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About the 2005 edition
Rural life, landscape, memory: we offer them as the subject matter(s) of cinema – and we therefore suggest that they also be translated, right from the start, through themes such as gaze, interaction (confronting the camera), movement, work upon space, and work upon time.
Along the way we will open doors upon other worlds, both large and small, which offer prospects for future debates: initiation to images, archival images, and the territory of cinema within the territory of images.
As a conclusion, before our final assessment, we would also encourage a return to some of the themes which extend throughout a number of the brightest examples of Portuguese cinema.
Transcription of the debates
Ninth debate, after the film by Saguenail and Regina Guimarães
19th JUNE, SATURDAY
Film shown before the debate:
O Nosso Caso Livro II: A Terra Prometida, Saguenail and Regina Guimarães
José Manuel Costa (JMC)
Regina Guimarães (RG)
João Mário Grilo (JMG)
JOSÉ MANUEL COSTA: About the inclusion of this film in the final debate: it isn’t because we wanted to (and we usually don’t) include in the final debate of the seminar, which is international, a theme specifically relating to Portuguese cinema. It was chosen because, as the film existed, we thought that it would make complete sense to screen it here. We are in Portugal, this cinema is important to all of the Portuguese people here. And having this episode related to the theme of landscape, it seemed logical for us, almost necessary, to bring it to Doc’s Kingdom as well. It’s also, at a time in which the future of Portuguese cinema is discussed so much, an opportunity for us, who organized this meeting, to say that we like this cinema. Bringing the film here also has this meaning for us: let the conditions be created and continue to be created for it to be possible. And when I say this cinema, I don’t mean this specific film, this author, this school, but instead this cinema; it’s important that it doesn’t die.
In relation to everything the film says, the things, the names, the films that it invokes, allow me to say that for us, the Portuguese, in the context of this year’s seminar, in which the points of departure were rurality, landscape and memory, it wouldn’t make sense if a very special name were to be excluded: that of António Reis. And this film, among many other things, is also a tribute to António Reis.
Lastly, I wanted to read some lines sent to me via email by a French filmmaker and director who has previously attended Doc’s Kingdom, Jean Breshand, from whom we have already seen work. And participated not only as a filmmaker, but through the connection he has had with the meetings in Lussas, France, that were partner events with Doc’s Kingdom in the first years. It was planned for him to be here with us, but at the last minute it wasn’t possible. I would therefore like to read a few lines from the email. This part comes after him saying that it’s a pity that he can’t come:
“If there is something that pleases me in the idea of landscape, it is its inevitable composition in strata. I would say that I like its silent side. That does not prevent a mute complaint from resonating in it under the blows and injuries of the economic horror, in the sense that we read in it, like stigmata on the skin, the stupidity of selfish calculation, when not the cynicism of carnivorous profit. We see traces of the passage of men, of war, and of utopias. It carries with it an echo. It is the very space that makes voices and sounds resonate. It allows us to listen for the existence of an underground power, of an ancient geological layer, of an ancient level of existence, worn, eroded, but that persists. It is one of the rare objects that forces filmmakers to make wide shots – which have become so rare that we could now differentiate and even recognize filmmakers through their capacity to film in wide shot, long shot. Those who are incapable of doing it are condemned to television representation. Briefly, the landscape is exactly the place where cinema can breathe, where the air circulates, where the filmmaker places himself, where he can dream about the evolution of his film, where he can project the possible shape of his cinema.”
I don’t want to add anything else... The invitation for João Mário Grilo to be present here was obvious, taking into account all of his reflection on Portuguese cinema and in particular on the period that is evoked here.
S: In the pages that were available we wrote a text for today’s screening in which we give the gist of the situation, because the film is now a few years old and other films have been made since then. With this, I’m trying to say that the film is dated, that it can’t be updated, and that for us it represents a moment of our own search. I think that it is already understood from our comments that we think our work as filmmakers is a task of questioning. To question everything that is visible, and, obviously, cinema is part of what is visible. We began by interviewing a series of people, at the time we didn’t manage to interview either João Mário [Grilo] or Jorge Silva Melo. And their statements are lacking, but if we hadn’t gotten to work we never would have managed to make the films. Because of this, the films are proposals. The only question that we asked was, “What is really Portuguese in Portuguese films?” That is, in a country in which the problematic of identity is so pressing, in what could one really distinguish a Portuguese film from any other European film; to know if there was some kind of unity behind the diversity of authors. And we discovered things along the way, we didn’t really have any ideas at the beginning.
The idea that from the 25th of April on, also but not only because of Reis, the gaze turns from the sea (which was the great idea of the empire in the time of Salazar and which influenced poetry, etc.) to the interior. The way in which rivers can work as a border, when normally a river is a metaphor for life, was something that we hadn’t thought of at the beginning. We edited two examples, but we could have edited five or six. We took the risk as to something that would define a view of the geography of the country.
