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Don Quijote prize in L’Alternativa (Barcelona) Juan Manuel García Report

alternativa17L’Alternativa is already the main road

For 24 years, L’Alternativa has organized a very special festival to show that a different cinema is possible. This cinema, although is not the most common in theaters, has become predominant in today’s good festivals.

I remember its initial sessions, and their searches for independent movies. In order to offer this “alternative cinema”, that had fought outside the system in our country. Also its magnificent latest retrospectives, with filmmakers like Raymond Depardon, Lucrecia Martel, Alain Cavalier, Anne-Marie Meiville, or Maurice Pialat. Retrospectives that I always tried to attend. All sessions were always accompanied by debates and other complementary acts, which have been building all the multi-faceted gear that is the festival today.

Today it is even more difficult to define the festival, given the variety of acts that it entails: The projection of long and short films both in the official and the parallel sections; the CCCB’s hall “open screen” activities; presentations, round tables, workshops, professionals days,… All these during the week of the festival although, in fact, the activities were extended later, with a cycle in the Film Library and the opportunity to see again some titles in the Filmin platform.

As the previous weeks had been very conflictive for Barcelona, it was feared that, worried about the political issues that have surrounded us in recent times, it was people that would not like to participate in a cultural activity such as L’Alternativa. On the contrary, the inaugural session, with Zama, was a real bomb, with the “Sold out” poster at the box office and lots of people missing the opportunity to see the movie. The rest of the sessions, if ever never came to saturate the theater, always had much more spectators than the commercials theaters. If we add the high concurrence of guests to make his presentations, seminars and other events, we should be very satisfied with the edition, hoping that next year we will not be in any exceptional circumstances, and we should not be afraid of the normal development of a festival that requires so many organizational efforts.

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An organization, it must be said, that treated filmmakers, juries and all participants with great affection and generosity. The International Film Societies Federation was once again invited to give the Quijote Prize at the festival. The three components of its jury were the active Emília Mazek (from Poznan, Poland, for which Film Festival she travels the world in search of short films), the reflective Nanjundiaha Shashidhara (who, besides allowing us to confirm the very different mentality that lies in India -proceeds from Bangalore- told us immediately that, to facilitate things, we could simply call him Shashi) and myself. We shared a table in the restaurant with the entire organization and other guests (in very useful cinematographic meetings. We had a room reserved to watch films on demand or to rest for a moment, we are always treated in a deferential manner for all the staff of the festival. Our most sincere thanks to all.

L’Alternativa has made me change my idea that cinema interests only those older than 55. It was enough a tour of the different locations of the acts, and let’s not says the Hall of the Open Screen, to prove that it is not true. L’Alternativa proves that cinema is alive and passionate people of all ages. But let’s go to the projected films.

Films in competition. The jewels

The Quijote award does not take that name by chance. It is decidedly in favour of lost causes and, in this sense, it can be found in competition, at least this year, a good number of films worthy of the prize. This will be understood if I explain that I have see a common denominator in virtually all the films of the official selection. All the films speak about their own time, a time that hurt them. They are never naive. They know the difficulty, even the impossibility, of success of their protagonists, people that either have been marginalized, or are suffering fin order to overcome themselves, and move on. Some of them have taken a singular decision, with very few, if not null, possibilities of success. What is clear is that they deserve our admiration, and all our recognition. The films of the competition that have most interested me, could have received the Don Quixote Award, in this sense, with all merit.

We can stop first in a huge movie, and not just for its three-hour duration. A fabrica de nada (Pedro Pinho) has, fortunately, a distributor, and we’ll can then enjoy it in cinemas and in our films societies. It is an excellent choice bet for a session with a fructiferous colloquium.

