Festival Director Cíntia Gil Talks Doclisboa’19 And Challenging Audiences

Festival director Cíntia Gil stops by on Close-up Culture to discuss the 2019 edition of Doclisboa (17-27 October).

Q: The 2019 Doclisboa programme boasts 303 films from 48 different countries. What was the selection process like for this year’s festival?

A: Among these 303 films there are many historical pieces, both in the retrospectives and in parallel sections. Doclisboa always programs recent films in a strong dialogue with other cinematographies, from different times and territories. It is a way of reflecting our concern on building a contemporary film festival, and not an event locked in the present.

The selection process is done in various ways, and we work the whole year on it. We usually start by choosing the theme for a retrospective (this year the cinema from GDR, from 1946 until after the fall of the Wall, marking the 30th anniversary of this milestone in our common history), and the filmmaker we want to present in a full retrospective – we will present Jocelyne Saab, Lebanese filmmaker, with an incredibly courageous and imaginative body of work.

The selection for the other sections is done as an exercise of being aware of life around us, having deep and intense discussions on the films we watch, and trying to build a map that makes sense and is open and plural.

We like to think of Doclisboa and programming as the art of building maps, diagrams, where ideas, images, filmic gestures, urgencies and memories are organised in a way that every visitor can invent their own circuit, and will be surprised and challenged by going through it.

Cinema is there to open our heads, our sensibilities, to suggest us to look in other directions and to listen to other voices. Our selection process starts with this idea.

Q: This year’s festival is dedicated to the memory of Pedro Fortes. Can you talk about Pedro, his impact and how his presence will be felt at the festival?

A: Pedro Fortes was a programmer at Doclisboa since 2011. Besides working with us in the selection, he was responsible for programming Peter Watkins’ full retrospective in 2016, where he excelled.

Pedro was also a filmmaker and a film professor, a truly generous one, who was thrilled about discovering the films of young people who were still trying their first steps.

Besides this, and most of all, he was a gracious and unique human being: his way of talking about films and life, his critical gaze of reality, marked us deeply as programmers cinephiles. Pedro’s presence is in the spirit of the festival, and will be also remembered through naming an award for the young filmmakers’ section, The Green Years.

Above all, we want him to be remembered as a friend and as the passionate person he was.

Q: The festivals will host 39 world premieres and a number more of international and European premieres. How special is it for the festival to host these premieres and be the launching point for so many of these films?

A: First, it is a sign of trust from the filmmakers and producers: they see Doclisboa as a meaningful place not only to present their films to the world, but also to start conversations around them. We are aware that this comes from our effort to programme in a serious, rigorous way, and to make sure that every film we present is important for us.

Also, this is a challenge for us, but a very needed one. It is much more difficult to guarantee world, international and even European premieres, than to programme what’s already in the circuit. It means going to look for other films, expanding your networks, forcing yourself to look at other spaces.

But this is an ethical need: we cannot talk about diversity and the need to break the traditional organisation of power, and then keep replicating each other’s discourses and choices. A film festival is a visible organisation and every film festival operates in a market where issues of power, visibility/invisibility, freedom and representation are played in very poignant ways. And therefore we have to take responsibility for that and to seriously address it.

Showing these premieres means that Doclisboa is saying that there are other films to be seen and discussed, and refusing to contribute to the invisibility of so many filmmakers and cinematographies.

It’s the same with retrospectives. Every retrospective we do is a work of research and many times it implies to even locate copies. We have done full retrospectives for the first time, and this has a meaning: for example, we did the first retrospective ever of the Serbian filmmaker Želimir Žilnik, and after that he has had retrospectives at the Anthology Film Archive, Flaherty Seminar or Centre Georges Pompidou. Because now there are transcriptions and translations of all his films, copies are located, the work is accessible.

The same with Jocelyne Saab now, the retrospective curated by Davide Oberto: we will premiere a film, Palestinian Women, that is now being printed by the Portuguese Film Archive. It is the last film she did for television, and it was not allowed to be broadcasted, and therefore never shown.

Premiering films, researching, bringing less known works to the scene is a difficult task, it takes more discourse, more context, more communication with the public, but it is a necessary one in order to contribute to a more open, diverse and free world. Cinema cannot be shut in the hands of business as usual, it has to be a plural, critical, disquiet place.

Q: As you’ve mentioned, the festival will have a retrospective on Jocelyne Saab and another titled “Rise and Fall of the Wall – The Cinema of East Germany”. What can audiences expect from these two retrospectives?

A: Jocelyne Saab has started her career in the beginning of the 1970’s in a time when being a woman and a filmmaker was something quite hard, more so being a war reporter and looking inside the big wounds of our humanity as she did.

She witnessed crucial moments in history – not by chance, but because she wanted to be there, with her camera, and be a testimony. A filmic testimony. From Palestine to Libya (with an ascending Khadafi), to Lebanon, to Western Sahara.

