In Portugal, film directors, producers, actors, technicians, distributors, film festivals and cinema guilds wrote an open letter to the Portuguese government, for which they received the support of the international community of cinema.
LETTER OF PROTEST AND SOLIDARITY
For decades Portugal has distinguished itself in the international film world. Despite being a small country with a miniscule national film market (less than a dozen national feature films are distributed in theatres per year) the percentage of Portuguese films that are shown in international festivals is very high. Systematically, since the 1980’s, Portuguese cinema has been lauded with cinema cycles and tributes; retrospectives about the work of numerous Portuguese filmmakers have been hosted internationally – several of these authors are still active (some subscribing this text), others have unfortunately passed away (João César Monteiro, Paulo Rocha, Fernando Lopes, António Reis, José Álvaro Morais, António Campos and, of course, Manoel de Oliveira). The “miracle” of the high international visibility of Portuguese films in relation to the small number of films produced – throughout decades and generations – is unquestionably due to the merit of the filmmakers, technicians, actors and producers in Portugal. It was also due to a cultural strategy that stimulated the production of a Cinema marked by strong singular proposals and creative freedom.
The cultural policy that allowed for Portugal’s distinctively diverse cinema was established through a Cinema Law and a Public Institute – the ICA. ICA organizes calls for film production financing proposals, defines rigorous participation regulations, establishes evaluation criteria fitting the policy promoted by the Ministry of Culture, and selects the juries to analyze the submissions. The profile for jury members is defined by law as “personalities with recognized cultural merit and impartiality”. Thus, filmmakers and film technicians, as well as film critics, artists, writers, architects, musicians, cultural programmers or university professors were nominated to be part of the board of experts that approve film projects.
From 2013 onwards, a new decree-law (amendment) to the Cinema Law was passed and a new executive board of the Portuguese Film Institute (ICA) was established. This new board, seemingly allergic to it’s responsibility and ignorant of the ICA’s regulatory role, has outsourced the duty of nominating juries to a non-governmental committee composed of delegates with vested interests in the outcome of the support programs: representatives of television stations, cable operators, among others. This corporate committee now has the power to nominate the juries that evaluate and approve film projects financed by ICA, fomenting collusion and a clear conflict of interests since, in many cases, the committee that now selects the jury represents organizations that directly profit from the jury’s selection.
The outcome of this situation has been immediately evident: the requirement expressed in the regulation that jury members be “personalities of recognized cultural merit” has not been met. In recent years some of the jury members for cinema projects are bank managers with connections to cinema and marketing managers of telecom operators.
The current government – hostage to pressures exerted by TV cable operators – is now preparing to approve a new decree-law that perpetuates and exacerbates this problem, endangering the existence of the very cinema that has distinguished Portugal internationally. A very significant group of Portuguese filmmakers and producers stated their opposition to this promiscuous and flawed system, declaring to the government their refusal to participate in jury nominations. They do not wish to influence the appointment of juries, nor do they accept that anyone interested in the outcome of the financing programs can participate in the process. They believe that transparency can only be guaranteed if the nomination of juries is the exclusive responsibility of ICA., They call for the nomination of a directing board of ICA capable of accepting its responsibilities and conscious of ICA’s dual role as the executor of a cultural policy for Portuguese cinema and regulator of this activity.
The subscribers to this protest letter wish to remind the State that Portuguese Cinema is not exclusively a Portuguese concern. Therefore, they wish to show their solidarity with Portuguese filmmakers and producers who are opposed to this process and express their firm repudiation should the decree-law be approved.
Download the Letter HERE.