cineclubism: realities & potential

tina kaufman: international film societies conference, recife, brazil

A Mao e a Luva

A Mao e a Luva

WHEN MICHAEL O’ROURKE ATTENDED THE INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION OF FILM SOCIETIES’ ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING AND WORLD CONFERENCE IN RECIFE, BRAZIL, LAST DECEMBER, HE EXPECTED DAYS OF TALK AND DISCUSSION AND THE OCCASIONAL FILM SCREENING. HE DIDN’T ANTICIPATE HAVING ONE OF THE MOST UNEXPECTED AND MOVING VIEWING EXPERIENCES OF HIS LIFE. BUT HE DID.

The Pina favela is one of the poorest and most deprived areas of the city of Recife, and it was in the favela, in Bullet Square (a place rumoured to see two murders a day), where a screen was erected one evening to show a new documentary. All the IFFS delegates were invited to see A Mao E A Luva, which had been filmed within the favela. They sat watching with crowds of favela residents, who laughed and cried as they viewed a film in which they and their children appeared: a film about something and somebody very important to them. And Michael O’Rourke, with years of experience watching emotional and harrowing stories on film, reports that it was the most moving experience of his filmgoing life, to watch this uplifting, hopeful film, amongst people to whom it meant so much.

The Pina favela spreads along the banks of the river, and it is here that Ricardo Gomes Ferraz, now aged 35, better known as Kcal, a poet and musician, has turned his shabby waterfront house into a library for the children of his community. For over 15 years he has used all his spare resources to buy second-hand books in different places all over the city to gradually establish a library that has now become a meeting place for hundreds of children and adults—“where dreaming is not forbidden, where imagination can fly to places very different from the favela,” as Kcal says.

Drugs and prostitution are constants in daily life in the favela, but for Kcal that life changed when at 16 he found and read a book, A Mao E A Luva, by Machado de Assis (a 19th century writer, descended from slaves, now regarded as one of Brazil’s most important). He realised the importance of reading—and from that day on he has never stopped—then passing it on to children. In 2008, this man, who defines himself as “a dealer in books,” received an esteemed national award in recognition of his work but, more importantly, a government project has evolved which has seen the opening of many libraries in the favelas; from the original founded by Kcal, another 514 libraries are functioning all over Brazil today.

Ricardo Gomes Ferraz

Ricardo Gomes Ferraz

The film about Kcal and his work was directed by Roberto Orazi and produced by Riccardo Neri, two Italian filmmakers who were in Recife researching a film they were making on the dark subject of the trade in human organs. Looking for someone to help them talk to people in the favela, they were directed to Kcal. After meeting and working with him and learning about his work with books, the library and with the children of the favela, they decided that they had to make a film about this wonderful story. (The film screened at the Rome Film Festival late last year and hopefully will be making its way to other festivals soon.)

the cinema club phenomenon

Michael O’Rourke was in Recife representing the Australian Council of Film Societies, of which he is vice-president. Film societies in Australia have a long and interesting history, but they are currently in decline, and the Council is urgently looking at both this decline and the role of the council, with the aim of re-invigorating both firmly in its sights. O’Rourke found much in his five days in Brazil to encourage him and, through him, the council; the international film society scene is amazingly rich, varied and active, with much more happening in many countries round the world than in Australia.

A film society is a membership-based organisation where people watch screenings of films not shown in mainstream cinemas. (In Spain they are known as cineclubs and in Germany as filmclubs, names that are increasing in popularity around the world.) Such organisations, usually with an educational as well as a screen cultural aim, work to introduce new audiences to varied audiovisual work through a member-curated program of screenings, usually supported by well-researched information sheets and even essays on the films shown. A common feature of most screenings is an introduction to the film and a post-screening discussion; a healthy debate on both style and content is seen as important. Film societies in most countries are organised into federations, councils, collectives, or local networks, and these national bodies can be members of the IFFS, which uses its rich and multi-lingual website and its regular publications to maintain a free flow of information throughout the film society world. (Interestingly, the IFFS is currently setting up an archive in which to collect and preserve all the documentation produced by its members; it will be, as retiring Secretary General Golan Rabbany Biplob said, “the right place where any researcher can get sufficient input to study the world film society movement.”)

a united effort

Last December the Brazilian government provided some outstanding hospitality to allow both the world conference on film societies and the general assembly of the IFFS to take place in Recife over five days, with participants coming from all around the world to report on their current activities and to plan for the future of worldwide “cineclubism.” This was the first time in 25 years that such a get-together was held in Latin America, where the film society movement seems to be doing well. The Brazilian government, on behalf of the Brazilian Federation, covered travel expenses and accommodation for many of those in attendance; Michael O’Rourke was particularly impressed by the fact that the national body from Norway paid the membership fees for the newly formed film society in Kabul so they could send a representative.

The five days saw a packed program in which reports from state and local film societies, from national bodies, and from various working groups were interspersed with panel discussions on relevant issues, including a debate on the role of film societies in the 21st century, and on research on film societies, their origins and publications, while social events and screenings lightened the more formal but necessary business of conference and AGM.

film clubs for the young

It was a report from Denmark on its very successful film club model for children and teenagers that particularly enthused O’Rourke. It’s a model that has its roots back in the 1950s, when teachers decided to show films to their students on a regular basis, while in the 1980s a law was introduced that required 25 percent of national film production be set aside for children’s and adolescent films. Now most young Danes belong to film clubs, where they have regular screenings of high quality films, acquiring a habit of watching films within their community and in circumstances that encourage both a critical standpoint and lively discussion, and gaining an insight into both the issues covered in the film but also in the way cinema works. While Australia does have some local or regional activities that encourage children’s film-going and critical evaluation (such as Queensland’s Cine Sparks), there’s nothing on an organised national level.

film club australia?

Back from the meeting excited and invigorated by much of the film society activity he heard about in other countries, O’Rourke is looking forward to the challenges posed in Australia, where the film society movement is now going through a difficult period, with many longstanding groups faced with aging and declining membership and finding it hard to connect with new audiences. The attractions provided by excellent equipment and the rich and growing supply of material on DVD is enhancing home viewing, while many in the younger generations seem to have different interests and other ways of watching screen material. It’s not all doom and gloom; there are some film societies doing really well, with large and active memberships and programs. What’s needed is some way of making this much more widespread, and to this end Michael O’Rourke feels positive about increasing Australia’s connection with the burgeoning world of film societies.

RealTime issue #101 Feb-March 2011 pg. 31

© Tina Kaufman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2011
Close

Join our e-dition list

Sign up for free online e-ditions offering occasional reviews and commentary and curated selections from and response to the RealTime archive 1994-2017.