The landscape, on the other hand, is connected not only to an aesthetic of the opening of the wide shot, but also of time. And this is a characteristic of Portuguese cinema. Now, I am not Portuguese, and this is to say that for me it was also essential, on one hand, to try to understand what it is that brought me these films that I was going to watch systematically and, on the other hand, an old problem: what purpose does culture serve? If it isn’t to re-elaborate something and to propose something, it seems to be quite dubious hedonism.
The audience that we had in mind, when we were editing these films, probably won’t see them. It’s the audience of the boyfriends of our daughters, that only go to see American cinema, and to whom we wanted to show that Portuguese cinema could be fascinating. And when they saw the films, they were shocked: “We never imagined that material like this existed, that it had been made in Portugal.”
The last thing that I wanted to say is that, over many years, we wrote about films. I think that the dream of whoever wants to think about the films he sees is to be able to use that material. Obviously this forces us to practice piracy in terms of copyright, etc., but we accept this completely. It was a tremendous experience because there are images that seem to go together and then don’t go together, that don’t allow us to edit them together... And this was a dream, to undertake criticism using images.
REGINA GUIMARÃES: The person that we managed to surprise most with this film – who is a person close to us and who sometimes works with us in post-production – is an extremely gifted young man who was educated in an audiovisual school. His name is Paulo Américo, he’s an intelligent guy, he works in the theatre, he has worked for Corsetti, for Bob Wilson, and when he saw the films at my house he said, “Ah! But I didn’t know that Portuguese cinema was like this...” This because we are crude, ill mannered, and we specialize in conquering enemies, etc. But what set us in action also has to do with the Grande Ilusão project, whose big culprit is present here in the room, the engineer José Manuel Costa.
We very much wanted to show our love of Portuguese cinema, because, in being teachers, we are immersed on a daily basis in a milieu that hates it and that doesn’t in the least want to get to know it. We had an enormous desire to immerse ourselves in something that we grew up with – in 1974 I was 16 years old. I remember the premier of Past and Present [Manoel de Oliveira, 1971] in Porto, and I remember perfectly what the Porto bourgeoisie said about the film. I remember having seen Jaime [António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro, 1974] as a pre-feature program in the Estúdio Cinema, which unfortunately disappeared, that shot of the black umbrella in the corn bringing me to tears. Hence we wanted to get hold of this cinema in order to have a generous discourse about it.
Sometimes we have trouble showing it (I think that this could be shown to a school-related audience, not that we want to be educators of the working class, but well, we could be), we have the problem of the images not living up to the cinematic and photographic quality of the originals. Not with the sound, we treated it, and I think it’s often better than in the films. But with the images from VHS cassettes it’s a little complicated to do better than this, and we are a bit worried about committing an act of disrespect in relation to the authors. Opinions are divided, there are those who think that this isn’t at all important because the images are so good that they resist the lack of quality, but it’s questionable. Personally, it bothers me to see out-of-focus shots by António Reis, shots with drops in the signal and unstable images, etc. But this, obviously, never made our work any less serious, we did this as if it was going to end up with the most extraordinary quality in the world.
S: I should say that, if I remember well, the only time that one of Reis’ films was programmed on Portuguese television, and it was Ana , they changed the order of the reels; afterwards they said that they would screen it again, but they never did. I think that even with these enlarged and bad quality images, we respect the films that we like more than is normally the case, unfortunately.
RG: In relation to what José Manuel was saying, about us having talked a lot about territories, lands and landscapes that are going to disappear, or that have really disappeared. When we began to make these films, we already felt pressingly that this Portuguese cinema was completely threatened by successive evolutions in the politics of film financing, and by what the economicist discourse was expressing more triumphally. I think that nowadays this cinema has already disappeared, but the question isn’t whether it disappeared or not, but rather whether the conditions exist for cinema like this to continue to be made. We are not going to start an academy from this, some kind of school. This doesn’t interest us at all. What is of interest is for there to be conditions, if possible, even better conditions still and better adapted to new possibilities, for films to be made. There are things that could frankly be better in the laws relating to the formats, the contents and their goals. For conditions to be created, so that other people can make films in the same conditions of freedom.
S: It seems to me that this depends essentially on the filmmakers. To make Jaime, Reis didn’t need special financial conditions. This cinema seems to have grown from the managing of an almost non-existent budget, and the drama is that we have arrived at a point where the smallest documentary at the moment only seems possible if there are exceptional financial conditions. The problem is that to make a film became too easy in a country as poor as Portugal.
