The 2020 general programme of IberoDocs had a focus on Portugal, with the six short films included in the night’s screening from a variety of places including Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Serbia. This was a smorgasbord of international voices that each held their ground as a glimpse into a particular time and place.
The first (and my favourite) film of the night was VIVIR BAILANDO, shot and directed by Imma De Reyes. It takes a particularly skilful documentarian to make the personal universal, and De Reyes did exactly that. The authenticity of the two leads shone through from the very first scenes, and their naturalism in front of the camera was a joy to watch. It was immediately evident how much they both enjoyed being filmed – performing for the camera in one respect but in doing so revealing so much of their unguarded selves. VIVIR BAILANDO was expertly shot and edited, with Cari and Vicente being given the time and space on camera to charm the audience with their mannerisms, turns of phrase and generally delightful interactions with each other. This story did not feel forced, or rushed, or constructed (although that does not mean to undermine the laborious construction of such a thing) – but rather, it felt like a lucky peek into the joys that come from enjoying someone’s company: the gift of togetherness, and the richness that can come from letting somebody in, and a compelling campaign for companionship.
The next film in the programme was SELFIE, a ‘conceptual and sensory miniature’ directed by Nayra Sanz. This posed questions of observation, technological control and the dehumanisation of interactions and spaces. Initially, the visuals are frustrating and underwhelming in their abstraction, but as the film progressed the experience became oddly provocative. A fantastic aerial shot in the latter half of the film lifted the cinematography considerably, with a lingering shot on a vast, glistening and amorphous orb. It was beautiful but grotesque, mechanical in its metallicism but equally organic in its roundness – with humans scuttling like ants around its mass. This shot deserved more screen time. As it stands some of the visuals felt slightly redundant and the film was driven instead by its familiar, compelling soundtrack.
WILD BERRIES followed, which is an intimate observation of a solitary character directed by Marianna Vas & Hedda Bednarszky. The camera follows a boy who never speaks and never interacts with other humans, seeming almost completely unaffected by the camera’s presence. Even when the camera meets his gaze head-on, he displays a peculiar indifference. The cinematography is gorgeous, sometimes startling, and consistently well-considered – from floodlit pigs to rolling fields. The meandering plane of focus directs your eye between sunflower stems and beyond: toward the bowed head of the half-hidden child. The pacing is occasionally awkward, but this lends itself to a day with no structure. Somehow WILD BERRIES paints a picture of both the unbridled joy of childhood adventure and the startling isolation of a derelict building with tarpaulin flapping in the wind.
Then followed a sweet story with a broader message, of a little girl learning to swim to join her mother harvesting shellfish in coastal Colombia. DULCE (directed by Guille Isa) succeeds in making a global issue fundamentally personal, giving the rising tides of our current climate crisis a set of faces and sense of family. It’s a confident short with a tight edit and some beautiful shots of mangrove forests (which I can only imagine are a particularly challenging environment for a film crew). OUTSIDE THE ORANGES ARE BLOOMING (directed by Nevena Desivojević) instead puts everyday life at a distance, in order to draw a comparison between the desolate landscape and the restlessness of the protagonist. The cinematography of this short is so beautiful, and so carefully constructed, that it often feels less like a documentary about a person and more like an arthouse horror. Whilst documentary need not be spontaneous, gritty, or hand-held to demonstrate authenticity, there is an intimacy to imperfection that is missed here, and the formal beauty of the camera work stops us getting close to the subject. In this case, our character seems suspicious of the camera and the filmmaking process, which excludes us from accessing his perspective. At one point he says to the camera: “don’t shoot – you are pointing that gun at me”. There is a constant awareness of both the painstaking beauty of the framing but also the subject’s aloofness within the picture. He never seems comfortable in its presence. In light of documentary’s historical criticism as a weapon of representation, the purpose of this treatment is a little unclear, meaning it is confusing what OUTSIDE THE ORANGES ARE BLOOMING was trying to depict.
The programme concluded with I CAN ALWAYS SLEEP BUT TONIGHT I CAN’T: a mesmeric collection of performances for the camera, directed by Fernando Vílchez & Andrea Morán following Morán’s hospitalisation. The format of this film was simple and effective, cinematically revisiting voice notes sent to paint a picture of the world outside the hospital bed. What we witness from behind the lens is a series of performances that act as a kind of triple-escape: the story being read, the imagined intention behind its selection, and then the final, witnessed layer of reader in scene. There are all sorts of lovely relationships happening between these layers (why was this text chosen, what does it mean to them all) and something very rich about how this is framed, arranged and presented. It is delightful to see these individuals compose themselves in the scene before they begin their reading – a tiny interaction with the filmmakers that hints at the love underlying the whole thing.
The IberoDocs Short Film Programme 2020 was further enhanced by a Q&A with Imma De Reyes after the screening, who talked a little about how making a film (even a short one) is a long and laborious process that requires incredible belief, love and patience from those leading the way. De Reyes elaborated that, to begin with at least, a documentary exists only in the imagination of the filmmaker, requiring tenacity and hard work to bring that out onto the screen. I love this idea of the story existing there finally for all of us, in the shared experience of the audience and crew.