"A long life for Brazilian cinema!" was the ironic cheer of the night at the opening of the 16th Festival Internacional de Curtas-Metragens de Sao Paulo, the largest short film festival in Latin America. Despite being an invitation-only event, the theater was so full on opening night that guests filled the aisles and huddled into corners to watch the evening's selection of films. The scene repeated itself throughout the course of the festival: theaters filled to capacity with their fair share of organizational and technical snags, which were forgiven by the diversity and sheer volume of films on offer to the public. The ten-day festival, which took place between August 25 and September 3, generated a high level of excitement from an eager audience (and it was hard to complain when the projector broke for the third time when all the sessions were free).
The focus for this year's festival was "Wired," a program which looked "to reflect on how and why humanity evolved through means of communication." Comprised of three distinct sessions, festival organizers curated a thematically strong selection ranging from Peter Greenaway's 1976 short "Dear Phone" to more recent works, including Michel Wenzer's 2003 meditative "Three Poems By Spoon Jackson" and Leo Falcao's 2004 "TheLastNote.com."
Another highlight of the "Wired" program was the Brazilian short "Seu Pai Ja Disse Que Isso Nao E Brinquedo" (Your Father Has Already Told You This Is Not a Toy), a playful experiment in storytelling with the countless cameras spread throughout the city of Sao Paulo. Instead of watching direct footage, the audience follows the characters through a well-edited compilation of subway surveillance cameras, residential security cameras, personal video recorders and even web cameras. In the words of director Kiko Mollica, the film takes advantage of the fact that "privacy, today, is a matter of luck."
While "Wired" received the official spotlight of this year's Festival Internacional de Curtas-Metragens, the truth is that it was almost lost in the sprawl of sessions hosted in the festival's eight locations. A selection of twelve special programs included "10 Years of Dogma," "Children's Showcase," "Dark Side" (a popular horror showcase), "15 Years of Sam Spiegel," and "Critic's Week." Then there were the main headings of the festival, all of which had their own subgroupings of programs: Mostra Internacional (70 films, many of which were prize-winners at other international festivals), Mostra Latino-Americana (33 films), MIX Brasil (17 films, in partnership with the MIX Brasil Festival of Sexual Diversity), and Programas Brasileiros (over 200 films).
What the Festival Internacional de Curtas-Metragens does better than anyone else is showcase Brazilian short films, a strength that festival organizers played to their advantage by devoting the majority of their programming to local filmmakers. Audiences responded accordingly by filling many of the sessions to capacity, loudly cheering for their favorites - one of which was the 22 minute "Electrodomestica," which had its premiere at the festival. Opening with shots of an average middle-class Brazilian neighborhood set to a song with the Portuguese refrain of "I want to be a friend of Kelly, Brendon, Brenda, and Donna," the film is an amusing look at a housewife's creative use of electrodomestic appliances in managing every last detail of her life.
A different take on the Brazilian household was the popular "Entre Paredes" (Trapped) which depicts the nightmarish end of a marriage in a remote region of the country. Audiences also chose the animated "Historietas Assombradas (Para Criancas Mal-Criadas)" (Haunted Tales for Wicked Kids) as one of their favorite films, rounding out a list of the ten most highly voted Brazilian shorts with "Alo Tocayo," "Descobrindo Waltel," "Deu No Jornal," "Mestre Humberto," "O Dia Em Que O Bambu Quebrou No Meio," "O Mundo E Uma Cabeca," and "Soberano." "O Fim do Homem Cordial" (The End of the Cordial Man) was notable for its portrayal of a fictional terrorist group in rural Brazil taking a local politician hostage, causing it to be censured at another government funded film festival. "It's a long, tiring, story," explained director Daniel Lisboa after the screening, "but it's a video bomb that exploded in the ideal place," referring to the controversy that ultimately ended up helping the film's politics.
The film that seemed to split audiences the most at this festival, however, was the Mexican short "El Otro Sueno Americano" (The Other American Dream) which showed in the Mostra Latino-Americana. The film is a deceptively simple, 10 minute single take (reminiscent of a hidden camera) that shows a young Mexican girl riding in the backseat of a car after she has crossed the Texas border. The majority of the action takes places outside the frame, leaving the audience with only the terrified expressions on the girl's face as her situation becomes increasingly desperate. Violent, explicit, and disturbing, the film succeeds in depicting a human rights horror while weighing on the viewer's imagination long after leaving the theater.
While Spanish-language shorts were relatively small in number, the selection complemented the Brazilian programs and reflected the diversity of filmmaking in Latin America. Mexico led the Mostra Latino-Americana with 13 films, Argentina trailed with nine shorts, and Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Peru, and Uruguay participated with two shorts each. Argentina had a strong presence with standouts "Infierno Grande" (Big Hell), a fractured tale with striking imagery, and "En La Oscuridad" (In the Darkness), an engrossing story of a pornographer and an inventor who film the spirits of the dead. The Chilean short "No Me Toques" (Don't Touch Me) held its own as a dynamic depiction of an underground culture of bored youths looking for a thrill, and "Redrat La Rata Retobada" (Redrat the Rebellious Rodent) from Uruguay inspired laughter as a campy exercise in B-grade horror (starring a skinned rat).
Though the 16th Festival Internacional de Curtas-Metragens is based in Sao Paulo, the festival will take an abridged program to other cities across the Brazil in the coming months (a common strategy for Brazilian film festivals). The tour, combined with free sessions, gives the shorts a far greater reach than the format typically experiences. With no feature length films to steal the spotlight, the festival brings the refreshingly brief but underexposed short film to center stage.