JOÃO MÁRIO GRILO: Regina and Saguenail said many important things and things that interest me a lot. There is a fundamental question: to know whether Portuguese cinema does or doesn’t have a relationship with a certain ecology, which has to do with places, but also with people. This ecology is threatened by the economy for various reasons. In the past it would take us a day to cross the country, now it takes us four hours, and this changes everything. But it also has to do with the fact that Portuguese landscapes have been completely filmed. 24 hours a day, on four, five or ten channels, television vomits images that touch things that used to be the territory of Portuguese cinema. I very much like that gesture of Ford’s to go to Monument Valley, the most incredible location in the world, the toughest, and to force part of the industry to establish itself there, because that was an untouched landscape. We don’t have this possibility. I think that Reis’ gesture, when he goes to Trás-os-Montes, is also an anticipatory move, there is a conquest of territory there.
A moment ago I said to Saguenail that there was an issue – I didn’t see the whole documentary because I got lost in Serpa, it seems incredible but it’s the truth, but I think that I understood from what I saw, through the film’s commentary and through the interventions – that maybe something lacking in the film was the political statute of the landscape. The landscape is also politics in Portuguese cinema. For me the political positioning of the landscape is very clear, because this question can’t be thought about in an absolute way. The landscape has a fundamental counterpoint which is the portrait, there is a kind of dialectic. When you see a pure landscape, probably people can look and say, “This is a landscape,” but there are also those who look and say, “There is something missing here for it to be something else.” What’s missing is the human element. Well, I have the feeling that what happened in Portuguese cinema is the same as what happened with art in general, especially in painting, between the South and the North. The landscape in Italy supports the presence of human figures that stand out in relation to it, it’s a question of the strata. The stratified organization of the landscape, a kind of superimposition of the figures over the locations. In the portraits of the North, to the contrary, the landscapes that you see – and often it can be a room of Vermeer’s, that he paints as if it were a landscape – is an emanation of itself... It’s a kind of projection, it’s immanence. I think that in Italy one aims at transcendence and in the North at immanence. I think that this is also what happens in Portuguese cinema, and in a political way, I am remembering some interesting cases: Lisboa, Crónica Anedótica [Leitão de Barros, 1930], versus Working on the Douro River [Manoel de Oliveira, 1931]. Aniki-Bóbó [Manoel de Oliveira,1942] versus A Song of Lisbon [José Cottinelli Telmo, 1933]. Once I screened the two beginnings of these films, one following the other, and in fact what Oliveira does is exactly the opposite of what is done in A Song of Lisbon. There, Vasco Santana is printed onto something that exists, a kind of set that is already assembled, the fishmongers, etc. In Aniki-Bóbó, Carlitos also crosses a landscape, but one that is peopled by accidents, a landscape that acts on people. This issue comes up in a different way in a very important film that doesn’t appear here (and that didn’t have to appear), which is Verdes Anos  by Paulo Rocha.
RG: Can I explain something?
S: Isn’t it because...
RG: It was from Past and Present onwards.
S: Paulo Rocha’s first two films are absent.
JMG: But it doesn’t have to be in. I just think that it’s interesting from the point of view of the search that Paulo undertakes through an unknown landscape. It’s not about filming that landscape, it’s about filming the people of that landscape, making portraits.
RG: This is spoken of at the beginning of this film. Cinema Novo is spoken of, what Cinema Novo was looking for, but what isn’t spoken of is the Cinema Novo that establishes the form.
JMG: But the text reflects this issue a great deal. To perceive that the landscape is no longer a setting, it’s a kind of justification, one could almost say that the landscape is a pretext for cinema to exist. I think, on the contrary, that in Portuguese cinema the landscape is filmed, in the best cases, in the sense of building a portrait of people in a way that only cinema can do. Only cinema can articulate nature with people in this way. And this was never lost, it’s the poetic support of Portuguese cinema.
And the landscape has, for the same reasons, a political statute. This is why this Portuguese cinema that Regina said was about to end, or has already ended, had, or continues to have, a great difficulty in articulating itself with the so-called new images, with the technological landscape in general. Curiously, on this point, Paulo Rocha continues to be a precursor, in the sense that he didn’t refuse that fantastic shot of the Douro River, the fantastic aerial sequence of the Douro River. There is an enormous effort to think about the same issue but with different tools, that is, to think about it in a political way.
For me, Verdes Anos is a very important film from this point of view, because it establishes a series of equations in relation to Portuguese cinema, and one of them is the eruption of Lisbon. It’s a Lisbon that opposes itself completely to the one in The Courtyard of the Ballads [Francisco Ribeiro, 1942], of the comedies, the Lisbon that supported this logic of the superimposition of figures on settings that automatically justify them. In Portuguese cinema, the figures have this enormous novelty of being in natural elements that relate to them, and these natural elements are totally original not for being nature, but because of the people that inhabit it. And with respect to cinematic forms, this has a great deal of importance.
