10/25/2018 – There’s more to Portuguese cinema than just the legendary director Manoel de Oliveira, and despite its modest output, the industry is currently thriving more than ever. That was the message conveyed by the five participants in the round table entitled 21st Century Portuguese Cinema, which was held on Thursday 25th October at Calderón Theatre, as part of the cycle Guest Country: Portugal in the 63rd edition of Valladolid International Film Festival.
Film critic José Vieira observed that in the past, Portuguese cinema was closely linked to theatre and literature, and was associated with iconic figures including Oliveira or Cesar Monteiro, “but since then, it has taken a different path”. Vieira, who is also a programmer, noted that in recent years, important filmmakers such as Pedro Costa had emerged, assuring that contemporary Portuguese cinema has nothing to do with a country or region, “but rather with forming part of a general cinematographic movement which can come from Asia or Latin America”.
As he explained, “avant-garde film from all over the world comes together in this intersection of influences”. Vieira also emphasised that Portugal is a country experiencing growth, with numerous opportunities and skilled young people, with the result that his perception of the cinema industry “is optimistic, despite all the problems”. “The platforms, for example, are stealing many viewers, young people prefer to watch Netflix than go to the cinema. However, I believe that Portuguese cinema is in a positive place right now”, he reiterated.
Another of the participants, Javier Rioyo, director of the Cervantes Institute in Lisbon, explained that it was once difficult to access Portuguese cinema, but that in recent years “it has provided an example”, despite producing only a modest number of films. “Portuguese cinema is fashionable at the moment. There’s now freedom and breadth, an independent film industry which is far-removed from commercial cinema, which is of interest simply due to the sheer desire to make films. Portugal has been very advanced in the world of culture”, explained Rioyo, who is also a film director, before going on to lament the fact that Portuguese films only remain in cinemas for two weeks: “you have to pay close attention to the festivals or get to the cinema quickly”.
However, the Cultural Director at the Portuguese Embassy, Pedro Berhan, indicated that Portuguese cinema “is thriving due to the talent of its directors, producers, technicians… who are doing an excellent job in promoting it”. Portuguese, he went on, is the fifth most widely spoken language in the world and this means that “the country has the potential for growth, of our culture in general and of our cinema in particular”.
However, Berhan also said that “public management of culture takes place on a day-to-day basis depending on the urgency, but there are no objectives or strategies”. Aware that financial resources are scarce, he suggested that the unity of the sector was the best way to address any setbacks. “Unity means strength, and if we are detached from one another, the result will be worse than if we have a common strategy”, he added during his speech.
Miguel Dias, director of the short film festival Curtas Vila do Conde, admitted that it was lucky that the competition had been created in 1993, as there was already significant recognition of short films at that time. “We began at a good time. It wasn’t all down to us, we were lucky too”, he confessed. The festival is particularly important, because thanks to its impact, Portugal began to provide funding for short film production.
Meanwhile, the director of the short film Entre Sombras, Mónica Santos, noted the importance of state funding, as filming could not take place without it. “We produce films with the help of the State; without this, we could never do it. The desire to film isn’t enough, you have to pay your team and distribution is difficult too”, she explained.
Portugal produces around 10 feature films each year, which perform well in terms of awards from the festivals where they are screened.