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Caminhos do Cinema Portugues Coimbra, Portugal 14th – 23rd November Report by Sean Walsh

The beautiful historic city of Coimbra is the location of the annual Caminhos do Cinema Portugues, a festival of Portuguese cinema. The city is home to one of the oldest universities in Europe and it is the University’s Centre of Film Studies which organises the festival.

The Caminhos programme showcases work by Portuguese filmmakers across a broad range of forms and styles – with documentaries, shorts, animated and feature-length drama films all represented. On top of the films in competition for prizes, there was also a week-long retrospective of films from the Cinema Nuovo period (1960s/70s), which was Portugal’s Nouvelle Vague; and a week-long programme of Turkish films, an annual exploration of cinema from a European country.

The festival also included a children’s programme, workshops and a conference of the state of the Portuguese industry, as well as a number of After Parties with different bands playing each nighht.

The FICC jury – one of four juries at the festival – awards one Prize – the Don Quijote Prize, but we had the option of giving another film a Special Mention.

The films in competition for the Don Quijote Prize included all of those with English subtitles, English language or no dialogue. In all, over 60 films were eligible and these covered all of the mentioned forms.

The quality of the films varied – as they will in a festival programme – but the documentary and animated strands were particularly strong. A number of pieces submitted by animation students were very sophisticated and show a healthy animation industry in the country.

The film we awarded the prize to was ‘48’, a documentary written and directed by Susana de Sousa Dias. The film told the story of the abuses and experiences of a number of ordinary Portuguese people at the hands of the Portuguese dictatorship. The film uses the ingenious technique of displaying photographs (mugshots) of the people, taken when they were arrested. While the image fills the screen we hear that person’s account of their experience.

The testimonies are shocking, graphic and very moving. The filmmaker uses sound very well also, with every uncomfortable pause, gasp and sob clearly audible. While watching the film, I wondered if the photo-image technique would hold up over the course of the film’s 93 minutes. That it does is testament to the power of the film and also the heart-wrenching stories told within it.

We awarded a Special Mention to ‘Senhor X’, a short film written and directed by Goncalo Galvao Teles. The film is a short magic-realist drama, telling the story of a young man in love with a waitress in a coffee shop. A chance meeting with an older man who is about to burn a video camera changes the young man’s life. ‘Senhor X’ is an homage to the magic and beauty of cinema, and works in a way which uses the possibilities of the medium to celebrate those very possibilities. A very charming film.

Vitor Ferreira, the director of the Caminhos, and his festival team were very welcoming, friendly and hospitable throughout the almost-two week period of my stay. We were looked after very well, and the hotel and restaurant were superb. Any supports or information we required were furnished without any complications.

The members of the other juries were really nice too, and included people from the film community, as well as journalists, administrators from other festivals and organisations. Some of the people I met, I will definitely work with on projects in the future.

My co-jurors on the FICC Jury – Eric Schaer from Switzerland and Jose Antonio Cunho from Porto – were wonderful company and it was a pleasure working with them on the assessment of the films for the Don Quijote Prize.

Nationwide strikes meant that my original return flight had to be cancelled, and I could not get another until two days later. Jose Antonio Cunho kindly invited me to stay with him at his house in Porto. This unexpected extension meant that I had a chance to see the beautiful city of Porto.

All in all, a wonderful experience.

Sean Walsh
December 2010