Despite producing only around 15 feature films per year, Portuguese cinema has consistently won significant festival prizes.
In 2018, awards for Portuguese films included Cannes’ Critics’ Week winner, “Diamantino” by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, and “The Dead and the Others” by João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora, which took a Special Jury Prize at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard.
Portuguese filmmakers have survived through a mixture of dedication, creative ingenuity and co-productions. Amid economic crisis, in 2012, the situation seemed dire, with Portugal’s National Film and Audiovisual Institute (ICA) unable to open any funding lines.
However a 2012 film law, revised in 2014, provided new revenues for the ICA by introducing levies on subscription TV services. As a result, the ICA has been able to channel significant additional funding into the domestic industry, including new support programs for TV series and animation features.
Investment obligations for domestic broadcasters have also been upped including reinforced commitments for public broadcaster, RTP.
As part of a wider strategy to reinforce the film and TV sectors, in 2017 Portugal enacted a tax incentive scheme, whose top rate was increased to 30% in mid-2018.
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As a result of these changes, current public funding for Portuguese film and TV productions includes over €15 million ($17 million) from ICA, $13.7 million via the cash rebate scheme, and a further $10 million from RTP.
This new funding environment makes it possible to consolidate a much stronger domestic industry, and thereby more co-productions and high-profile international shoots.
A main challenge in this new environment is to build a stronger local audience base, given that Portuguese cinema has one of Europe’s lowest shares of the national box office — 1.5% in 2018.
Between 2005 and 2015, close to 20 Portuguese films — primarily popular comedies — clocked up more than 100,000 admissions per movie.
But the situation has become more complicated since 2016, as the country’s main private broadcasters — SIC and TVI — have backed fewer projects, and independent screens have closed, the latest example being Paulo Branco’s four-screen multiplex, Monumental, in Lisbon.
Portuguese box office fell by over 10% in 2018, mitigating the upward trend recorded since 2014 as the country emerged from its profound economic recession.
To build bridges with local audiences Portuguese filmmakers have increasingly focused on crossover films that combine genre and auteur elements.
Examples include João Botelho’s 2014 costume drama “As Maias,” with 123,000 admissions; Edgar Pera’s 2014 comedy “Upside Down,” starring Diogo Morgado, with 113,000; and António Ferreira’s 2018 epic love story “Pedro & Ines,” which notched up 48,000 tickets sold.
ICA president Luis Chaby Vaz says the problem of low audiences is influenced by the high dependence on public financing, high concentration of distribution and exhibition in a few operators, shortage of screens in the provinces and low levels of cultural consumption in general.
“We are aware of this complex situation and are working with the sector’s various players to find solutions, which should be implemented soon,” he says.
O Som e a Furia, one of Portugal’s leading production companies, will release two majority co-productions in 2019 — Gonçalo Waddington’s child-abuse drama “Patrick,” and João Nicolau’s musical comedy “Technoboss,” both repped by the Match Factory, and two minority co-productions: Ira Sachs’ “Frankie” and Laís Bodanzky’s “Pedro.”
The shingle is also preparing various projects, including Miguel Gomes’ next feature, “Savagery” that will shoot in Africa in 2020.
Paulo Branco’s Leopardo Filmes is completing TV series and also two major feature film projects — Tiago Guedes’ historical drama and TV series “A Herdade” and João Nuno Pinto’s WWI drama “Mosquito,” set in Mozambique.
“These are two hugely ambitious projects that I’m very proud of,” says Branco.
“These kinds of projects are extremely important for Portugal, that combine a critical artistic approach with major ambition. I think they have the chance to compete in official selection in a top international festival.”
Maria João Mayer’s Filmes do Tejo has high expectations for the April release of exuberant soccer-themed drama “Diamantino.” “It’s probably enjoyed the highest visibility of any of my films,” says Mayer. “We aim to create street events for the release that will attract audiences.”
Mayer is also advancing on “Dreaming With Lions,” by Paolo Marinou-Blanco (“Goodnight Irene”), Francisco Botelho’s “A Girl,” based on a novel by Gonçalo Tavares, and a debut feature by upcoming director, Sebastião Salgado.
Rodrigo Areias’ Bando à Parte is the leading producer in the North of Portugal. His current projects include Edgar Pera’s psychological thriller, “The Nothingless Club,” Ana Rocha Sousa’s “Listen” about a Portuguese family in London, and a series of animation shorts.
“The main priority for Portuguese cinema is access to screens,” Areias says. “Gabe Klinger’s ‘Porto’ was distributed in 34 countries, but here we only managed a short release and only 5,000 spectators, which is extremely frustrating for a film of this calibre.”
Blackmaria, run by João Figueiras, is readying a major TV series on biodiversity — Humberto Ramos’ “The Last Frontier” — and Diogo Varela Silva’s musical drama, “Alfama em Si,” featuring well-known fado singers.
Terratreme, run by six young filmmakers, premiered Ico Costa’s debut feature “Alva” in Rotterdam in 2019 and is prepping other projects including “Tomorrow Is Another Day,” by Pedro Pinho (“The Nothing Factory”).
Pandora Cunha Telles’ Ukbar Filmes has multiple projects in the works, taking in co-productions with Brazil, such as Júlio Alves’ “The Art of Dying Away,” as well as an eight-part TV series, “Twentyfour Land,” about WWII espionage in Lisbon.
Fernando Vendrell’s David & Golias, is completing João Maia’s debut film, “Variações” about cult Portuguese pop star António Variações, to premiere in August.
“We have huge expectations for the film,” Vendrell says. “We’d like to present it in international festivals as long as it doesn’t affect our main priority, attracting Portuguese spectators.”