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still from The Battle of Empty Stomachs

53rd International Film Festival Rotterdam

25 January – 4 February 2024

Experimental short on food insecurity and migration wins RTM Pitch

Rotterdam-based Lebanese visual artist and filmmaker Diana Al-Halabi will receive €20,000 towards her project The Battle of Empty Stomachs.

International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) and the municipality of Rotterdam have awarded a grant of €20,000 to the Rotterdam-based Lebanese visual artist and filmmaker Diana Al-Halabi for a short experimental film on food insecurity and migration. The project will receive expert guidance and aims to premiere at IFFR 2024 as part of the festival’s Rotterdam-focused programme, RTM.

Vanja Kaludjercic, festival director: “This is the fourth project to be successfully funded through RTM Pitch, which has been crucial for bolstering the development of Rotterdam's vibrant film scene. The sell-out RTM Day at IFFR 2023 was electrifying – we can’t wait for the next one and for the premiere of Al-Halabi’s daring project.” 

The Battle of Empty Stomachs will present an absurdist fashion walk through the iconic Maastunnel in Rotterdam – a musical and poetic journey exploring themes of migration, exodus and hunger. The tunnel connects the north and south of Rotterdam, two sides of the city considered marked by class and cultural divisions, here becoming a symbol for water crossings in migration and the asylum-seeking process. 

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Diana Al-Halabi by Liza Wolters.

Diana Al-Halabi pursues an interdisciplinary practice, with a focus on moving image, text, performance and painting. Her previous short, The Disaster Cannot Be Contained كان يمكن أن لا أكون, premiered at IFFR 2023 in the RTM programme, and drew on the artist’s connections to both Rotterdam and Beirut, where she examined the devastating port explosion in 2020. She sees her artistic practice as a continuous protest against hierarchical and patriarchal systems of oppression and is currently researching the idea of the digestive system as a political battleground.

The jury consisted of Fleur Knopperts (Volya Films), Ibtisam Harrak (Rose Stories Academy) and IFFR programmer Koen de Rooij. They said: “The jury was impressed by the strikingly unconventional way the film deals with the geopolitical problem of food distribution, an urgent subject that is rarely addressed in cinema. Interdisciplinary artist Diana Al-Halabi connects the migrant city of Rotterdam to the rest of the world, just like IFFR itself.”

The €20,000 grant is financed by the municipality of Rotterdam as part of its film and media policy to encourage local film talent development. Previous winners have taken a cinematic approach to local stories, including port workers and Feyenoord supporters. At IFFR 2023, Ravi Sandberg presented the 2022 RTM Pitch-winner, Fantoomwijk: a ghostly investigation into the Tweebosbuurt in Rotterdam.

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