Watch Films Online

Looking Back: A brief history of Curtas' International Competition

26 February 2020
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter

Short films seem to be back in fashion, with several famous directors recently returning to the format. Either as a form of experimentation with cinema’s possibilities, or as a way to get around the constraints of a traditional production, or the immediate result of an increasing easiness to share a work with the public through new technologies, there are many examples: from the short films by David Lynch and Paul Thomas Anderson for Netflix, to the short by the Safdie brothers released at the time of the debut of “Uncut Gems”, to works by Yorgos Lanthimos (“Nimic”) and Luca Guadagnino (“The Staggering Girl” ) presented at festivals, or even Jonathan Glazer’s film (“The Fall”) that interrupted the BBC broadcast. For many, it is a return to a format they adopted early in their career, a path from shorts to features that is part of a director's normal journey. It is this trajectory that allows shorts to be a window into the future of their authors, reflecting a time of definition of their cinema.

Curtas Vila do Conde, in its international competition, is proud to have accompanied several important names in world cinema since the beginning of their careers, and to present the possibility of discovering the authors exactly at that stage of their creative vision. The history of this competition in Curtas is long and fertile. It is the competition that has been going on since the first edition, in 1993, whose objective has always been to make new authors known, at an early stage of their career or otherwise not very known until then by the portuguese public as stated in the catalog of the first edition of festival: “Short film, short scale: there are many great names of today who were forged in this school (...) thus, promoting the short film is to participate in the construction of the present cultural universe, it is to prepare the cultural universe of tomorrow".

In the field of fiction, one of the most important names that the festival followed from an early stage is Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-Lang: winner of the prize for best fiction in 2003 (“La Passarelle Disparue”) and in 2009 (“Madame Butterfly” ), he alternates his feature films with shorter films, often repeating characters and themes, as a way of exploring new variations for his minimalist cinema; another notorious example is Apichatpong Weerasethakul: the subject of a retrospective at the festival in 2006 that made the filmmaker known to the Portuguese public, and also known as a visual artist for his installations presented at Solar - Cinematic Art Gallery, in 2009 his short “A Letter to Uncle Boonmee” was screened in competition, a precursor film to the work that would win the Cannes Festival a year later - thus illustrating the recurring possibility of using this format to work on a sketch of what may later be a feature film. Hou Hsiao-Hsien is another filmmaker of the Asian “new wave” that the festival also followed, but we can also speak of other names: from the American contingent, which helped discover authors like Spike Jonze, Harmony Korine or Sean Durkin, or the recent golden period of Romanian cinema, which revealed names like Adrian Sitaru and Corneliu Porumboiu, or the strong influence of French production, from Alain Guiraudie (awarded in 2002) to Louis Garrel (2011), to authors who today redefine a new identity for cinema in France, like Yann Gonzalez (awarded in 2006 and 2017) and Bertrand Mandico (Festival’s Grand Prize in 2011). One of the most recent examples of this happy coincidence of discovering authors through their short films is the Israeli Nadav Lapid, winner in 2016 of the Grand Prize of Curtas and recently awarded the top prize of the Berlin Festival in 2019.

Animation has always been a fundamental segment of this format, allowing greater contact with works that would otherwise be unlikely to be shown in movie theaters. In the first edition, in 1993, the festival awarded the work of Aleksandr Petrov, a Russian filmmaker who would later win the Oscar for Best Animation in 1999. In the following edition, it would be the turn to get to know the work of Nick Park, creator of the series “Wallace and Gromit”, awarded in that year for the film “The Wrong Trousers” (with which he would also win the Oscar), he would again be awarded by the public of Curtas in 1996 with “A Close Shave” - with 4 awards from the Hollywood Academy, he is one of the most acclaimed names in this genre. Humor is one of the hallmarks of this area of cinema and authors such as the American Bill Plympton, awarded in 2005 for “Guard Dog” and a constant presence at the festival since 1997, or the Belgian duo Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, authors of the series “Panique au Village”, present at the festival also since 1997 (and awarded at the festival in 2004, 2014 and 2019) are some of the authors that Curtas has accompanied throughout its various editions. David O'Reilly is an author who explores in an original way the possibilities of 3D and the intersection between animation and video games, as is the case of “Everything”, screened in 2017 - in addition to several selections in the competition, he was awarded in 2008 with his film “RGB XYZ”. Ludovic Houplain, one of the authors of “Logorama”, awarded with the Audience Award in 2009 and with Oscar the following year, returned in 2019 with “My Generation”, a new work on the icons of the modern world - it is a follow-up of its “authors” that is also part of the festival's identity and this competitive section.

The documentary genre has seen several evolutions over the years of the festival, which has accompanied the growing attention dedicated to the format and the tendencies of diminishing boundaries between this genre and fiction. It is something that is reflected by the authors that the festival has presented, as is the case with Sergei Loznitsa, Ukrainian director who alternates between documentary and fiction and often seeks a balance between the two - he was awarded in 1999 for the film “Life Autumn” and in 2001 with “Polustanok”, and is one of the authors with more presences in the international competition of Curtas. Another important name that demonstrates how documentary and fiction have become entangled in recent times is Nicolás Pereda, an award-winning filmmaker in 2009 (“Entrevista con la Tierra”) and 2014 (“El Palacio”). The documentary is also a comprehensive area, which offers space to authors who explore the experimental side of the format, like the cases of Deborah Stratman (awarded in 2003 and with several films screened over the years) or Thom Andersen (one of the authors  that made a film for Curtas, and awarded in 2011 with “Get Out of the Car”), or the more traditional side, as is the case with Victor Asliuk, a Belarusian director known for his candid portraits of figures on the margins of society. From one side to the other there are different definitions and interpretations of what cinema can be, immense possibilities represented by different cinematographies from different countries and cultures, and always authors to be discovered, waiting to surprise us with the imagination of cinema. The truth is that shorts have never stopped being fashionable.

(João Araújo)