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Coimbra, Caminhos do Cinema Portugues, 2011, report by Aksel Kielland, Norway

What to say about the Caminhos do Cinema Portugues? It is certainly one of the most unique festivals I have ever attended, but as always, there are both positive and negative aspects to any festival experience.

What to say about the Caminhos do Cinema Portugues? It is certainly one of the most unique festivals I have ever attended, but as always, there are both positive and negative aspects to any festival experience.
On the positive side, Coimbra is a beautiful city situated in a region which, at least for a Scandinavian, has a very agreeable climate. The festival staff – almost exclusively made up of volunteers – all do their very best in order to please, feed and lodge their guests, and as one of a seemingly dwindling number of European film festivals to cover both meals, lodgings and (most of the) travel expenses, the Caminhos do Cinema Portugues makes for an attractive jury for any FICC-affiliated delegate to be a part of. The fact that the festival is relatively small both in terms of audiences and venues also helps to create a charming atmosphere and sense of kinship among the audience similar to that one finds in many film societies (although I’m sure the festival organizers would rather see the audience grow).

On the other, not quite so positive hand, a surprisingly large number of festival guests do not speak English well enough to have a nuanced discussion of the films screened, and something as simple as finding a post office can be a daunting task when faced with the non-English speaking locals. While undoubtedly a nice experience for anyone fluent or even semi-fluent in Portuguese, the festival can thus be a somewhat frustrating experience for someone who has to rely on communicating in English. Judging by my brief fortnight in Portugal, the Portuguese are polite, helpful and pleasingly far removed from the cliché of the impassioned, extrovert Southern-European. However, when the language barrier comes into effect, one is often left frantically gesturing and spouting random romance-language phrases in order to get through to each other. Added to the fact that a large number of the films – all of them Portuguese – are not subtitled, the language question mounts up to a considerable problem.

My other main gripe with the Caminhos is more of a question of temperament. The films are scheduled into two slots on weekdays and three on weekends, with each slot consisting of a number of short films and features, typically consisting of between three and six separate works and lasting in excess of two hours. Seeing so many different films back to back is in itself a challenge for a jury member who has to pick a winner, and the case is not made much better (for me at least) by the fact that the screenings are held at 17.30 and 22.00 each day. After a typical three course Portuguese dinner – including the customary amounts of Portuguese wine – it is difficult not to feel one’s mind drifting somewhat, when the time approaches midnight. To put it bluntly, I think both audiences and filmmakers would benefit greatly if the screenings were held earlier in the day.
Apart from these two objections, I would recommend the festival to anyone interested in European cinema in general and especially Portuguese cinema.

Aksel Kielland,
Bergen filmklubb/Norwegian Film Society