August 19, 2008
■ SFN INTERVIEW/MOTELx co-director, Pedro Souto
Marjan Riahi - SFN: Pedro Souto is the co-director of MOTELx Festival who established the first horror films Festival together with his young friends in Portugal. The genre, firstly, reminds Hollywood but, of course, it brings some of the most famous cinema masters to our minds as well.
MOTELx is a non-competitive event which tries to show different view points of filmmakers from different parts of the world on this genre. Souto says, he and his colleagues are not interested in adding a competition section to the festival and the film selection and the festive aspect of the festival is of great importance for them. Short films have important position in this festival and also there is a section in which the documentary films about horror genre are going to be screened. In this interview, Souto tells us about his and other festival organizers viewpoints, programs, and also the goals and the aspirations of the organizer team.
Please tell us about your biography. Do you have academic education on cinema? Have you ever made any films?
No, I don't have an academic education on cinema and I've never made any film. I've been working in web design since 2001 though Cinema has been always present in my life, and almost every free time that I have is dedicated to horror films.
How did you conceive to establish a festival with Horror genre?
Horror has always been one of my favourite genres, so my first experiences in film festivals were, of course, dedicated specifically to horror & Sci-fi and I loved the ambiance, the thrill and enthusiasm of the movie goers. Never got tired of watching screening after screening and even very bad films could turn into an unforgettable experience according to the mood in the screening room. This is truly the spirit and heart of the movie experience.
So in 2003 we've formed the CTLX - Lisbon Horror Film Club - that began its activity with occasional screenings according to our budgets until the ambition grew and we've decided to adventure ourselves on a festival that could carried out this spirit.
Is there any other festival in Portugal with the same genre? What is the position of this genre in your country?
There's Fantasporto, more of the fantasy film genre and becoming more and more a generalist festival. There's no tradition of horror films in Portugal. Portuguese cinema was controlled by the fascist regime until 1974, and then most of the filmmakers were exiled in France and very much influenced by the French new wave. It's hardly any documentation or record of horror films from this era. Now things seem to be changing, people from my generation grew watching horror films from the local video store, so we had a zombie short film called I'll See You in My Dreams and a feature film called Bad Blood which did very well at the box office for a national film. And besides the film school, there are now new media schools that offer their students a chance to do short films on any theme they like, most of them are horror and apply to MOTELx selection.
Besides Horror masters who are known as author filmmakers, Horror films (especially in Hollywood) are usually made for their good box-office. Which one is your goal to promote in this genre?
Usually we aim for films unknown commercially in Portugal. Horror is very popular among teenagers so distribution companies buy every title in the market but take too long to premiere them and usually the best ones go straight to video. We are trying to save these films, but mainly our selection is more independent and we try to find films all around the world instead of showing only US horror, though we loved them, of course. To stimulate the production of horror films in Portugal, it's important that you show how people from every point in the globe are doing it and creating something original.
This is the second edition of MOTELx Festival. What changes do you made in this year's festival?
Basically we've centred the programme around a section called Room Service with recent titles from different countries. This is the model for MOTELx in the future. We've also created a new section dedicated to young people called Big Bad Wolf which consists on workshops for children around the theme of a film, carefully chosen for them. This is quite an adventure for us because parents are not very comfortable with this genre.
It seems that the festival staffs, including you, are all young. How this team gathered together?
This is basically the team of the CTLX - Lisbon Horror Film Club. We've all been friends for many years and used to gather at my attic to watch horror films at midnight and then started to attend film festivals like Fantasporto and Sitges. And it's great because everyone comes from different areas (film & TV production, graphic design, advocacy, web design, and history of art ...) so we never step on any others shoes and complement ourselves with our different knowledge. I guess the best part of organizing a festival is this process that leads to the event, changing ideas, finding a new sponsor, booking a film and basically learning different things.
MOTELx is a non-competitive festival. Do you intend to add any competition section to the festival in the future?
Right now there are too many film competitions in Lisbon, and we were never interested to have a competition section. We just want to focus on the film selection and in the festive aspect of a festival. Even the duration of a competitive festival seems too much for us, 10 days or more. But first we want to gain our space in the cultural life in Lisbon and then we'll see what's going to happen. Our main concern is not to rush things too much.
Last year you had Ivan Cardoso workshop program in the festival. Is there any similar workshop program for this year?
Yes, the Coffin Joe & Liz Marins workshop! Brazilian director Jose Mojica Marins, known for his cinematic alter-ego the gravedigger Coffin Joe (Ze do Caixao) and his daughter Liz Marins (film maker, writer and actress), will be conducting a workshop that's basically the production of a short film that will be screened on the closing ceremony of MOTELx. So, every participant gets to work/act in a Coffin Joe production.
Doc Horror is very interesting for me. What connection is there between the horror cinema and documentary?
Horror films were always very popular and survived other popular genres like the musical or the western. When you try to do a history of cinema of the 20th century, it's impossible to escape some films and you're forced to study them in relation to their social context. So, lots of films have been turned into classics and respected for their courage and subtext in relation to actual history: The Universal monsters and the big depression; sci-fi movies about giant insects or Godzilla in relation to the nuclear fear; Zombies and cannibals and the Vietnam War. Now you have lots of people interested in this history and start to see horror from a different perspective instead of just the exploitation angle. Every festival has its documentaries; we've just chosen to dedicate a whole selection to them, because it helps us to interpreter and enjoy these films.
Which countries have films in short film section and how do you evaluate their qualities?
We've selected films from Brazil, Canada, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and of course Iran. Spain rules the selection in every aspect, they really work this format before getting to the feature film, the other countries seem to be in tune with their current cinema; the new generation of Portuguese filmmakers are very interested in the gore aspects of horror.
This year the festival is going to have some short films from Iran for the first time. Considering the short films you have watched, how do you evaluate the view point of Iranians about Horror cinema?
The Iranian horror is much more into creating eerie and spooky atmospheres but in close relation to the Iranian contemporary society which is so unknown to the western world.
In my country, documentaries and short films is of great interest among the youth and intellectuals. What is the position of documentary and short film in Portugal? Do the governmental organizations support this cinema? Is there any keenness among the youth to make these films?
I guess the same. The government gives some funding to feature films, short films and documentaries independent of their financial return. So, it's very hard to get subsidies from the state, too many people trying their luck. Short film and documentary don't rely that much on big budgets; you find in this area much more independent production than in any other format. Besides that, there are film festivals just dedicated to Docs and Short-films which allow these films to be screened and sometimes selected to foreign festivals.
Who are your favourite filmmakers in Horror genre? What are your favourite films?
In horror genre I really like the masters: George A. Romeo, John Carpenter and David Cronenberg. My favourite horror films are Night of the Living Dead and Ichi the Killer.
What are your wishes for MOTELx to be reached in Portugal and the world?
In my country, I wish that people instinctively know that September is the month for quality horror films in Lisbon and come to the festival with open minds and festive spirit to celebrate films in its most all its aspects. Regarding the world, I hope that through interviews like this one, word gets spread and in the future we receive more and more films from everywhere, like it happened this year with Iranian short films or the first Afghan horror movie ever, and movie lovers know that there is a festival in sunny Portugal which tries to be different from any other in Europe.