• Connecting people through cinema. Notes on a political film festival

  • Von Hugo Monteiro | 30 Mar 17 | Posted under: Kunst und Kultur
  • Dieser Beitrag ist nur auf Englisch verfügbar.

    1. Among diversified ways to awake alternative politics throughout routines captivated by capitalism, culture isn’t the least important. On the contrary, the struggle for a counter-hegemonic culture characterized by disobedience to capital – especially when this capital increasingly threatens democratic processes –, is itself an urgent challenge.

    As an art of the masses that, according to Walter Benjamin, transforms (in the sense of an involvement) the relation of masses and art when “the critical and the receptive attitudes of the public coincide”[1], cinema is very important as a repository of collective and shared meanings.  

    The success of a Festival of Insurgent Cinema (Desobedoc) such as Desobedoc, in Porto, already with three editions, and increasing media impact, proves that good cinema is always capable to attract audiences, against the dominant approach of cultural industries and its inherent politics. Above all, it shows how quality documentary films, with quality requirements and activist energy, present itself as an inclusive, subversive and rebellious cultural initiative. This is Desobedoc’s identify, trying to disseminate those dimensions throughout a progressively broader audience.

    Desobedoc is a three days documentary film festival, with disobedience as theme, the city of Porto as a set, and the carnation revolution or Mayday as a framework. We’ll try to identify, in this short text, some main characteristics that can be interpreted as crucial to this Festival’s success, also underlining the relevance of its continuity and extension.

    2. In a classical book[2], French intellectual Edgar Morin wrote about cinema´s mechanism as a process of identification. But not only that. Image, on Morin’s approach, allows to regain the past. Not only the innocent stance of gathering memories, but mainly critical reorganization of memory, definitely centered on the present. The challenge becomes clear: to allow a collective identification; to enable this collective identification to become a political experience. And doing it in a context of resistance consolidation, after the largest street demonstrations since April 74. Between the years of 2012, when the collective “to hell with troika” took over the streets with more than one million people protesting against austerity, and 2014, when Desobedoc’s first edition occurred, there was a sort of progressive numbness. There was a necessity to counteract that numbness, generating resistance, enthusiasm and instigating an unsubmissive culture towards installed powers and policies. For that matter, it became necessary to re-emerge and to treasure everyday life resistance paths. On the other hand, it is was also required that those experiences could project themselves as critical forces of the present.

    Desobedoc has been built under that double principle. It speaks from a past, and pieces of collective history, but clearly politicizes that past and, in its disobedient path, canalizes itself towards the present and future.

    3. The city of Porto has a film-loving background. It was the Portuguese city that first produced and exhibited the first animated images in Portugal, beginning a path where cinema habits where always quite present. Throughout 48 years of fascist dictatorship, Porto organized resistance through cinema, mainly with “cineclubistic” movements in its subversive inspiration. Through films forbidden by censorship, but also through audience education, cinema constituted a grassroots of a whole civic and disobedient movement.  

    Nowadays, touristic and gentrified Porto is a city that forgets its movie theatres as well as significant parts of its culture. Pieces of history and places of significance, some of these movie theatres were already converted into thematic hotels or other touristic equipments, if not abandoned to the degradation of time. Away from culture industries lucrative criterion, that moves cinemas to shopping malls and abandons culture programming to entertainment´s futility, old movie theatres are still meaningful for a significant part of the population, that grew up with them.  Those places are, as well, potential educative and common spaces, in city centers that it is important not to deliver exclusively to mass tourism. To reopen those spaces allows that large parts of population can reoccupy them – and mainly to watch and to discuss cinema, fulfilling those spaces' original mission, presenting cinema as a way to (politically) reach people.       

    Since its first edition, in April 2014, Desobedoc has chosen the date of 25th April, during the celebration of the Carnation Revolution, to reoccupy a deactivated cinema. It’s a symbolic occupation, with a selected and carefully designed program that can provide quality movies for free to everyone who wants to revisit cinema, as a true cinema. Since then, Desobedoc took place during important dates to national and international workers movements, either on 25th April or May 1st. This choice reflects upon its program, in which worker’s struggles, rights achievements, national and international social movements, LGBT and anti-racist forces are displayed on movie screens. Ideally, that’s the way Desobedoc projects itself through day-to-day’s violent wage cuts, attacks to labour rights and to social struggle’s collective organization. The Troika years, in which Portugal was nearly defined as a neoliberal power’s protectorate sustained by a right wing government, were years of discouragement and progressive struggle demobilization. The media, under the control of large economic groups, allied to a conservative rhetoric of “self-flagellation”, contributed to demobilization of the people, submitted to the TINA (There Is No Alternative) politics and a “fear interregnum”[3] taking over democracy’s course.           

    Therefore, we’re talking about a reappropriation: of significant spaces abandoned by an irrational urban development model, that defines cities as places to visit instead of places to live on; of movie theatres that belong to recent history and concrete people’s past; of art and culture, freely available to the all citizens; of all of the above, in a democratic sharing environment and with creative and internationalist solidarity. 

