Amidst internal controversy, Portugal takes away top honours at Berlinale Shorts

Portuguese short films have taken some of the major prizes at this year’s Berlinale Shorts. It marks yet another strong year in shorts originating from the country and – in the midst of internal controversy over cultural policy concerning cinema – a welcome chance for Portugal and Portuguese filmmakers to bask on the limelight.

The Golden Bear for Best Short Film went to Diogo Costa Amarante for his film Cidade Pequena [Small Town, pictured above]. The film is a measured and beguiling work that sees the world through the eyes of a six-year-old boy. With a scant regard for narrative, the film brings together a series of tableau to present a hazy and surreal world in which the notion of death has only just begun to invade.

The film received its international premiere at Berlin after previously screening at Vila Do Conde

The European Film Award nominee for short film went to Gabriel Abrantes and his film Os Humores Artificiais [The Artificial Humours]. Abrantes has had a busy year on the circuit with Freud und Friends screening at last year’s Berlinale and two other films – The Hunchback (co-directed with Ben Rivers) and A Brief History of Princess X - also proving popular around the world.

Os Humores Artificiais contains Abrantes’ usual blend of irreverence and philosophical insight as it explores a robot coming to terms with the notion of humour. With a narrative that would not seem out of place in a typical Hollywood movie, Abrantes manages to deal with philosophy, anthropology and human emotion in a clever and often funny way.

Both the wins come when, in Berlin, the Portuguese film community came together with their international counterparts to protest about recent changes in Portuguese film law (you can read the full story HERE).

Speaking to Cineuropa Shorts, Salette Ramalho a representative of Agencia da Curta Metragem [Portuguese Short Film Agency] who co-produced Cidade Pequena, said of the recent letter of protest:

“We trust that our Ministry of Culture will wisely stop the destruction of a cultural policy that defends the artistic freedom of Portuguese cinema. We do not accept to be bent to an unethical principle that states that we can choose the juries that will give money for our films, in the same way that we do not accept others may do it for their own benefit. We believe that ICA - the Portuguese Film Institute - is the only recognized and equidistant entity which may take that responsibility, for that is why it was created for, following principles and a political strategy for Portuguese Cinema.”

Other awarded films included Ensueño en la Pradera [Reverie in the Meadow] (Dir. Esteban Arrangoiz Julien, Mexico], the Silver Bear winner which mixes documentary and fiction to explore the violent state of modern Mexico. The Audi Short Film Award went to Street Of Death (Dir. Karam Ghossein, Lebanon / Germany), a treatise on life and death set around the road that leads to Beirut’s main airport. A special mention went to Centauro [Centaur] (Dir. Nicolás Suárez, Argentina), a “…Greek-Creole western that is set in the Argentine Pampas.”

The International Short Film Jury 2017 was composed of Christian Jankowski, artist and professor at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design, curator and social media manager of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York Kimberly Drew and the artistic director of SANFIC Santiago International Film Festival Carlos Núñez.

In Berlin’s Generation section, the Crystal Bear was snapped up by Promise (Dir. Xie Tan, USA), the epic story of a Chinese boy left to fend for himself while his parents look for work, while animation Hedgehog's Home (Dir. Eva Cvijanovic, Canada / Croatia) garnered a special mention. The Generation KPlus Youth Jury saw fit to bestow Wolfe (Dir Claire Randall, 2016, Australia) a Crystal Bear for Best Short. The film is an honest and tender account of mental illness that mixes live action and animation. Canadian film Snip (Dir. Terril Calde) was given a special mention. 

The Generation 14plus International Jury , consisting of Benjamin Cantu, Roberto Doveris and Jennifer Reeder, gave The Jungle Knows You Better Than You Do (Dir. Juanita Onzaga , Belgium / Colombia) the Special Prize of the Generation 14plus International Jury for the Best Short Film. The film is a hybrid documentary in which director Juanita Onzaga unites with her brother to discover long lost secrets about their father’s death.

19 February 2017, by Laurence Boyce