November 16, 2007
■ SFN INTERVIEW / Evora Short Film Festival Director Joao Paulo Macedo
The 6th edition of Evora International Short Film Festival (Fike 2007) will be opened in the small and ancient town of Evora in Portugal today whereas there will be some changes in it comparing previous editions. The 6th edition was to be held last year but due to some problems it was cancelled and it is going to be held this year by adding another competitive section to it.
Joao Paulo Macedo, the Festival Director, in an interview with SFN told us about the programs and goals of the festival, the recent changes, the position of short films in Portugal, etc.
What are the goals of FIKE Festival? Do you have any special manifest in selecting the works and planning the festival programs?
The main goal at FIKE - and I believe we have it in common with most Festivals in the world, is promote film as a form of art, promoting new audiences and new and different cinematic experiences. We also want to promote Cinema - as a mix of the different artistic forms and expressions- as one media for cultural development and understanding. Promoting cultural diversity is one way to be yourself and better know the others.
On the other side, we aim to create new opportunities for films and audiences, giving films and filmmakers the opportunity to meet the audience, and giving the audience the opportunity to see films that would not be possible out of the Festival environment.
Evora is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Towns, with a very interesting cultural life along the year. When we decided to found the Festival in 2001, there where no events related with Cinema in town. This historical set is, in my opinion, a great space for reflection and gathering the modernity of new cinematic approaches. So promoting the city and the region is also one of our goals.
Being a International Film Festival organized by film society we have special concerns with youth and kids. Since the very first edition the Festival promotes cinema for the schools and training programs especially for young people. We go to every school in town and pick the children to the cinema; this is like a farmer that sows his field. We hope to get the kids involved in the Festival activities will bring more spectators for Cinema in the future.
The training programs within the Festival is another way to promote Cinema, not only in those that have a special interest or that are studying filmmaking or arts, but for general teens. Some times one single experience promotes a change. If we contribute for that change even only in one person- and we did it in many- it worth the work and efforts we have made.
On the other hand, we organize some special activities for professionals and to get them involved in the Festival. These professional workshops are gaining more importance from one edition to the other. Gathering professionals from different countries makes possible interchanges and the birth of new projects.
To answer you the second question I need to explain briefly how the selection happens. This is a participated process. The Selecting Committee - me and 14 other people- make a pre-selection. After this pre-selection process we get 300 films that could be present at the Festival. There is a second stage: we see the films all together in a screening room and we discuss them at the end of each screening. This is how we arrive to the 150 finalists. To finish the selection the programmer and I choose the films that will be present in each Competition at the Festival.
As you can imagine this is a hard process but allows us to look for that "special aspect" that makes one film different and unique. Let's say that, being involved in all the process, allows me to conduct the process according to the goals of the Festival: to screen good films and have the best selection possible.
Firstly I told you the main goals of the Festival regarding the films and audience. The Festival is the opportunity for gathering. This could be a mathematic formula (a+b=c) but then you'd loose the sensitivity needed to select a piece of art and we don't want loose it!
How much have you got closer to your goals in the past 5 years? Do the past years' experiences made you change your programming and the way of holding the festival?
When one is involved in a project, you always give a lot of your personality to hat project. I am one unsatisfied and unconformist person so is hard to say we achieved this when you know that - in other circumstances it can be different.
Anyway, I believe that the Festival gained projection and credibility trough the years- and being one young project that is a great achievement. We believe that, under the present and past circumstances, we got closer to our goals and sometimes we over passed the initial previsions. On the first two editions of the Festival we had the feeling that is "our Festival", on the third edition we started feeling the audience demanding the Festival. It was no longer "our" but a people's festival; it doesn't belong to us no more. We are just responsible for making it happen! This is a great feeling and gives you (even) more responsibility in all the planning; selecting and making the Festival happen procedures.
The philosophy and way of holding the Festival are the same since the first edition, but of course we made changes on the way of doing things in order to make it better every year.
Which one is of your great importance: the national aspect and its effects on short films in Portugal or the international aspects of the festival?
I think we treat things at same level. The main concern for us is the general quality of the Festival. When you make things in one honest way, with responsibility and quality, you are respected and gain credibility. This is the most important thing when you start a project that you believe in and that has one enormous potential.
What is the position of short films in Portugal? Does it known as an impressing medium on the filmmakers and audiences points of view?
Short filmmaking has always two sides. You make a short film because you want start a career in filmmaking and this is the usual path to that. Or you make a short film because you want try this technical or artistic approach to a story or subject. Filmmaking in general in Portugal never passed for a professional level, in the sense that you are not a professional director or whatever you do in film. There is no film industry in our country. So you have also to be a teacher or coach workshops or working in any other area. Considering this, the new media have a growing role in short filmmaking. Video in general (but digital video and more recently the HDV) made the difference and now you can see the democratisation of film production happening in fact. The number of films produced increases every year. Independent filmmaking, school films arrived to one impressive level these last years. I believe it is getting more and more audience and soon will start make a difference in our society.
What has been your great task in holding this festival in all these years?
Making it happen every year is one Herculean task! On the organizational aspects the experience allows us to improve and, in that way, easier task every year. But when it comes to finance and conditions to promote the Festival and make it happen things are a little different and we have to work hard for several months and finally we only get the answers one or two months in advance for the Festival.
FIKE did not hold last year due to the problems you had about sponsor. Do you still have financial problems?