One more reference, just to conclude. The culturalist readings of Portuguese cinema have a tendency to articulate it with Portuguese literature, with anything Portuguese, and I think that it’s very important to begin to articulate it with the films that these filmmakers saw. Filmmakers in Portugal experimented with cinema as something really universal; it’s enough to look at Fernando Lopes’ very important statement at the Gulbenkian, when he presented precisely Past and Present. The filmmakers that he speaks of are all foreign, all of them: Dreyer, Bergman, Godard, Rossellini, etc.
S: It’s just to say that we agree so much with that view that there is an episode precisely about it, called O Bezerro de Ouro.
JMC: I will pass things over to the room. I just wanted to remind you of the following. It’s tradition, in this last debate, to leave the last few minutes for comments on how the seminar went, within this principle that the seminar is a work in progress, that it isn’t completely defined and that we want to continue thinking about it with you. Therefore, at the end I will ask that you make your critical comments on how things went and give suggestions on what we can do in the future, OK?
BRAM RELOUW: I’d like to get back to the real basics of what I saw in this film. The passion for Portuguese cinema is obvious, otherwise they wouldn’t take up this immense project. For me, most of the films are new, and what I saw in all of them was these landscapes, this big drama, this emotional heaviness, these confined spaces, and what was said earlier: the rivers don’t represent life, but borders and death and… I was wondering if this drama is typical of Portuguese cinema – as far as I saw in this episode, it is, and I’m trying to figure out how it came to exist. In Holland, most of the films are very light, very ironic, we don’t take ourselves very seriously, it is completely different. Do you think it is a consequence of the dictatorship that maybe Portuguese films, or even that the Portuguese, have no sense of humour?
RG: I think we do have it. We even have a very special form of sense of humour. It’s that humour of thinking that when we lose we were right. I don’t know if it’s a consequence of fascism, but it’s a supreme form of humour.
Well, all of these episodes are interconnected, and the episode that will follow is about closed space. It’s called Jonas, and at the end we specify that we don’t think Portugal has any tradition of being a landscape cinema, and that the landscape is always loaded with meanings, symbolic or metaphorical. Pedro Costa goes even further. It’s because of this that, at a certain point, we did that edit of the portraits of Cape Verdeans, because there the people are filmed as if they were themselves, their faces a landscape; and therefore the landscape behind them is completely out of focus; they are read as a landscape.
I think that Portuguese sadness probably has to do with fascism. But it will also have to do with an impossible (fascism already ended)… with the revolution’s impossible struggle and a very bad conscience in relation to this. I think that having failed in the revolution is our greatest failure. We are sad and we should be. We don’t have any reason for being happy. But that isn’t to say that we don’t have a sense of humour.
JMG: America failed America, didn’t it?
RG: Maybe, but there are many of them [laughs].
CATARINA MOURÃO: I have a very simple question. Who is the father?
RG: Now then. We, because of our sense of humour, conceived of all of the episodes with very explicit references to the bible. The first episode is about Manoel de Oliveira and it ends with a scene that he refers to for this episode, which is that one from River of Gold [Paulo Rocha, 1998], in which they are all in a café listening to Francisca, the declarations, what Diogo Dória says to the servant in relation to the heart. And we interpreted this shot of Paulo Rocha’s (who if he was here would kill me, but that isn’t important), as an effective death of the father of Portuguese cinema, who is Manoel de Oliveira.
This thing of the father has various meanings. For me, in a patriarchal society, it’s the father who organizes the way in which the land is inhabited. Therefore, what we say in the film is that, looking at the landscape, we can understand the traces of the Father’s politics of occupation, of the Father insofar as he is the one responsible, for the patriarchal system. It’s evident that matriarchy is spoken of a lot in the north of Portugal, but this is an Augustinian subject, because we have in fact been living under a patriarchy for a long time.
And afterwards the father also has the poetic valency to do things. In Portuguese, it comes from the word “paisagem” [landscape]. “Paisagem” begins with “pai” [father] and there you have it. The following episode begins with the death of the father, with the scene from Mild Manners [Alberto Seixas Santos, 1974] in which the actress, who in the end even quotes Kafka, is imagining the day her father will die. This is such a father that, in Mild Manners, he’s at the same time the kind of person who isn’t completely fond of the regime, but who is also committed to his renunciation of any kind of action against the regime, against the family, against God the Father, or against his own authority. Therefore, in the film he is objectively a living avatar of Salazar. And the daughter is giving this speech in front of the camera, “When my father dies I will do such and such.”
These are films about the cinema of the Father – which we consider to be the founders of what Portuguese cinema is, this cinema that disappeared – and in more recent Portuguese cinema, the characters are younger and younger. This isn’t something that we have invented either, it’s an idea that comes from Manuel Mozos: he says that, currently, the characters of Portuguese fictions are children, orphans, lost and irresponsible adolescents. If they are not objectively orphans, they are lost in the world, without references, etc. Portugal portrays itself as a kind of irresponsible child in fiction films. This also allowed us to move to the idea that, now that we have killed the father, Salazar, we are all orphans, or it seems as if we all feel that we are orphans... This is comical... It’s comical, it is. That was the idea.
