The Margins of World Cinema: A Festival Dedicated to Films Coming From Small Producing Countries

in 20th Festroia International Film Festival

by Dan Fainaru

This is no investigative report, just an early warning. Maybe not that early either, for signs of this particular phenomenon have been noticed around for some time already. Signs indicating that not only the independence of film festivals as such is being threatened, but their essential role as cultural events compensating for the abysmal distribution patterns that have become customary in most countries of the world is denied as well.

Festroia, a modest festival, which has carved a distinct niche for itself in the last 20 years as a meeting point for national industries producing annually less than 30 features, is seriously considering whether it can afford to take place again, in 2005. The reason is simple and vulgar enough — funds. The Portuguese Ministry of Culture has told the festival through the Portuguese Film Institute (ICAM), the state agency in charge of film activities in the country, that they will be the only event of their kind not to receive any government subsidy this year. Unofficially, Festroia organizers have been lead to understand there are two main reasons for the decision. First, there is no real interest in the production of small countries of the kind Festroia is featuring in its program. Second, Festroia’s box office performance is not quite satisfactory. Familiar populist reasons, usually mentioned by multiplexes the world over, to justify the stultifying diet of mindless Hollywood trash they are providing for their customers on a regular basis. Film festivals should be different, one would like to hope, and cultural authorities should be aware of the difference.

As for the notion that dedicating a festival to films coming from small producing countries is devoid of any interest, this is pretty insulting first of all to the Portuguese cinema itself, not to mention at least 80 other film making nations whose annual output is small. For, in other words, Manuel de Oliveira, Theo Angelopoulos, Aki Kaurismäki, Lars von Trier, to mention just a few, might as well disappear off the map of world cinema. There is nothing more threatening for film critics and film lovers in general than this attitude, which is becoming a sort of philosophy, a constantly growing tendency to please audiences by never challenging them, and then complaining how stupid these audiences are for liking what they do, when they are never offered anything else to nibble on.

In its recent Cannes meeting, the CICAE has already expressed its concern with the decision of the ICAM commission, protesting against it, and one can only hope the FIPRESCI will join its voice to theirs.