Cities where the immigration from the countryside to the city has happened too fast. Cities without history it seems, just millions of buildings, rapidly built for millions of people. I know that it’s hard to judge a city where you’ve never been. But I have seen a lot of films about these cities. And what really sticks out in these films that a returning theme is social isolation. In other – smaller- cities like Buenos Aires that’s not the case, Buenos Aires is more like a, somewhat boring, European old city.

I don’t like cities where nobody seems to have thought about how people live together. Where there is incapability for contact.

I also don’t like Dutch shopping streets. They are awful. Especially medium sized cities all have the same shops in their streets. You could be anywhere.

3 –       Can a city or city life make you happy? In what sense?

Yes, I think so.
sandra den hamer
I think culture and people in a city are more important than architecture.

They once made a film about the Rotterdam filmfestival; the tiger in the city.
That film expresses the importance of the filmfestival in Rotterdam. One of the succesfactors of the filmfestival is that all locations are so close together. People can walk everywhere. People say those 10 days that the filmfestival hits the city, Rotterdam is at it best!
photo: Jeroen Laven

4 –       What metaphor, quote, painting, or film scene best describes your idea about the relation between cities and culture?

That’s a difficult question
Some films come to mind. Unter den Palmen, with Helmut Berger in Rotterdam. Or Roma, Città Aperta, the old masterpiece. The coming year at the filmfestival Rotterdam 2007 edition, I hope to show the Pedro Costa film Collosal Youth, a film that answers this question.
But if I have to choose I’ll go for Vive L’amour, by Tsai Ming-liang. That film gives a fascinating view of Taipei. The crying scene under the bench is unforgettable.

5 –        What is the importance of living or working in a city relating to your own profession / lifestyle?

It’s not really important where I live. I have my family life in Utrecht, which is the city that for me represents the start of provincial Netherlands. But it’s close enough to Rotterdam to also play a role in Rotterdam-cultural life.
It is important though for the filmfestivaloffice to be in the city. That’s the place that represents the festival, the place to invite visitors too. The office has to be in Rotterdam.

Sandra den Hamer and Stef Fleischeuer

Sandra den Hamer and Stef Fleischeuer (photo Jeroen Laven)

6 –       What is the most important change or challenge that cities will face in the coming decades?

The human size in the cities. Quality of life should come first in a city.
In Rotterdam, at the Schouwburgplein, every Friday night they organise music and entertainment for the youth. Youth that are considered to some people as unwanted on the square, because they might bother shoppers and the visitors of the concert building, cinema or theatre on the square. So why do they organise music and entertainment? To avoid problems, by giving the youth something to do. I think it’s a farce, if people don’t think the youth should be at the square, give them an alternative elsewhere, but don’t start with activities that benefit nobody in the end. Why not talk to the youth before and see what they want?
Another challenge is the internet. Communication via internet is both an opportunity and a threat. A threat if people start using it as a fake world. An opportunity if people use it as an extra to face to face contact. It will be interesting to observe the changes over the coming years.

7 –       What is the best thing you remember that happened in the last 12 months to a city?

I think the troubles in the Paris banlieus, with the fires and all, might have been the best thing that happened in the last year. It helped raise the awareness, to recognize differences in society. It gives a very clear signal to other cities.
The Rotterdam filmfestival tries to highlight actual themes. One interesting trend is that filmmakers take their role in society. They tend to go further than before, by not only focusing on new trends, but by also making statements about it.

8 –       What idea, thinker or movement, if any, do you think will be very influential in shaping cities and the way people live together in the future?

If you look back to the storming of the Bastille, the conclusion is of all times. The powers that be must always be challenged. It would be good if society could learn to recognize that there is always an opposition-movement.  Don’t try to deny it. Try to involve them.
At the filmfestival we tried to involve local youth with the hotspots programme in 2006. It turned out to be difficult to reach that group, but trying it was a good thing.

Follow up – Who else would you like us to ask these questions, and why are you so curious about his/her answers? Could you introduce us to this person? Is there a specific (9th) question you want to ask this person?

Pedro Costa, the Portuguese filmmaker. And Francince Houben, the Dutch architect I’d like to hear their answers.

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