Friday, November 12, 2010

Local films, local audiences enhance the Amazonas Film Festival

By Sarah Sluis

A few days into the Amazonas Film Festival, the program added a taste of the jungle as a complement to the mix of films. A bevy of Brazilian stars boarded a riverboat bound for a jungle lodge on the Amazon. Veteran actress Zez Polessa, part of the short film jury, received plenty of attention from the cameras, which have followed her throughout the festival. Due to the severe drought, the floating hotel, the Amazon Jungle Palace, appeared like it was in a valley, at least twenty feet below the waterline. The next day, the group traveled to a native village and was treated to a performance of traditional dance. However, it appears that even this green, sparsely populated section of the river is not without media�the indigenous people were star-struck by some of the actresses in the group.

The Brazilian short films shown before the feature selection each night have been a highlight, giving international viewers a window into Brazilian culture. The short "Geral" documented the passionate football fans that sit in the "cheap seats," a standing room only section with a prime location right on the field. Some of the people interviewed told war stories of the most extreme thing they had done for their team, like a fan who whistled to distract the opposing team long enough for his team to make a goal (it ended up getting him in some trouble). The highlight of the film was its superb use of reaction shots. The camera would focus on an intense fan as he swore under his breath or cried, cursed the coach, made impolite hand signals or cheered in absolute joy. Though much of the football context wasn't clear to international viewers, the short was probably even more enjoyable for foreign viewers unfamiliar with the intense loyalty of football fans.

"Nai e a Lua" told an indigenous myth about a girl and the moon. Like the opening night short, "UaYNA: Tears of Poison," it used jungle locations and indigenous actors to tell an origin myth connected to the surrounding environment. The short "I Don't Want to Go Back Alone" had one of strongest narratives of all the shorts, with a completeness that felt like a feature. The story centered on a blind boy and his female best friend who secretly loves him. When a new classmate moves to town, the blind boy's unseen romantic leanings come to light. The boy's blindness was used as a device to split the characters' knowledge of who liked whom, and the film's ending reconciled the two with a light and clever touch.

Sunday night's feature selection, Habana Eva, also benefited from local context. The Venezuelan/Cuban film centered on a young garment factory worker torn between her boyfriend and a rich expatriate with whom she develops a romance. The movie made soap opera-like twists and turns and an unexpected move into fantasy territory in the third act, but the audience adored it. The lead actress, Prkriti Maduro, who attended the festival, had a sweet and likeable screen presence and was able to create an impact simply through her facial expressions. The genre-bending film could be loosely described as a romantic comedy, and should teach American films of that genre a lesson�its focus on the female lead's character development and friendships expanded the dramatic action beyond the "Are the man and woman going to end up together?" question.

The Amazonas Film Festival has the most impact when it brings local and international content together, highlighting Brazilian films to a world audience and bringing films to Manaus that take on unique meaning when viewed in such a distinct setting. Perhaps in years to come they can take this intermingling a step further, showing films featuring indigenous people, such as Nai e a Lua" and "UaYNA: Tears of Poison" to an international audience within a jungle setting, instead of bringing the actors to Teatro Amazonas.

The Amazonas Film Festival had its closing night event on November 11th, leaving attendees with an experience that connected the local to the international.

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