On October 25th, I found out that I had been selected to be on the FICC Jury at Caminhos do Cinema Português Festival in Coimbra from November 24th to December 2nd. After the initial shock and excitement calmed down, I set about preparing for Portugal.
Caminhos do Cinema Português is the 6th biggest Film Festival in Portugal, primarily showcasing Portuguese Cinema but also providing many international and student offerings, with support from the University of Coimbra. I arrived in Coimbra on the eve of the festival, where I was given a full run down on my duties as a jury member. What really struck me was how they managed to deliver such a great festival, screening over 150 films, which such a small team of staff and volunteers. They pulled off an incredible feat!
As a Jury representing the Fédération Internationale des Ciné-Clubs (F.I.C.C.), we had to select the recipient of Don Quijote Prize for a film that represents the philosophy of the Film Society Movement. We each had to watch the 60 films, ranging from fictional features, documentaries, animations and shorts, included in the Caminhos Selection to find our winner. We usually viewed the films in theatre with the audiences, but as the festival went on, we realised that we had to fit the last three days of screenings within two, so the festival team could contact the winners. I started playing catch up before and after the scheduled screenings to ensure every films got its fair chance, almost missing breakfast one morning!
To fill our Jury, we had Portuguese Tiago Cerveira, who studied and now works in Coimbra. As a talented filmmaker, he has strong passion for documentaries and films that represent people with different backgrounds in society. He was an invaluable support during the festival, providing cultural and historical context, that increased my appreciation for many of the films. Konrad Domaszewski joined us from Poland, who like Tiago, is a Filmmaker, but also an actor, programmer and master of comedy. We often came together at meals, when he would teach me about the logistics and financial implications of making a film. I, myself am a programmer in volunteer-led cinema, so between us we were able to consider the films from every angle.
When is came to picking a winner, we each had our own methods for shortlisting our favourites: Tiago would rate every film after their screenings; Konrad picked his favourite as he went along; and I made notes on every film, which I reviewed and compared after seeing the full selection to create my own shortlist. On the Friday evening of the festival, we came together and compared our shortlists. Finding common ground in 5 films, we discussed each in turn until we were left with our two standout films. We debated the films fiercely, with Tiago and Konrad favouring one each. Ultimately we picked the film that we felt best represented the Film Society movement.
After choosing our winning film, we had one last job, to present the winner at the Award Ceremony – Terra Franca by Leonor Teles:
In an honest portrayal of family, unaffected by the constant presence of a camera, Albertino struggles to find purpose in the face of a threat to his livelihood. There is a simplicity to this film that captures a real family with real problems and we get a raw insight into Albertino through his interactions with other people in his world.
We chose to award the Don Quijote Prize to this film because while being such an authentic Portuguese story, the struggles faced by this family, the uncertainty of working class life, are relatable to ordinary people across different nations. Most importantly it provides hope that the hard times won’t last.
There were so many incredible films as the festival but there was one that we felt deserved a Special Mention – Maria by Catarina Neves Ricci:
The filmmaker has created an intimate, raw portrayal that is able to invoke such strong emotions in a viewer, having a great impact despite a short runtime. The subject is universal, but it’s rare to see such a empathetic perspective, with close ups and an honest view of the body that really capture fragility.
One of the highlights of the festival had to be the award ceremony – having spoken to many filmmakers throughout the festival, I gained a real understanding of how passionate they were about their work and could really feel how much receiving this recognition for their work meant to them.
While we could only pick one winner and award one special mention, there were a number of films I will remember and recommend to other film fans:
Entre Sombras was an incredible stop-motion Noir, featuring a strong female who refused to let life get her down; Agouro, a beautiful animation, where any still could be framed and put in an art gallery; Até que o porno nos separe / Until porn do us part, a touching documentary about love and acceptance between a parent and child.
Having the opportunity to attend Caminhos do Cinema Português Festival was invaluable for me as a member of a community cinema as it gave me a great insight into the areas of the film industry that were unknown to me. Before the festival I had never seen a Portuguese film and I left a fan. Festivals are the perfect platform for exhibitors to discover new content and to connect them with filmmakers, to provide perspective on their work. In particular not-for-profit cinemas often have the ability to be more adventurous with their programming and festivals are a great opportunity to find gems that may not make it to commercial cinemas. I, personally have been inspired to include short films in my own community cinema programme.