Teresa Villaverde: Portuguese Filmmakers Are Experts in Making Omelettes Without Eggs

Competition director talks about the state and virtues of Portuguese cinema

Teresa Villaverde
Courtesy of Teresa Villaverde

Fifty-year-old female helmer Teresa Villaverde is one of Portugal’s best-known directors, whose recent films,  produced at four-to-five year intervals, have premiered in either Berlin or Cannes.

“Colo”– her first feature since 2011’s “Swan” – plays in Berlin competition. A total of nine Portuguese shorts and feature films, including co-productions, are screening at this year’s Berlinale.

Starring João Pedro Vaz, Alice Albergaria Borges and Beatriz Batarda, “Colo” is about a father, mother and daughter, struggling with Portugal’s economic crisis. It is a co-production between Lisbon’s Alce Films and Paris-based Sedna Films.  International sales are handled by Berlin-based Films Boutique.

In an interview with Variety, Villaverde talks about Portuguese cinema and her expectations for her film in Berlin.

What do you believe are the main reasons for the growing interest in Portuguese cinema at major festivals such as Berlin?

The quality of recent Portuguese films, the specific vision of each auteur, the freedom that we can still preserve at the time of creation. I think it’s this freedom, which I consider to be fundamental, that makes all the difference. We live in complicated times in which we have to fight for this independence and freedom, but we have always struggled, and we have managed to uphold these principles.

What are the characteristics of Portuguese films that are most valued by international festivals?

That’s a difficult question to answer. I think it’s probably better to ask the festivals themselves, but I assume the reasons are also those I’ve already mentioned. Our films benefit from freedom of creation, that’s what we all have in common – each auteur is an auteur and makes his or her own unique film. Even when working with low budgets, the quality of our filmmakers and technicians has transformed us into experts in making omelettes without eggs.

In terms of national box office, Portuguese films that have enjoyed success in international festivals have often had low levels of theatrical admissions at home. Are there ways to change this situation?

I think that there’s a tremendous lack of investment in promotion of our films. Portuguese audiences have never had the habit of watching Portuguese films. There is a rejection that linked to a lack of familiarity of local films. You have to take the films to people. There are very few cinemas; more and more cinemas are closing, especially single-screen cinemas. It’s necessary to reverse this situation and not give up. But Portuguese cinema has a growing audience amongst young people, which is fantastic. This is related to the fact that we have an increasing number of young filmmakers. There is a lot of work to do, and the Portuguese state should provide much greater support in this field.

What are the main challenges facing Portuguese cinema?

Not everyone cares about the freedom we have, so we have to be vigilant to protect it. There is very little money for production. We make very few films each year. We know that great projects have to wait for many years before they can be made.