Funny, exciting, varied, the film presents the definitive vision on the subject of a factory’s occupation by its workers when their owners are thinking to move to other more profitable business. Its first sequence presents us two machines dismantling huge deposits and then, during credit titles, some robot machines in their dynamic work. But just after we see a scene of sex, an activity reserved for humans. The occupation of the factory is far from being shown as a heroic and determined act. Doubts and discussions take place between workers and their families, while the human resources responsible attacks precisely the familiar flanks that are most vulnerable. A foreign theorist who comes to analyse the events is beaten several times… While the workers, bored, waste their time playing near the Machines, Pedro Pinho introduces songs and dances, as if were a musical comedy.

The inclusion of these elements of comedy should not deceive us. The film presents “the state of art” of the so-called “economic crisis”, based on a lucid awareness about the current impossibility of success of an initiative such as a factory occupation. The final appeal, however, to the real occupation of a Portuguese factory and the presence of the song by José Afonso (“Já o tempo s’habitua”), is telling us those resistance actions should not be stopped, and that those who make the movie will always be emotionally committed to them. They warn us that the system goes into destruction and they question us what people will do with this knowledge. The film won the main award of the official section.

a fabrica

Joking -but not too much- I told my jury colleagues of the Quijote Prize that we would never find a movie more aligned with this prize than one that was called, precisely, Donkeyote

Donkeyote (Chico Pereira) is a living example that a political film does not have to be boring. On the contrary: It can be a very funny film. It shows us the live and ambitions of Manolo, an old man who wants to go with his donkey Gorrión (Sparrow) from his Andalusia to North America, to continue there the long route done by the Indians Xeroquis when they were expelled from their lands. Manolo lives with his dog and his donkey (and both have fun scenes) in the midst of our Western civilization. A sequence of the movie emphasizes the situation, showing Manolo and his animals walking peacefully on a dirt road while on his left and right cars and trucks pass at full speed. The movie shows another virtuous political attitude of resistance maintain a virtuous political stance of resistance. As if you could continue living in an ancient world, although you already know that you cannot.

Don keyote

Curiously, another film in competition has the same subject, that of a peculiar passive resistance. El mar nos mira de lejos (Manuel Muñoz Rivas), has however a very different on formal and dramatic approach. In this case, the film follows the lives of the last workers on the beach of Doñana. A fisherman who rides in his bike to walk with a girl, a man who collects wood in the forest and lives on the beach, seeing imperturbable the guards of the natural park coming constantly to measure their hut for a sure future demolition, or seeing day-to-day tourists in micro-buses, climbing the dunes while listening an explanation vomited by the speaker, or watching as more and more bathers leave the shores of the beach without seafood. Not only the spectators do we see all this. At a certain moment we see the images framed by a hypothetical film crew that looks at everything. It can be an allegory of the old searchers of Tartessos or a team exploring the tourist possibilities of the area, but also an allegory of the technical team working to offer us the film.

On several occasions, the main action goes to the second term, and we then contemplate how water follows its courses, or how the sand flows also unstoppable over the days, until the dune buries everything again. A reflection about the subordination of the human actions to other events of a higher level. In these cases both the sound and the images of the film seem to approach those of an experimental film, due to its perfection in the creation of atmospheres. The filmmaker Mauro Herce is the director of photography of this movie, winner of the critic’s prize.

el mar nos mira de lejos

Stranger in paradise (Guido Hendrikx) breaks the scheme of other films in competition. In a format that could be suitable for television, it is also, in my opinion, another of those films that can provide a very good cinema-club session. It begins with a historical review based on documentaries about immigration to Europe, to continue with three chapters with the corresponding titles. In the first two, in a theoretical class, a teacher concentrates a group of immigrants arriving in Holland and explains –in a very direct language- what they represent for his country and his society. In the first chapter everything looks quite negative. In the second, he shows the possible positive side. In the third, the teacher makes a practical example of how he would act with each of his students scrupulously applying Dutch asylum rules. In the magnificent epilogue, a distant camera contemplates a scene that takes place in North Africa with local people talking with the actor who represented the professor in the other chapters. A great self-criticism, in which the authors of the film tell us that their political essay is, in fact, useless.

stranger

The Jury of the FICC gave the Quijote award, wishing that it can help to distribute the movie at least by the network of film societies, to Taste of cement (Ziad Kalthoum), also focusing, among other issues, on migration. The film starts with panoramic views of an old quarry and a travelling from a drone (the drones are changing the formal appearance of many films!) above an old road, to discover that just behind it is a great city, Beirut, full of buildings. Then there is a cut and we see the ruins of a building, and just next to him a totally new one. Two of the contrasts with which the film constantly plays.