Yes, it is for us a permanent struggle. The Festival is still based in lot of good will. We hope things will change from now on. Organizing the Festival is a very expensive task that demands a lot of resources. We got a small sponsorship from the Institute of Cinema on last editions. This year it is a little bit more but not significant. The Municipality of Evora has one important role on financing and these are the public sponsors of the Festival. The rest of the budget we have to get from private and benevolent sponsors, but the economical crisis in our country in the last years doesn't help on that too.
This year you have a special section: Taxi and Urban Mobility. Are you planning to continue this method for the next year and arrange special sections for this festival?
We started a Special Competition in 2005, when it was celebrated the Bicentennial of the local Library. It was on way for us to associate to that celebration and also to give it more visibility. Then we previewed to have a Special Competition on the Patrimony celebrating the 20th anniversary of the declaration of Evora as World Heritage Town; unfortunately we could not hold the Festival.
This year we had this special competition within a great event that happen in Lisbon the present month. The International Taxi Festival - one scientific and cultural meeting organized by a Scientific Institute from Paris (the IVM -Institute for moving City). We are very proud that we have been chosen as Cinema Partner to organize this short film competition. This was a great experience and with great success.
Seems it will continue, and we have already plans for 2008.
How this special section is being received and how many films have been sent for it?
Well is always a challenge for the producers and directors. We like to be provocative some times, in the sense that you can always find one original side to look at one reality. What is interesting is that you always can find new approaches. We could do it differently and challenge directors and producers: "ok, guys let's make some films for the festival under this theme" but for us discovering is much more interesting sometimes so we say: "Hi guys, have anyone made a film on this subject in the last five years?" And we receive much more answers like that. For the Special Competition FIKE / IVM we received 163 films from 37 different countries (this is the final statistic, as we received many films without any connection with the subject). So I believe we got one great answer.
How was the variation of the films in subject, form and quality that have been sent for the official competition of FIKE? From which countries have you received the most films?
The subjects and approaches to cinema among the 2166 films from 74 different countries that we consider for this year's Festival are incredibly diversified. On quality, I can tell you that we could have about 350-400 high quality films that could be screened at the Festival - in a way this give you one idea of the difficulty we are having in the final selection. This is for us one great challenge!
We receive many films that we would love to screen anyway but we are limited at a certain number (of films and scheduling time). We receive films that are not technically brilliant but the aesthetics and treatment are great. We always have a dilemma at a moment like this... but we do not like things easy and prefer to do things the right way.
We received a considerable number of films from Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom, Iran, Germany and Italy. This is the TOP6 with more than 150 films.
Short film is known as an artist medium all over the world, on the contrary to professional cinema, and is not profitable for the filmmakers. How do you see the future of short film?
I always look the future optimistically. On the last decade- so to speak - we saw a growing number of filmmakers with lot of creative energy emerging from short filmmaking. In the short story of FIKE we have the honor to be part of their careers. Some of previous participants in FIKE are now prominent cinema personalities in their countries and in the world. That makes us feel happy and honored. If we speak in economical terms, is not profitable for a filmmaker to make a short film but artistically I believe each film is a great achievement and always look for the next one!
On the other hand, being so easy nowadays with technologies to make a film, I believe in short film not only as a first step into a professional career but also as a form of expression, self and artistic expression. And until the last human being standing I believe he or she has something to say to the world, and Cinema is the most powerful and complete way to tell it!
Short films have this power; you can spread easily and make your voice heard by many people all around the world (we just need to look at internet to understand this). Nowadays anyone can make a short film. The ones we look for are those that goes far beyond the techniques and technologies, where the self-expression, the story take the form of Art. Films from one kind or the other will be made everyday. Short filmmaking is one activity that I believe will last and always create new opportunities for everyone.
This year you have received many films from Iran. Please tell us the qualities and the strengths of these films that have attracted your attention.
From so large number of films it is difficult to name specifically this or that provenance. What seduces me in lot of films from Iran is the poetic approach to the plot. In a short fiction film, sometimes acting is not good; the camera seems a bit erratic but the treatment and the story are very interesting.
On documentary films I found a lot of interesting subjects with a great cinematographic treatment.
I think that two or three of those films we received are really great pieces of cinema and many others could be, in fact, good films but for one reason or another they were lost on the way of story telling.
I believe you know the recipe for a good achievement: usually 1% of inspiration and 99% or hard work. Sometimes the 1% is there but part of the rest is missing. But this is not a particular aspect of short films, and not specific from Iranian shorts, this lack is one thing that we see in everyday life experience.
Is FIKE interested in having connection and cooperation with the similar events in Iran?
FIKE is a project that was born in a partnership between one of the oldest cultural associations in Evora (SOIR Joaquim Antonio de Aguiar) and one of the newest at the time: the University of Evora Film Society. In the past editions for one activity or another we always had other partners that joined us. Our activity is a permanent "work in progress" project and we welcome every one, individual, festival or institution that brings a plus to the Festival. We cooperate already with other Festivals and I believe we have mutual benefits with this cooperation, and our answer is always "yes, let's came out with a common project and try to make it work"! As I said in the beginning of this interview, we look for cultural diversity; I believe a partner in Iran can help us to reach that goal.
Do your government support producing and presenting short films in your country?
Yes in a certain way but when we come to this point, I tend always to say no, not enough! But that happens in the present world and Occidental societies where anything you do is measured in figures and treated by numbers only.
There is one yearly program to finance film festivals - but with budget that is not enough and the distribution of national support is not equitable to the quality of the projects.
In the field of production there are special funding programs in the ICA- Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual, for short fiction, short animation and documentaries.