The Amazonas Film Festival, which took place from November 3-9, completed its eighth annual run with a rich cycle of features from around the globe. The festival takes place in the Brazilian city of Manaus, an urban island of some two million people situated right next to the Amazon rainforest, not far from where the Rio Negro and Solimões rivers join to form the Amazon River. Unique not only for its location, Amazonas distinguishes itself by focusing on a limited slate of eight feature films and just over two dozen shorts, with most screenings taking place in the majestic Teatro Amazonas, the Belle Époque opera house featured in Werner Herzog’s cult classic Fitzcarraldo.
This year’s lineup, while broadly themed and international in scope, featured several Brazilian films. The festival kicked off with the world premiere of Cao Hamburger’s Xingu, a historical drama about the Villas-Bôas brothers, who founded Brazil’s first large-scale reservation for its Indian population. Also screening were films by Brazilian directors Beto Brant and Renato Ciasca (I’d Receive the Worst News From Your Beautiful Lips) and Reginaldo Faria (O Carteiro). Among the international features that made the trek to Amazonas were several that are already gaining worldwide attention, among them director Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, Iran’s official entry for the 2012 Academy Awards; and Justin Chadwick’s The First Grader, based on the true story of an Kenyan villager who goes to school for the first time to learn to read and write at the age of 84.
Meanwhile, Julie Gravas’ Late Bloomers gifted audiences with the pairing of William Hurt and Isabella Rossellini, playing a long-married couple whose relationship is threatened by the realities of growing old. Brazilian director Wolney Oliveira’s documentary Os Últimos Cangaceiros taps the story of two aging Brazilian outlaws who, after decades of concealment, reveal their past and their true identities to their friends and family.
While not thematically linked in any obvious fashion, the general tone and reach of the features feted this year were geared toward the sensibilities of a film-centric, literate crowd. Though the films featured at Amazonas aren’t likely to hit your local multiplex, festival organizers were at pains to ensure that the films they selected were relevant to local audiences. “We try to go beyond the selection of films which… may have been popular in other festivals and markets, and [instead] put together a selection… which will be closer to our audience,” says festival co-programmer Alfredo Calvino.
For the Amazonas Film Festival, local outreach goes beyond which films are screened. Festival organizers also put together an extensive and varied roster of alternative screenings at bus stops, prisons, hospitals, movie theaters and community centers throughout Manaus and outlying communities. Selected to enrich local audiences, this year’s caravan of cinema showcased a wide range of current and older works, including animated and kid’s movies, documentaries, examples of classic Brazilian cinema and a retrospective of the works of Polish auteur Andrzej Wajda. The festival also supported local up-and-coming moviemakers by screening two Brazilian-made shorts before each feature film.
Those who attended the festival found it to be a one-of-a-kind cultural event. In addition to attending the screenings themselves, a day in Manaus might include a trip to the sprawling (and pungent) local fish market, an exploration of the city’s scattered labyrinth of 19thcentury architectural treasures, a break for some ice cream in a cobbled square framed by not-too-distant condos and a night of post-screening parties at the stately palaces of the city’s now-extinct rubber barons.
The festival closed not just with an awards ceremony and gala underneath the stars, but with a miniature staging of a Brazilian carnival, complete with dancing and music. This year’s Amazonas Film Festival was a week-long pilgrimage to the work of moviemakers from around the world, capped off with a night of sensory delight that could only have come from Brazil.
For more information on the Amazonas Film Festival, visit www.amazonasfilmfestival.com.br.