Film Scouts Diaries

2010 Festroia International Film Festival Diaries
Part 1: Festroia Hot and Cold

by Henri Bιhar

SETUBAL, PORTUGAL, June 5, 2010 -- The minute you land in Lisbon, Portugal puts a smile on your face. The sun is shining bright, the colors are vivid, and the people – young, old, man, woman and child -- look you straight in the eye with a hint of a smile. Unlike their exuberant Mediterranean counterparts, the Portuguese are fairly reserved. Their rugged faces indicate that they have been through a lot lately – the financial and economic crisis that is ravaging the planet (aka "The Crisis") has hit Portugal pretty hard – but their Chicago-type broad shoulders let you know they will survive to tell the tale.

The occasion for the trip to Portugal is the 26th edition of Festroia – the international Festival of Cinema that takes place every year in Setubal, south of Lisbon, and runs from June 4 to 13. The Crisis impact is felt everywhere. The Festival's main theatre/reception hall went into extensive rehabilitation and upgrade two years ago – the rebuilding work has stopped. No money.

Since the show must go on, the show will go on. Festival director Fernanda da Silva and her team rolled up their sleeves and put together a temporary screening hall in a locale belonging to the Church. At the end of the day – make that the year – by begging, pleading, cajoling, calling on old debts and fearlessly asking for favors, they have come up with a festival that looks "normal".

Festroia selects films from countries that produce less than thirty movies a year, which excludes such "big factories" as India, China, France, the UK… and the USA (except for a program dedicated to American Independents). On the other hand, that gives more breathing space to films from Scandinavia, the Middle-East and the former Eastern Europe.

The films are dispatched in three main programs, the Official Selection, First Works, Man and His Environment (all of which include a Competition section). Add to that a number of sidebars, among them Cinema and Resistance, Great European Directors, a Focus on Portuguese Cinema and a Tribute to films from a specific country -- this year: Slovakia.

Browsing through the catalog is almost enough to wipe that smile off your face. As described in the Fest book, most films focus on all the ills, crises and warfare you can imagine: social, economical, ethnic, with families disintegrating or fighting over whether second-generation immigrants from Muslim countries should or should not wear the traditional veil (hijab, burka)…. If, as they sometimes say, cinema is a mirror held up to reflect, or foresee, reality, things are pretty glum worldwide.

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