FEST focuses on “The Portuguese New Wave”
by Teresa Vieira
- This year’s edition of FEST inaugurated the Director’s Hub, a two-day event homing in on a range of issues relating to film directing, through discussions and case studies
“The Portuguese New Wave” proved to be a key part of this year’s Director’s Hub, which unspooled at FEST (24 June-1 July). This discussion gathered six directors from the two most recent generations of Portuguese filmmakers in order to discuss what is happening in the Portuguese film scene: what it is that defines them collectively, but most importantly, the issues that they face and that need to be tackled – be it by them, by the government or by the audience. The panel consisted of André Gil Mata, director of The Tree [+see also:
film profile], Bernardo Lopes, director of Ivan, Duarte Coimbra, director of Amor, Avenidas Novas, Miguel Gonçalves Mendes, director of José and Pilar [+see also:
film profile], Pedro Cabeleira, director of Damned Summer [+see also:
interview: Pedro Cabeleira
film profile], and Pedro Pinho, director of The Nothing Factory [+see also:
interview: Pedro Pinho
film profile] and one of the founders of Terratreme. Together they formed a (sadly) male-dominated group that reflects the ongoing problem of the lack of female representation in the Portuguese film scene.
Nonetheless, the sheer diversity in terms of age, experience and background allowed the panel to explore a wide array of topics, such as: the role of film schools, the need for (early) film education, the problems with Portuguese film distribution in national cinemas – in contrast with the ever-growing interest in Portuguese films internationally – and the universal question of streaming films online in order to reach a bigger audience and overcome the challenges in national distribution.
Five of the six filmmakers went to film school, a place generally considered to be extremely important, not only in terms of furthering one’s technical and academic development, but also as a place where people can meet and learn to work together. Whereas before, “filmmakers dealt with one another as if they were threats to each other”, according to Miguel Gonçalves Mendes, nowadays, that has changed. For Duarte Coimbra, “film school gave me the space and the time to meet people who inspire me. You go to film school, then to the cinemathèque, have dinner and talk about films. That kind of communion was what I got out of film school."
In Pedro Pinho’s view, one of the reasons for that change, in terms of how filmmakers perceive each other, is that “older people […] used to compete for money and distribution. Fortunately, now we have a little bit more money. […] I think we have this idea that we are stronger because of the fact that we have a lot to offer and many ways of doing things. This makes us richer and able to venture further afield.” But while Portuguese cinema is circulating nicely beyond the country’s borders, national distribution is still a contentious issue. “One of the reasons why this is happening is because of education. We just don’t flaunt it. For me, it was hard to see which other films were being made. A lot of people who say they don’t like Portuguese cinema have never actually seen a Portuguese film,” according to Bernardo Lopes.
The lack of knowledge and this long-standing cultural problem could be tackled through education, public policies and, in the short term, finding alternative ways to distribute films. As Miguel Gonçalves Mendes put it, “We don’t have places to show the movies. When you put films in theatres, they tend to put them in a lot of places and for a short period of time. And you need some time to build up an audience.” Duarte Coimbra highlighted João Botelho’s model of distribution – that of “buying a projector and going to film clubs”, but this is not always a good option, as explained by Pedro Cabeleira. “When I go inland, to the interior of the country, they only screen mainstream movies. So I have to go to public cinemas, and most of the time, they don’t have the proper conditions there to screen films. Portuguese filmmakers appear to be bad filmmakers because their works are not being shown in the correct way. It’s important to invest money in public cinemas so that we can show our films and stand a chance of competing against mainstream pictures. A film is an experience, and if people see my movie in poor conditions, I just can’t compete.”
Owing to these distribution problems, one of the topics that came up was the idea of using online platforms as an alternative way to reach a bigger audience – something that most of these filmmakers don’t see as an option. André Gil Mata stated, “We’re trying to make cinema, not something to be shown on the internet,” while Duarte Coimbra stressed the need for a viewer to be in a room, “to be sitting next to someone and feel their breath” as they watch their films. For Pedro Pinho, “life has changed so much that the way we experience cinema is coming to an end. Even so, we should resist. No, our way of thinking and perceiving the world shouldn’t be shown on small screens."
So, in the end, what is it that unites this group of filmmakers and the wider new generation of Portuguese filmmakers? Is there actually a Portuguese New Wave? Maybe not: perhaps it’s a matter of common struggles and different visions. “What connects our works is the fact that we are really different, and we believe in that. We believe in all of these people’s work. Diversity unites people,” summed up André Gil Mata.
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