The documentary landscape in Portugal is coming alive. While it was decidedly quiet for many years, a new generation of Portuguese filmmakers with an interest in non-fiction is emerging. ‘It’s very recent that Portuguese filmmakers are making documentaries,’ says Renée Gagnon, general manager of Lisbon-based distributor Marfilmes. ‘The state just started providing money to make documentaries. In the beginning, there was only money to make long feature films. Now, there is possibility. There’s a new school of documentarists.’
The non-fiction movement is being spurred by a series of events that focus on docs in the hope that if you build buzz, the money will come. One of the lead voices behind the movement in Portugal is Luís Correia, an independent producer with his own company, Lx Filmes. In 1998, Correia co-founded the Portuguese Documentary Film Association (AporDOC), which promotes the Doc’s Kingdom seminars in Serpa, Portugal (September 17-21, 2002). More recently, Correia is responsible for the first annual Lisbon International Documentary Film Festival (June 1 to 9). The event seeks to promote international doc production and to give exposure to new directors, as well as those outside the main distribution markets.
The LIDFF is primarily for the public, but a sister event, the Lisbon Docs Conference, also sponsored by AporDOC, attracts more industry members with its pitching forum. The conference is in its fourth year and runs concurrently with this month’s festival.
Despite its name, the LIDFF is not limited to docs. There is a competition segment for docs, both Portuguese and international, but another component incorporates fiction films. Correia explains that the festival looks for films that are the exception to broadcaster regulated films, which he says tend to be similar in length and subject matter. ‘We look for films that exist outside of the broadcaster’s system of production, even if they are a result of the production with broadcasters,’ he explains.
Portuguese subject matter is common in docs, as are subjects related to Africa. Correia, who is working on a film about African dance, says African subjects are popular thanks to Portugal’s colonial ties with the continent. Gagnon is distributing the Portuguese-made series Great Revolutionary African Leaders by prodco Continental Filmes. The film has garnered interest from Canal France International, which broadcasts across Africa, as well as SABC in South Africa.
There are two main broadcasters in Portugal that show docs – the public television network Radiotelevisao Portuguesa, which supports channels RTP1 and RTP2, and the privately owned Sociedade Independente de Comunicacao (SIC). RTP commissions docs, while SIC primarily acquires them. The cultural channel RTP2 has been a strong force in supporting and broadcasting docs, but Marfilmes’ Gagnon says there has been talk of shutting it down since the election of Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso and his Social Democratic Party in April of this year. The buzz is loud enough that Gagnon, who buys 50 hours of docs per year, hasn’t taken on any projects that are currently in development. ‘It’s too risky,’ she says. ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen.’
Gagnon previously distributed only feature films, but began acquiring docs for her catalog about three years ago. She has experience selling docs to broadcasters RTP and SIC in Portugal, and also sells films by Portuguese directors to other countries. Gagnon says the average fee for docs offered by RTP and SIC is between US$2,000 and $3,000 per hour. There are also two cable stations derived from SIC – SIC Notícias (News) and SIC Radical – but Gagnon says they buy at a very low price. ‘It is very difficult to do business with them, because they buy at $300 per hour.’
Gonçalo Galvao Teles, a producer with Lisbon-based prodco Fado Filmes, is also concerned about the potential loss of broadcaster RTP2. ‘We make films, but we don’t know if they are going to be seen,’ says Teles. ‘If TV exhibition is in danger, who will see them?’
Teles’ father Luís pitched Loro Sae – The Rebirth of a Nation at the IDFA in January. The doc, which chronicles the story of East Timor’s path to independence, has 85% of the (euro)185,000 (US$169,000) budget secured. Contributors include the Portugal film institute ICAM, YLE TV 1 Finland and RTP. At press time, the film was expected to wrap by the start of this month.
ICAM (which stands for Instituto do Cinema, Audiovisual e Multimedia) is one of the main financial resources for Portuguese filmmakers. Part of Portugal’s Ministry of Culture, ICAM supports the production and promotion of Portuguese film. Each year ICAM offers commissions for feature films, documentaries and shorts, and makes different tiers of money available for projects at various stages of development.
Correia says film directors have more freedom in Portugal than in other countries, because ICAM will provide money to a director who hasn’t yet secured a producer or upfront funding. With money in hand, it’s easier for a director to find a producer for a project.
Once a director receives funding from ICAM, public television station RTP also becomes involved. It broadcasts films sponsored by ICAM and often offers additional funding. Says Correia, ‘We have more activity than five years before, not because of the Portuguese broadcasters, but because of the system of financing from the film institute – and because of an increased interest in seeking coproductions outside Portugal.’
Correia says ICAM supports a lot of docs, but there’s not always enough money to go around. As a result, many filmmakers have started looking for financing outside of Portugal. ‘[ICAM] has a lot more projects presented to it than money to support them,’ notes Correia. ‘When we try to produce a film, we expect to have money from the film institute and from the public broadcaster, and we try to get support from other companies, but it’s not usual.’ Correia and his team have thus tried to build contacts with Europeans outside of Portugal by setting up booths for Portuguese producers at markets such as Sunnyside of the Doc in Marseilles, France, as well as promoting events like the documentary festival in Lisbon.
Correia hopes that with the proliferation of events around docs in Portugal, and the creation of grassroots interest, financial support for documentary films will eventually improve. ‘We’ve had more people interested in documentaries than there is money available,’ he says. ‘We’re trying to create a movement that can interest people and corporations. In the past few years, we had more members of the public coming to the events we promote. We try to promote public interest. We hope that, after that, it will be easier to find support.’