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X Encontros Internacionais de Cinema Documental

By Grace Ouchida

From Sergio Trefaut <em> Outro País</em> (<em>Another Country</em>), which won The Best Portuguese Documentary at the festival

The country is Portugal, as it enters the 21 st century with its relatively newfound democracy. At the invitation of the 10th Encontros Internacionais de Cinema Documental (International Encounters in Documentary Cinema) in Lisbon, I showed up at the festival and the preceding documentary conference in November 1999, not quite knowing what to expect since it was my first visit. The warmth, energy and passion at both events was infectious, and although my hosts kept me busy from 9 A.M. to 2 A.M. for six days, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated by the people I met and the films I saw.

The three-day Lisbon Docs Conference was the last of ten Southern European Conferences planned by the European Documentary Network (EDN) over a three-year time period, with primary funding from the EU's MEDIA Programme. In collaboration with AporDOC, the Portuguese documentary association, this well-organized event attracted more than 100 people from 16 different countries. The conference focused on international opportunities for financing, distribution and exhibition through moderated panel discussions and Q&A sessions. French, German, Belgian, Finnish and Portuguese commissioning editors, project funders, distributors and independent producers all participated. The five full-length screenings were presented by foreigners, while the Portuguese makers were relegated to the pitch session and clips screening.

Diane Weyermann of the Soros Documentary Fund, was the only other American in attendance. Tue Steen Muller, director of EDN, explained that it was very difficult to work with the US (and England). Portugal rarely broad casts American independent documentaries-only the Discovery Channel and A&E's Biography series. I had the sense that independent European makers' prevalent view of the US nonfiction market is that of a huge beast driven by formulaic formats and ratings, not interested in co-productions with foreign independent producers. I nodded in agreement but expressed my hope for an increase in the international exchange that the IDA fosters in its programs and events.

The now-common "pitch session" still proved to be useful to the emerging Portuguese documentarians-especially since the head of Arts and Documentaries at Portugal's own public television station, RTP, was nowhere to be seen. The president of AporDOC and EDN representative in Portugal, Pedro C. Martins, was understandably insulted and hurt by this absence. It became all too apparent that the relationship between the public broadcaster and the independent producer has been an inflamed issue (sound familiar?).

AporDOC has some 80 members, the core of which it seems was a group of young, energetic and idealistic independent filmmakers dubbed the "Portuguese mob," who voiced their discontent at the lack of support for the documentary in Portugal from government and television entities. Their older and more established counterparts pleaded for patience. The conference left me with a brief taste of the compelling stories. I was ready for more and I got it at the festival.

With an amazing array of 200 short and feature-length docs from around the world, I spent the next three days at the eight-day festival in a cultural center on the outskirts of Lisbon. Technical problems abounded and theater screenings were often delayed or skipped, but forgiven in light of the fact that festival founder and organizer, Manuel Costa e Silva, died suddenly in January 1999. Credit must be given to those who pulled the festival together, and especially to a former student of Costa e Silva and new Comissioner Luis Correia. Correia managed to maintain the spirit of the festival—"to be a privileged space of diffusion, discussion and reflection on documentary"—while instituting a few changes:

First, reducing the number of films presented so that each of the selected works might become more exposed and the selection criteria closer to the current concepts of visual anthropology and its ideas about the meaning of "documentary."

Second, increasing the dialogue and debate opportunities in a free and open space to discuss what documentary is and how this cinematographic genre is conveyed in Portugal, comparing it with what happens in other countries.

Third, subtitling as many films as possible in order to easily reach the general public.

Opening night provided a fitting and moving tribute to the deceased founder, followed by Chantal Akerman's newest film, Sud (South), a painful meditation on the murder of a black man that took place in Jasper, TX in the last decade. The festival also featured an homage to Antonio Campos, a revered Portuguese documentarian, who made most of his work in the last decade of the dictatorship; juried international and national competitions; a retrospective on documentaries from South Africa; a series of films about cinema; a panorama of ethnographic films; a selection of films about the "new migrations" taking place in Europe; a sampling of student works from film schools around the globe; and the second edition of the Festival Internacional do Filme Científico (International Scientific Film Festival).

I had hoped to run into Frederick Wiseman, whose Belfast, Maine commanded a special session during the festival, or Matthew Diamond, director of Dancemaker or Academy Award—winner Keiko Ibi, for The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years, but unfortunately the festival does not have the budget to invite international filmmakers. I also missed Q&A sessions with the filmmakers, a feature we're used to in the States.

In the international competition, two films received the Manuel Costa e Silva Award for Best Feature-length film: Prove di Stat, by Leonardo Di Constanzo (France) and Pripyat, by Nikolaus Gayrhalter (Austria). The Antonio Campos Award for Best Short Film went to Highway, by Sergei Dvortsevoy (France/ Russia), which also garnered an IDA Award nomination last year. Honorable mention went to Justice, by Olivier Ballande (France).

But the real energy of the festival centered around the national competition. Sergio Trefaut, one of the members of the "Portuguese Mob," presented and won The Best Portuguese Documentary for Outro País (Another Country), a retrospective from the eyes of photographers and filmmakers who went to Portugal, attracted by the romantic ideals of the Red Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1911, and stayed until the party was over. Trefaut skillfully weaves interviews with Sebastião Salgado, Glauber Rocha, Dominique Isserman, Pea Holmquist, Robert Kramer, Santiago Alvarez and Jean Gaumy with stock footage and still photographs of the revolution. Honorable mention in the same category went to Outros Bairros, a hard-hitting look at the alienated youth living in the Portuguese bairrios (neighborhoods).

The general atmosphere of those few days in Lisbon was one of optimism. Today there is a new generation of doc filmmakers emerging not only from film school, but also from anthropology, ethnic studies and other related disciplines. It's impossible not to notice their curiosity, passion, and vitality. They have a festival and an organization. I hope for their success. I am honored and privileged to have gone to Portugal to witness this evolution. I hope that they, too, will come looking to America to learn from our successes and mistakes. And I think all of us could benefit from a dose of their courage and spirit.


Grace S. Ouchida is Managing Director of the IDA.