S: Things always have a double meaning. The Portuguese sadness is in part the result of Salazar, but Salazar is also the result of this Portuguese sadness. I arrived following the 25th of April and already saw a kind of sub-Salazar emerging once in a while, one of those small-minded politicians. It seems to me that we can’t turn Salazar into a great figure. He didn’t have this scope. He was representative of the most mediocre that Portugal produced.
EDUARDA DIONÍSIO: I had already seen this episode, but I didn’t see the last three. It isn’t exactly about the content that I want to speak, but about the way it was practised or produced. Why? What for? It seems to me that this is a bit connected to questions that were raised in earlier debates (as a matter of fact, Victor Erice yesterday spoke about the necessity of making a filmic object as an important part of the end result). I think that here things can be divided a little. Some films we saw here were made because there was money, because there were invitations, because there were commissions, because there was a vague interest, because the machine needs to function, etc., and some films were made because the person would die if they didn’t make them... And I think that in this film they would die if they hadn’t made it. And this is very important, because there is a cause in this film.
About the issue of Portuguese cinema. I am not very Portuguese, and I think that it’s a vast cause. Maybe the attitude that normal Portuguese people have in relation to Portuguese cinema is the same attitude that they would have in relation to much French, English, Japanese, Chinese cinema, etc., that is, it isn’t because it’s Portuguese, it’s for having these characteristics. And probably because in Portugal, thankfully until now, the other cinema, that we don’t like, almost isn’t made.
This film also raises another question, which is that of time. In yesterday’s debate this didn’t interest me very much because I think that these are common things made very complicated. What would be interesting to discuss here, after all of the films we saw, is the question of physical duration, of the number of minutes in the films. Because the really interesting films that were screened here didn’t obey the chronometry either of television or of the festivals. They aren’t either of the 50 minute variety or of the one hour and ten minute variety, or of theatrical length, and I think that film producers, I am a mere spectator, could reflect a little on this. New genres were also spoken of, and this is a genre that is relatively newer than that thing of the boundary that exists or doesn’t exist between documentary and fiction. In today’s film I think that it’s very funny to do an essay in images. It’s to use the image to do what is normally only done with words.
BRAM RELOUW: I want to return to this father theme – again not knowing very much about these films – because of the quotation “the mother was inside”; it seems that people came into existence because there was an inside of the womb, and there was the father who was outside the womb. And it seemed to me that the landscape itself became the father, because the real father figure, as a person, seems to be absent of most of these films.
RG: Alright, let’s see if we understand each other on this question of the father. The text explicitly says “the landscape is what covers the great egg of the world.” But it doesn’t actually speak of the mother. What is spoken of is the father in a metaphoric sense, saying that it’s the way in which the landscape organizes itself. João Mário said that in Portugal there isn’t a centimetre of the landscape that isn’t fabricated by man. Therefore, the landscape is, despite never having been seen as such, a form of artistic and economic expression. To the degree that we live in a patriarchal society, this artistic-economic, artisanal expression is the result of a way of being, and this itself comes from the mind of the Father, from the way in which the Father inscribes himself in the world. And inscribes those who depend on him in the world.
We became a little sensitive to this question. Just to explain, so that we don’t seem completely crazy: when we made a film in Trás-os-Montes [Sabores, 1999] (which didn’t have anything to do with this, it had to do with the Alto-Sabor Basin, and it was a commission) we walked across fields, mountains and valleys with biologists and engineers who explained to us, who were capable of establishing the history of a territory just by looking at the rock roses, the heather or the broom. That is, a landscape, for certain people who know how to read it, is a book. There are plants that are colonizing, that are first to arrive after an area has been devastated. There you go. And it was with these things in mind, that aren’t from this film, that we invented this thing of the Father. I hope that it’s not all that serious. It was intended to simplify and to be poetic, and it now I have the impression that it is complicating and unnecessary.
WOITEK ZIEMILSKI: Recently a new way of understanding the word “paisagem” has developed. The way of seeing the etymology of the word has changed, now it is considered to come from pagus, which refers to a construction, to a piece of land as human construction. This is illustrated in many contemporary works at the level of the cultural language that developed, namely in terms such as “cultural landscape”.
I also thought that yesterday, Kiarostami’s film [Five, 2004] had this dimension of landscape as construction: this critical view, this distance that’s necessary nowadays. It seems to me that to make this dimension of the landscape appear in a documentary film, from archives of Portuguese films from a certain period, is very difficult. And in my opinion this task wasn’t fulfilled, because the image that I had was of a landscape that is, yes, changed by man – changed, we could say, by the Father, or, to use other terms, like the traces that are left until the land becomes occupied and becomes human. For me, this distance was lacking.
