Understanding the power and good of film festivals
PANAMA – IFF Panama is celebrating the work of the highly acclaimed Brazilian director and visual artist Karim Aïnouz with a retrospective of his work. The focus sees the screenings of all five of his features: “Praia do Futuro,” “The Silver Cliff” (“O Abismo Prateado”), “I Travel Because I Have To, I Come Back Because I Love You” (“Viajo Porque Preciso, Volto Porque te Amo”), “Love For Sale” (“O Céu de Suely”) and “Madame Satã.”
At the Panama Festival, Aïnouz will also introduce a restored print of “The Color of Pomegranates,” Sergei Parajanov’s 1969 biography of 18th century Armenian poet and musician Sayat Nova.
A first time visitor to IFF Panama, Aïnouz is no stranger to film festivals having used them as a very effective shop window to premier and display his work, and also to enjoy and embrace the work of other filmmakers as a member of festival juries.
In 2014 he was president of the jury at Festival do Rio, a festival where he has won the prestigious best director prize on three occasions: Most recently in 2011 for “The Silver Cliff,” having won previously for “I Travel…” in 2009 (with Marcelo Gomes), and “Love For Sale” in 2006.
It is not just in Brazil that Aïnouz has triumphed with almost 30 festival prizes to his credit including from Chicago, Cineport (Portugal), Havana, Lima, Los Angeles, Mons, Paris, San Sebastian, Thessalonika and Toronto. His most recent feature, “Praia do Futuro,” premiered in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in 2014, a city Aïnouz currently calls home. That same year, the festival also premiered “Cathedrals of Culture,” a 3D film project about the soul of buildings that featured Aïnouz as one of six directors that also included Wim Wenders, Robert Redford, Michael Madsen, Margreth Olin and the late Michael Glawogger. “Praia do Futuro” was released theatrically in the U.S. on Feb., 27.
“It is my first time in Panama, at the festival,” Aïnouz tells Variety. “What is wonderful is that it introduces my films to an audience that otherwise would most likely not discover them on the big screen, and that is a privilege. It is also great that in my case the audiences in Panama will have a chance to discover not only one film, but a number of my films – so it is not an isolated experience. It gives me the chance to interact with the audience on a different level. It is a more intimate and welcoming situation.”
Aïnouz does not underestimate the importance of festivals such as Panama for Latin American filmmakers: “It is so hard to have a network of distribution within Latin America. A lot of the time our movies travel to further destinations, but they are not shared by the audiences in our own continent. If it weren’t for certain festivals, like Panama, some films would never be shown in other Latin American countries outside of their country of production.”
Given that many directors would like the chance to go back and change some aspects of their work, and accepting that it is almost impossible to pick a favorite child, Variety asked Aïnouz which of his films screening in Panama he was most satisfied with: “That is a tricky question. It is good that my films don’t have ears! You always have a soft spot for the first one. So ‘Madame Satã’ is a very dear one for me. And then there is ‘Praia do Futuro’ that I like very much. It is a film where I tried out a lot of things, a lot of new things for me. It is my fifth feature film and I think it bears traces of a new road, a new adventure in terms of what I did before.”
As a fan of film festivals, Aïnouz says he is just as happy to screen his movies as to sit on the jury. “Being at festivals, on whatever side, is always so exciting. It is a great chance to exchange ideas, to meet people that have a common interest, to discover other films. Having said that, it is true that being on a jury and having a movie in a festival are the two ultimate opposite experiences.
When you show a movie in a festival you are under absolute scrutiny. It is hard. You feel you are in the spotlight, but you also feel super vulnerable. You never know what is going to happen, how people are going to react to your film. You have a sense that you are at risk. It can be a nightmare. But it is also a privilege. So it is a very intense and complex experience.
However… when you are on the jury, it can’t go wrong. First you discover films, you are super concentrated, and it is always fun. There is no fear involved. But it is also a bit artificial – how can you judge your peers’ work? It can be quite uncomfortable. I don’t know, maybe the feeling of risk is more exciting.”
What is clear is that Aïnouz is excited that audiences in Panama are getting the chance to see a body of his work on the big screen, where it should be seen.