An empty room in Kingston Hall is an unusual place for a tour of Portugal.
Nonetheless, the New York Portuguese Short Film Festival (NYPSFF) brought the country to campus last Thursday, as part of their world tour previewing the latest in Portuguese filmmaking.
Now in its seventh year, the festival is produced by the Arte Institute with the objective to promote Portuguese film and culture around the world.
The short films played this year were mostly live action, peppered with a few animated shorts. The latter were playful enough to alleviate the tension of the heavier social issues the festival’s short films often tackle.
The Amazing Ordinary Man by Paulo Portugal was about a man who’s constantly plagued by the actions of a local superhero.
The man’s wife is the only person the hero doesn’t save from a horrific accident and the man’s dissatisfaction only grows with the constant noise that comes from the hero flying around his apartment building.
The animation illustrated the man’s exasperations, lending humour to the action, something necessary given the short had no spoken dialogue. The unique expression of the man as well as the contrast between his annoyance and desire to do good made Portugal’s film memorable.
This theme of making the best of a bad situation was present in all the movies shown on Thursday, though some were more whimsical than others.
(Screenshot from Luís Campo’s Carga)
Opened by Carga, this Luís Campos film told the story of two boys — presumably brothers — who ran drugs and money for a gang of drug smugglers.
Many of the shots in the film feature a man who seems to be the link between the gangs and the locals. The plot suggests how precarious the man’s life is, forced into drug-running to support his family while being threatened by the whim of a gangster with a gun.
Most of the films in the festival similarly reflected on the economic hardships faced in Portugal and its former colonies.
Set in São Tomé, a small island off the coast of Africa, Manuel explored the life of a coffee farmer who’s worked on his plantation all his life. At first, the titular Manuel worked at a carpentry service to support his family. Then, when he was old enough, he began learning the art of coffee farming in the jungle.
The island used to be one of the largest coffee producers in the world until the government nationalized the industry in the seventies.
Afterwards, residents were guaranteed plots to grow, but they were soon left in the past by the ever-expanding industry. Coffee production in São Tomé is now significantly reduced, something the film suggests is the result of earlier government interventions.
Through its wide panoramic shots of Manuel’s village and the surrounding industrial developments, the film made it abundantly clear that the land offered few ways to make money besides being involved in the coffee industry.
As Manuel showed, the nationalization of coffee, while providing a living standard based off subsistence farming, had negative effects on the farmers. However, the main issue was that their needs were just barely met and the system in place didn’t keep up with the worldwide coffee production.
While they painted a somewhat bleak picture of Portugal, the films played in the NYPSFF weren’t without hope. They suggested the economic downturn that’s hurt the country is little match for its resilience.
The films shown at the festival on Thursday presented a portrayal of the country as a whole, with humanizing portraits that illustrated the humour and hardships the country has faced.
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