S: Just a few things. There is no archive. We tried to get copies of all of the films made from ‘72 onwards. And afterwards there was a first selection. What interests us isn’t the landscape, it’s the view of it. It’s the Portuguese cinema, exactly as in the following episode, where we will see the presence of asylums, prisons, etc., and we cite work of João Mário’s [Grilo]. There is no discourse on the prison. There is the utilization of a motive, a view on confinement. We tried to make a film about what the landscape is, but it’s Sabores, it’s not O Nosso Caso. O Nosso Caso is an interrogation of historical images and images of other people. What interested us wasn’t to discover Portugal, but instead the view of it.
JMG: What is at stake in cinema is never the things that are shown, but the view that you have of them. At a certain point there is something very beautiful about Pedro Costa, in the scene from The Blood , it’s said that it’s the landscape that looks. It’s the construction of a view from the landscape. I think this is very fair. But the idea comes to me from some things that were said, and it has to do with the difficulty of the existence of this cinema in the place that Portugal has become, which has to do with the disappearance of a national landscape, in the sense that in Portuguese cinema of the seventies, eighties, from the films that are made in the Alentejo to the films that are made in the north, there is a kind of flux, of something flowing, which is the transformation of this country into a country of city councils. That’s is difficult. I don’t know if this is a sensitive question, but that becomes a difficult object to film, that is to say, the emergence of this country of city councils, which is a country full of different signs, physical signs: of posters, roundabouts, all that. Probably we are talking about the need for other filmmakers that will emerge from this new culture. That is, the roundabouts imply a completely different understanding of the world that one is in, and are going to imply, obviously, the construction of another view. We are still excessively distant, ironic jokers. What I am about to say is almost nonsense, but it is necessary for the Reis of our time to appear. It is necessary. And the Reis of our time is the Reis of the cities, because the country is transforming into a city. Essentially this is an excessively small country.
JMC: You are talking about the new roundabouts that surround Serpa, and where you got lost today. We also got lost there, when they appeared. For me, that idea of going in circles takes me back to Jean Brechand’s text, which isn’t a text about this film, which he didn’t see, and neither about Portuguese cinema. And something very simple that occurs to me about the landscape is – and some of you certainly saw this – in that filmed conversation with Jean Renoir and the actor who is the protagonist of The Rules of the Game , sitting on the stairs of the castle. Dalio turns to Jean Renoir (they are being filmed with the castle and the setting of the film behind them, the reverse shot would be the landscape that surrounds the castle) and says, “This is fantastic, this landscape surrounding us, and I think that you really didn’t show this” – I am citing from a vague memory – “Why didn’t you show more?” And Renoir says something so simple, which is, “Because this isn’t what interests me, what interested me in the film were the people, what interests me in cinema are the people, and it only interests me to use the landscape if I can say something that really needs to be said about the people with it.” It’s more or less like this. I would like to bring this up, reminding you that today we don’t have Renoirs anymore. But I would say that, if there are still humanists in modern cinema, I don’t think there is any doubt that Kiarostami is one of them. And it’s interesting to see how Kiarostami arrives at what we saw yesterday, Five, where despite there being people in some of the episodes, they were almost eradicated – and that intrusive person who entered the shot of the ducks was cut in the edit because he didn’t want anybody to. And that doesn’t prevent him from being a great humanist filmmaker. For me this goes back to the issue of how it is that cinema places itself today in relation to spaces, from an aesthetic and political point of view, and from the point of view of method.
But I would like to hear your thoughts in relation to the seminar.
RG: I think that we all need to perform the exercise of watching ourselves less, of censoring ourselves less. And I still felt a lot of this, despite the atmosphere of the seminar (this obviously isn’t a festival, nobody is here to win prizes or lose things); I sense this vigilance and this censorship.
S: As a participant, it’s the first time I am here. There were films that I saw and that made an impact on me, that are going to transform me, I still don’t know how, but that are going to transform my practice. Concerning the debates, and I think that a seminar should focus essentially on the debates, and that the sharing of practical experiences was lacking. When I asked myself about Depardon’s [Profils paysans: l’approche, Profils paysans: le quotidien] protocols, the following day I had the urge to question our Chinese colleague [Li Yifan], because there were clearly staged parts in his film [Before the Flood]. At a certain point, a grandmother with two buckets of water, who climbs the stairs, the moment in which she turns to the camera and says, “Now we have to go fetch water on the other side of the street.” These are the only words she says. It’s staged! I have no doubt. What I call “protocols” interests me. How do we decide to intervene in documentary practice – even as a participant? It’s a shame that the majority of the discussions have been evaluations of the films, when what interests me is practice, and the possibility of changing my practice.