It continues at that time with a confession, narrated by the voice in off that will speak to us throughout the film. It is an image, a memory of the father of the narrator when he was a child. He is in Syria, he wakes up, goes to the kitchen and there he sees the sea, that is really a picture that his father has brought to him, after a long time of being away from home. He sees the sea again, but now through the windows of the skyscraper that he is building. In fact, we do not see the sea only framed in the windows holes of the new building. In one sequence that remove the breath, we climb up the stairs of the high crane, we remain in the highest scaffolds and we observe a highway always full of cars, the beach and the large agglomeration of the city.

Taste of cement is constituted entirely by dualities. He talks about a personal, intimate situation (this Syrian boy working in Beirut, playing the same life as his father), but at the same time he talks about a much more general drama. Fluctuates between the night and the day, the light and the dark, the heights and the underground in which the Syrian workers, affected by the curfew, must take refuge, between a world of verticals towards the sky and another world of horizontals, in hell. At some point, the soundtrack ceases to be synchronous, to record the environmental roar and then, with these amazing images, we enter, from the political film, into an art film: it seems that we go through the trip described in the Mauro Herce’s movie, Dead Slow Ahead. But, above all, the duality that stands out in Taste of cement is that between destruction and construction, as the first one, caused by war, leads to the second, and this in continuous succession.

Sometimes the image of the building is seen perfectly as a cage. A metaphor of captive life in which many are closed, between the continuous construction and destruction. The film, apart from our Quijote award, was also worthy of a special mention from the official jury.

taste of cement

Other films in competition

These were, in my opinion, the best films of the official section, but it can be said that the whole films selection was the product of a very laborious work. Milla (Valérie Massadian), also interesting, does not reach, in my opinion, the intensity of his previous Nana, perhaps due to a casting problem and a lack of chemistry between the main characters. El mar, la mar (Joshua Bonnetta, J. P. Sniadecki) uses the experimental cinema to trace the traces of the lethal clandestine passage of Mexicans to the United States through the border of Sonora. In a scene, while we see a horse, we hear the soundtrack of Johnny Guitar, but there is no epic or poetry: the horse starts to shit. Meanwhile, the much-anticipated Zama (Lucrecia Martel), who was seen out of competition at the inaugural session, speaks about her usual process of destruction, but I do not know very well why, in this occasion, she looks for one of her putrefied worlds in centuries ago, when she is so good talking about the world of today.

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And other appointments

Attention due to official programming leaves very little time to see other things, but I was very happy to see the three-hour movie by Eric Pauwels, Les films revés (2010), which brought me closer to one of those chosen filmmakers who make small-format films, in the first person. I saw in the following week his La deuxième nuit (2016), which L’Alternativa also presented in Filmin, and after that I already have the world of Pauwels’s small linked stories as a reference to follow.

A magnificent round table about the post-truth, with Macarena Recuerda and Elías León Siminiani, conducted very well by Josep Maria Català and the morning of a day for professionals that the strength of María Cañas will make it difficult to forget, were the other two acts from the festival to which I could also attend, combined in memory with tourist tours around the city with my jury comrades. Next year, although not part of the enviable watchtower that is the jury of the Quijote award, I will go to all the projections and events that will be appealing of the 25th edition of L’Alternativa, which, if it follows the line of the current edition, I am sure that they will be almost all.

J.M. García Ferrer – Cineclub Associació d’Enginyers de Barcelona

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This entry was posted on December 4, 2017 by in Don Quijote, DON QUIJOTE PRIZE, Federació catalana de cineclubs, Uncategorized.

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