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Looking Back: the stories of the Portuguese Competition

5 May 2020
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The Portuguese Competition had its debut in the third edition of Curtas, in 1995. It is the second competition of the festival with greater longevity, only behind the International Competition. The history of this competition is also the history of Curtas and closely linked to the most important events in Portuguese cinema in the last three decades. This is evident when recalling some of the names that found in Curtas a space to flourish and expand their artistic vision, particularly in a period of renovation and reinvention of Portuguese cinema from the 90's, which even led to the popularization of the expression “Geração Curtas” (Curtas Generation), coined by Augusto M. Seabra. He wrote in 1999, in the newspaper “Público”: «Most of these authors differ from the older ones in the sense that they do not encourage any particular spirit of mission to reproduce any dominant image of “Portuguese cinema”, they are interested in making cinematic art and that's enough». Proof of the current validity of this statement is the way in which, during the period of the last economic crisis in Portugal and the scarcity of funds for cinema, short films were once again essential to glimpse into the future of Portuguese cinema.

One of the most important authors associated with “Geração Curtas” and whose journey has been closely followed by the festival since the beginning is Miguel Gomes, who presented his first film “Entretanto” in the 1999 edition. The film, which accompanies a trio of teenagers on summer days under the influence of amorous enchantments and inner uncertainties in an ethereal and melancholy portrait, won the award for Best Director of the Portuguese Competition, revealing an affirming filmmaker, searching for his own cinema. In the following years Miguel Gomes would be a regular presence at the festival, reinventing himself with each new film, such as “Inventário de Natal” (2000), “Kalkitos” (2002), “31” (2002) and “Cântico das Criaturas” (2006), which won the prize for Best Film. The festival would later witness the debut of his feature films, such as “Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto” (2008) and the trilogy “As Mil e Uma Noites” (2015).


Another inseparable author of this period of Portuguese cinema and who left his mark on this competition several times, is João Nicolau. The director presented his first work in the 2006 edition, “Rapace”, a musical poem with sentimental and humorous notes about the adventures of a boy, with which he won the Grand Prize for Best Film; later with “Canção de Amor e Saúde” (2009) he would be awarded the Best Film of the National Competition, and would also present “O Dom das Lágrimas” (2012, out of competition) and “Gambozinos” (2013, honorable mention in the Curtinhas section, dedicated to films for children), films that made it possible to accompany the refining of a unique visual sense.


However, to talk about “Geração Curtas” is to talk about Sandro Aguilar, who has been a constant presence throughout the festival almost since its first edition, and is one of the most relevant names in Portuguese cinema in recent years, not only for his work as a director and editor, but also for his important work as a producer (he produced, for example, the first films by Miguel Gomes and João Nicolau, but also films by Manuel Mozos and Ivo Ferreira). In 1998, he was quoted by Augusto M. Seabra: «Whoever is making short films today has a way of seeing things different from previous generations. Some are provocative and bet on the possibility of not needing a narrative story. That is how potential filmmakers are created». With a distinct visual style, closer to the experimental and sensorial, Curtas has followed over the years the different permutations of a filmmaker always willing to take risks: in 1998 he was the winner of the Prize for Young Portuguese Filmmaker with the film “Estou Perto”; in 2001 his film “Corpo e Meio” was the winner of the Prize for Best Film in the National Competition, and also the nominee of the festival for the European Film Awards, a nomination that he repeated in 2005 with “A Serpente”; after several appearances in the National competition, in 2017 he presented his second feature film, “Mariphasa”.


If throughout the short history of Curtas in its history of 27 editions some Portuguese films were awarded in categories that go beyond this competition, only in 2006 the main prize of the festival - the Grand Prize for Best Film in Competition (which encompasses all competing films, national and international) was attributed for the first time to a Portuguese film: “Rapace” by João Nicolau. And if only after 13 editions this prize was awarded to a Portuguese director, it would happen again only in 2013, in the twentieth edition of Curtas, with “Carosello” by Jorge Quintela. However, recently something seems to have changed and this barrier has been broken: Filipa César was awarded the Grand Prix in 2015 for “Mined Soil”, and in 2017 Marta Mateus received an equal distinction for “Farpões Baldios”.


These new occurrences also seem to signal another trend, which is the fact that more and more of the award-winning films belonged to female directors, the result of a welcome change in the paradigm in the panorama of national production. In addition to the mentioned names, Curtas has made known new female authors such as Ana Maria Gomes (in 2016, with “António Lindo António”), Alice Eça Guimarães and Mónica Santos (Audience Award in 2015 with “Amélia & Duarte, and in 2018, with “Entre Sombras”), Salomé Lamas (Best Documentary in 2012 for “Community”) and Leonor Noivo (honorable mention in 2012 for “A Cidade e o Sol”), or the most recent awards in the category of Best Director: Margarida Lucas (2015 with “Rampa”), Ana Moreira (2018 with “Aquaparque”) and Mariana Gaivão (2019 with “Ruby”).


Several other names over the years helped to build the identity of Curtas and also a new identity for Portuguese cinema. The first Portuguese awarded at Curtas was in fact Abi Feijó, an essential name of the Portuguese animation, in the second edition in 1994, even before the creation of a National Competition. In 1995 the first prize for the National Competition was awarded to Marco Martins (for “Mergulho de Ano Novo”, co-directed with João Braz), a director who would later be awarded in Cannes with his first film “Alice” (2005); like Martins, other names were distinguished at the beginning of their careers with the award for Best Film, such as Inês de Medeiros in 1998, Margarida Cardoso in 1999, Jorge Cramez in 2002, Rodrigo Areias in 2008; or even Ivo Ferreira in 1999 (Young Portuguese Filmmaker Award), Daniel Blaufuks in 2001 (Best Director). In addition to these names, the festival made it possible to discover the forays into the short film format by renowned authors, such as Pedro Costa (prize for Best Film in 2011, with “O Nosso Homem”) and João Pedro Rodrigues (2012, nomination for the European Film Awards with “Manhã de Santo António” and 2017, Best Film with “Où en êtes-vous, João Pedro Rodrigues?”), who is himself a frequent presence at the festival, often in collaboration with João Guerra da Mata, as in the case of Curtas commissioned film, “Mahjong” (2013).


In the already long history of Curtas, and of the countless and valuable authors who passed through the festival, there is however a curiosity to note: three names won the National Competition twice, leaving their mark on the honors with their cinema, from social to documentary to intimate and personal: Pedro Caldas, with "Pedido de Emprego" in 2000, and in 2007 with "Europe 2007"; Miguel Clara Vasconcelos with "Documento Boxe" in 2005 and "O Triângulo Dourado" in 2012; and Basil da Cunha with “À Côté” in 2010, and “Os Vivos também Choram” in 2012. Recently it has been Gabriel Abrantes, another prolific author with several appearances in Curtas, whose creative streak reveals an irreverent and unpredictable author always willing to taking risks and reinventing oneself, which has been distinguished with several awards: honorable mention in 2011 (with “Fratelli”, co-directed with Alexandre Melo), Best Director in 2016 and 2017 (with “A Brief History of Princess X” and “Os Humores Artificiais”), and Best Fiction and nomination for the European Film Academy awards in 2019 (“Les extraordinaires mésaventures de la jeune fille de pierre”).


If the history of Curtas and the national competition is the sum of its various authors and visions, its future will also be a mirror of what we have witnessed so far: surprising, exciting, tempting, vital and in constant renovation and reinvention, which corresponds to a desire to intervene artistically over the world. In other words, returning to the text about “Geração Curtas”: «they are interested in making cinematic art and that's enough».

(João Araújo)