PARTICPANT: It’s the first time that I participate in this seminar, so I would like to say that I truly appreciate the originality of the concept of Doc’s Kingdom, here in Serpa, where the human factor is also taken into account. One critical remark (I don’t know if everyone will agree): within the frame of the seminar, there have been many, we might say thematic, approaches: the issue of the landscape, the countryside, the dam, the question of memory, of time. And I would say this that brought the programmer of this seminar to select films which have very different aesthetic approaches, and perhaps also of more or less good quality. On the part of the spectators, this led to the making of comparisons between films that aren’t necessarily justified. So I wonder if the thematic approach is a good idea.
PARTICPANT: I just wanted to say two things. Firstly, I hope that Doc’s Kingdom will continue to be organized, as long as this country still gives us the possibility of meeting outside the urban centres, which worry João Mário as much as me. On the other hand, there is something that I’m sorry about, that I fell is a pity: the fact that I don’t see here, besides the people that I don’t know, those who make documentaries. They seem to be completely alien. Maybe they don’t want to participate, they don’t want to say, they don’t have time, they have no interest, but I think that this is quite a Portuguese characteristic. But I have to praise Zé Manel’s effort, and that of the people who worked with him, because I know that this is demanding in financial terms and in terms of personal sacrifices.
Concerning the documentary that I just saw, a moment ago I said to Regina that I really didn’t care about the images’ quality. I think they acquire another quality. And that your selection isn’t a selection, it ends up being a film. It’s another film made from selections. And I would like to finish with a question, which again has to do with the Father: what is Luis Miguel Cintra looking at when the child is given to him?
RG: Let’s see. There are two images here: these are two films. The first shot is of João Botelho, Here on Earth : a child is given to him that isn’t his, but rather the child of some people that he protected, a young couple that are in hiding because of a crime.
PARTICPANT: That is very clear.
RG: OK. At the end you see a shot from Desejado , by Paulo Rocha.
PARTICPANT: No, it isn’t the end. It’s following this shot.
RG: What is he looking at? He looks up, because he suffers from a condition, which is to hear voices. The condition of Joan of Ark.
S: Just a suggestion in relation to the seminar. There are some people who I know and with whom I have exchanged ideas. There are others that I know by sight, but with whom I didn’t speak. And I ask whether it wouldn’t be worthwhile, on the first day, to spend an hour presenting ourselves. We lived together for a week and even today there are people that I only know by sight.
CATARINA ALVES COSTA: I agree with this suggestion of Saguenail’s. From the moment that people present themselves, there could be an initial atmosphere that would help. But what I think is really important is for there to be greater moderation, someone who isn’t inhibited to intervene, to stop in one place, restart in another.
PARTICPANT: I think that the room doesn’t help. To be in such a big space, especially when there are less people, it makes conversation difficult and maybe makes the approach to some more practical, more technical themes difficult as well. My suggestion is to have some moments in another shared space. Not just to eat together, which is also very good and pleasant, but where we can talk almost like colleagues and friends.
LI YIFAN: I liked coming to the seminar very much, but I wanted to say that I felt that more precise direction was lacking. Themes. Maybe to choose two or three themes and explore them more deeply. A direction. Because it’s only by having things previously defined that we can get there. It’s necessary to know how to separate things – there are people here who are more focused on cultural themes, others on the history of cinema, others on history, etc. – otherwise our discussion becomes very dispersed. Another issue that I raise is the diversity of the programming – I noticed that it was very Latin. I think that there should be more diversity, looking at history, culture, the world, so that we aren’t only here to speak about art or aesthetics.
PARTICIPANT: My main comment on the seminar is: directors were present, which was wonderful, and after the films there was a debate, and there should be a debate. But I think you should make the choice between asking specific questions to the director (as to how the film was made, how long it took, etc.) and having a debate. Either one of them. I completely agree that this space is difficult for debates, because it takes a lot of time, and a lot of people don’t get the chance to speak out. So maybe it would be a good idea to split the group up into smaller ones, and each would have its own discussion. Then we would rejoin, and a spokesperson for each group would share the opinions formed. These smaller discussion groups would be a good way to include everybody in the debate.
PARTICPANT: Maybe if you could, when the documentation is distributed to the participants, include a questionnaire. This kind of feedback is very interesting for being able to improve the meetings. There were many people here, and now there are very few left. And I wanted to say that I also felt there was a problem with the debates. The debate I liked most was that relating to Susana Sousa Dias’ film [Still Life, 2005], which was not only very emotional, with extreme positions in relation to the film, but also very well directed by a person who had thought about the film, Margarida Cardoso. Maybe it could serve as an example for the other debates.