Her cinema is one of empathy and care, but also of imagination of possibilities for the world and for cinema, dancing between reportage, documentary, fiction. Discovering her work is also discovering a wide and generous sensibility, and a courage that is inspiring and touching.

The retrospective “Rise and Fall of the Wall – The Cinema of East Germany”, curated by Agnès Wildenstein, is composed of 50 films produced between 1946 (the post-war reconstruction) and 1992 (after the fall of the Berlin Wall). It was a deep research work, done with the support of DEFA Foundation, the archive that continued the work of the DEFA Studios, the film center of GDR.

It goes from portraits of life (labour, women, youth, the musical scene), to banned films and propaganda. Fundamental filmmakers like Thomas Heise, Helke Misselwitz, Volker Koepp, or Jürgen Böttcher.

The retrospective, done in co-production with the Portuguese Film Museum and the Goethe Institut, covers a very rich period full of contradictions and potentiality, and aims not only at filling gaps on our knowledge of film history, but mainly to ask ourselves, 30 years after the fall of the Wall, where we are as a community.

Even more so if we think that today more walls are being erected in so many territories.

Q: Nebulae is a new space for networking at Doclisboa. Can you tell us more about Nebulae and what it will bring to the festival?

A: The fact that we were able to solidify a strong position in the international industry through the programming of films made us seek to open other paths within the Doclisboa project. Paths which would channel this prestigious heritage and these international networks for a more direct intervention in the market.

Basically, we understood that it was important to be responsible for the cinema we defended through our programming, creating professional spaces that were real opportunities for these films to exist with concrete conditions of viability and distribution.

Nebulae stems from this need and from the realisation that Doclisboa brought together a very relevant and strategically interesting set of international partners, in which Europe and the Ibero-American countries were two main contact points. We realised that we could offer something unique: a solidified place in Europe and a great work platform launched from this place which is the Iberian Peninsula and Central and South America.

Nebulae is now an unavoidable beacon in Ibero-American cinema.

Q: Are there any other activities or events that professionals and the public should look out for during the festival?

A: Doclisboa will host several public activities that allow audiences to engage with films and filmmakers in a very open and informal way. From masterclasses to debates and round tables, parties and workshops. As examples, a workshop on filmmaking (done in partnership with Uniondocs), a round table on film criticism, programming and political engagement, a debate on the issue of decolonising memory.

All these activities are centered in the film programme, and in the idea that films are very productive opportunities for collective thinking and engagement. We need that as a community, don’t we?

Q: What do you believe makes Doclisboa stand out from other film festivals around the world?

A: We do not build Doclisboa in competition with any other festival. Doclisboa is unique and stands as such exactly because our criteria lay not on competition among film festivals, but on trust and loyalty to cinema, to the filmmakers, and to our audience.

A lot of people say Doclisboa is a political festival: I say it is political because it is in and with the world, inscribing films and conversations in our collective times. It is a safe space for free artistic creation, and we do not hesitate in taking position and action to defend that – no one is neutral.

Q: What are the joys and challenges that come along with running a festival such as Doclisboa?

A: It is an amazing opportunity to see, discover and present such films, to be close to the filmmakers in such a hard task as doing their films and presenting them. It is a very beautiful challenge to invent ways to communicate films and ideas with the public, to see them relating to what we choose to show and defend.

It is also important to say that running such a festival brings big responsibility. As a very visible event, it is important to be clear on our ethos, and sometimes that can bring difficult situations. But there, it is also a joy: if you have a stage and a microphone, you’d better do something with it, something collectively meaningful.

This goes for standing against censorship in Brazil (as we announced this year, with a programme that responds to the attacks to Brazilian cinema), for defending films against censorship (as we did in a quite disturbing affair with embassies last year), or for discussing cultural governance.

I would say this is a big challenge but one of the most rewarding ones. These is a great diversity and depth to the Doclisboa programme.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from their experience at the festival?

A: I expect them to be navigating between what they know they want to see and what they find on their way. To be open for surprise.

Cinema is a medium for transmission of experience, and therefore I expect our audiences will go back home with the feeling they spent some hours, some days, among friends, in a community that offers new possible ways of imagining the world.

Q: Lastly, what are your hopes for this year’s Doclisboa and the growth of the festival in future years?

A: We are quite confident that the festival will be warmly received by the public, and that the attendances will meet our expectations. Every year we welcome around 25,000 people in our screenings, and besides that all other activities are quite participated.

However, we see growth as a qualitative goal, more than quantitative: growth in impact, in trust and prestige, growth in our capacity to reach different audiences and to actually have a conversation with them.

We work all year not only for this event, but in creating film screenings across the country and abroad, small distributions of films, school activities, etc. This aims at promoting independent non-fiction cinema and helping audiences getting acquainted with our work.

Doclisboa runs 17-27 October. For more info

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