SÉRGIO TRÉFAUT: It’s the fourth year that I have come to Serpa, and I think that it’s a fantastic place and a fantastic opportunity for bringing people together. This is the positive side. What I think is really a pity, and it creates a sense of waste, is that for me it makes more sense to fight for a year to have a full auditorium, something broader and not just for 15 people, to make it so that many more students can benefit from seeing these films, from these discussions. On the other hand, the way in which the discussions are organized frankly bores me. In this last hour I liked listening to Regina and Saguenail because they are speaking... When I watch debates I also like theoreticians, but they need to have a great deal of preparation to speak about what they are going to say. And in the discussions in Serpa it bores me terribly when they don’t allow the people who worked on something to keep going a little longer on what this enormous amount of work involved.
PAULA ALVES: It’s the first time I’ve been in touch with this thing of documentary. I was used to classic and television documentaries, and in the beginning I was a little lost in the classifications: if what was important was to be more connected to reality, more critical, more poetic. And at a certain point, I understood that it’s the capacity the documentary has – regardless of its language being aesthetic, informative or questioning – of reactivation. Not to be a documentary for the conservation of something that’s disappearing, but rather for that which offers the possibility of reactivating, in another time and another space, a reality that can be at risk because the uses change. And to offer us an opportunity to understand if we want them to change in that way. This could be a problem to discuss: to know what is lost and what is preserved. And documentary can serve this purpose – this is a little of what I understood. Transporting this problematic to other cultures and creating the opportunity for the solution to come from another reality, which has the strength to act. This exchange is one of the treasures that documentary has to offer.
LI YIFAN: Due to the programming being almost all from the Latin area, the language was a bit limited to Portugal, and often I didn’t feel comfortable to make certain comments. The programming should be broader, seeing that this is an international seminar.
JMC: Some very quick things, firstly for Regina. Yes, we want Serpa to be a space for the discussion as much of films made in Portugal as of films made in any other part of the world. I think that we all understand that it’s still necessary to rebuild this space in each moment, where from the beginning there is an atmosphere of great informality and of great critical capacity, without making people worry about beginning by highly praising a film.
This seminar came from a central idea, at the end of a period in which things relating to the documentary were proliferating in every direction: production, diffusion, the space of the festivals, etc. Great meetings began to emerge for the discussion of how to raise money to make films, how to edit, write a project and so on. We thought that everything had been spoken of except for the films themselves. That is, regardless of the conditions that people had (and which afterwards are also important to study in some cases), in this boom of documentary production, what paths are in fact being trod. And this isn’t something programmatic, it happens through great forces that exist in the world and that intersect with the territory of film production. What interested us was to create a space in which we would look for some strong examples and detect some paths of the modern documentary. Fundamentally, to discuss what is happening, and always with the idea that: in the past, like now, the most interesting documentary is only a particularly rich space in which to discuss everything that is happening with cinema in general. And the idea of being able to have a space here was very important – not a public space in the vast sense of the word, it’s a relatively restricted space – where people become accustomed to being criticised. We are still trying to learn how to do this, to create a space in which there is a division of opinions, not to evaluate a film but instead to discuss things...
In relation to the question of it being better or not to choose a group of films that would be on a closer level to each other, and that it wouldn’t be so risky to put in confrontation with each other. We will continue to reflect on this, but it’s contrary to what we wanted. We wanted precisely to choose films that had great differences from the outset. That is, we weren’t interested in creating a seminar about observational documentaries today, we never wanted to choose four or five films that represented the same thing; we wanted to take complementary examples, at the level of the methodology (what Saguenail calls “protocol”) that characterize contemporary cinema, and to find strong examples of it. Going from one film to another, a dialogue is made from this path, and that’s why we showed Susana’s films, Sasithorn’s, finding roots that can connect them in a subterranean way.
The question of the room; we knew from the beginning that this device with the table was contrary to what we wanted. We wanted a group, ideally a circle, in which people were all equal, namely in relation to the directors. And with this to destroy the idea that the debate would be a series of questions to the director; he would instead be a participant like the others. We had a lot of difficulty, until now, in finding adequate spaces in Serpa besides this theatre; other spaces where it’s possible to do simultaneous translation, where there would be enough room for everybody. We even rehearsed a system in which there was a circle of chairs here on the stage, but we had to give up on that solution. The idea also came up to have everybody coming here to the front, to only use the first two rows of the auditorium, but it was always impossible. In short, I am in perfect agreement that the devices condition many things in the conversation. Let’s see how we will find alternatives.
Just to finish, about what Li Yifan said. I agree that this time the final result of the programming, in an international seminar, was very concentrated on our territory. The films were never chosen for being Portuguese, but it ended up being that way. About the question of the concentration of themes for discussion, I can only say that this has also been one of the tensions of the seminar. Until now we have tried to find a balance – that I think held out this year despite everything, with all of the fragilities that were noted – between what we could consider to be the purely spontaneous seminar (films are watched, loosely commented on) and, at the other extreme, the so-called academic seminar, that we also wanted to avoid. To what degree we will be able to hold up in the future, how we will manage the growth of this without having to choose options on one side or the other, I don’t know. Help us to think about this, send us your comments.