    Phases and processes of a political cinema festival

    1st Phase: “Trindade”

    With evident sarcasm, Portuguese poet Jorge de Sena once wrote that cinema is “in the highest degree, an inconvenient form of communication”[4]. Shifting focus and context, we absolutely agree with the sentence, now applied to Desobedoc. From this same inconvenience erupts, inside and outside the screen, a creative insurrection with memory, both honouring, implicitly and explicitly, the alliance of intervention and cinephilia from the resistance to dictatorship and reminding that that same insurrection is required in the heart of a rotten society.

    Racism, Anti-Romani prejudices, border violence from a capitalist neo-colonialist Europe, and also homophobia, housing, health and labour rights arise as invitations to build alternatives, as appeals to other forms of collective organization and pluralistic expressions of which Desobedoc is itself a practical achievement.

    During its three days, Desobedoc embodies several months of militant work, between film subtitling, synopses’ elaborations, writing, printing and distributing the event’s newspapers. There is movie-theatre’s preparations, delicate logistics management dealing with degraded places and monumental equipment, although neglected.  

    In its first two years, Desobedoc took place on the small but historical Trindade Movie-Theatre, in Porto’s historical center. It’s a theatre founded during 1916 and closed in the year 2000, with two rooms of a total capacity for 350 people. Both in 2014 and 2015, unsubmissive cinema reopened Trindade with high attendance turnouts, with some sessions filled to capacity and growing local and national visibility. Yet symbolical, it’s an occupation – and no occupation comes down to a single act. The first act, but only the first one, relates to a movie-theatre occupation, the take-back of a place returned to the people during the anniversary of Portuguese Revolution for free. In some way, to prolong an act’s audacity is to aspire for more, forcing the limits of the possible and politically intensifying the act’s daring. That’s what happened when, in 2016, Desobedoc transferred to the Batalha movie-theatre, with its sumptuous room with over 900 seats, complemented by a smaller one with about 100. In this edition, the first day only had more people than the whole previous year’s edition.

    2nd phase: Batalha movie-theatre

    With the transfer to Batalha a new phase of the occupation becomes possible. It’s not only about the space’s dimension, but mainly because of its symbolic intensity. Batalha movie-theatre has an important role in Porto’s collective imaginary, also playing a part in the country’s political history. It opened in 1947, in the midst of the authoritarian regime. The building was always under censorship surveillance. A mural painting by Júlio Pomar, one of the most important Portuguese contemporary painters, was said to have been withdrawn due to containing “subversive content” while even the door handles, with the initials “CB” for “Cinema Batalha” were put under suspicion of being a sign for the combination of words “Commune” and “Bolshevik”. Even with the paranoid ignorance of the political police, this Theatre was a place for “cineclubistic” sessions and subversive cinema, in addition to the crowded sessions that inscribed the building into Porto’s population memories. Desobedoc’s expansion to “Cinema Batalha” allows to recover some historical background of the building, where the first floor opens to the main square and lets himself to be invaded by its movement, between reason and randomness, between street’s spontaneity and the reasons that give reason to the streets. And so Batalha was reopened. As José Soeiro wrote in the front-page of Desobedoc’s Newspaper, we knew that “reopening this theatre for three days is itself a concrete act of resistance and solidarity”.  

    During this second wave of occupation: the corridor’s noise and the room’s silence. The mixing of voices that crosses the cinema and in the cinema. We can hear sentences that comment the movies and take opinions towards film’s comments, but also the applause that we share with other viewers or that we catch, almost misled, when we pass from one room to another. The sounds of words that, even without actually watching any movie, retake Batalha’s memories and get in just to be there, remarking with shiny eyes for how many years they didn’t enter the building, between cinephile memories or the encounters that the cinema itself makes possible. In sum, the second phase of occupation was also within the plural voices of a film festival with so many people and so much of the city, which transforms “Batalha” into a raging stronghold of disobedience: against the market logic, the neglect’s fatality, the buyers’ and sellers’ black and white city. Batalha movie-theatre, during Desobedoc, reverses the gentrified city by filling itself with movies and people.   

    3rd Phase: So many movies in one single square!

    Knowing that cinema was never only a matter of cinema, the 2016 edition of Desobedoc was also in its corridors, fulfilled with books from independent publishers and book stores, with thematic and open parties, with artistic installations that fulfilled previous days’ emptiness, opening new possibilities.

    With the strength of always and with more acceptance than ever, Desobedoc is increasingly an open door and a crowded and liveable house: people with cinema; cinema with people. In all its dimensions, it was widely demonstrated (only the first day had more people than the total of the previous edition) that it’s possible to have quality cinema and creative democratic activities in a city center. It also showed that cinema enables intervention, materializes resistance, and opens possibilities for a whole new political attitude as well as a democratic and diverse expressiveness.

    With an average of 1000 persons per day, 2016 Desobedoc edition was definitely able to reach people. This success is reflected by the festival’s extension, in a reduced version, to other Portuguese cities.  Next year’s edition already predicts, for the first time, an international extension, maintaining its place in Porto as the foundation and identity of the whole project. 

    By its rooting process, but also by the its way of transgressing boundaries, fighting for a world without borders or limits, Desobedoc gives back to people an image of its collective potential. On the 25th April or during Mayday, Desobedoc identifies people in collective action, defining itself as a counter-institutional product of joint action. Right there, in a disabled cinema yet returned to the whole of the city, this project shows the urge to build alternatives, having in mind a kind of viral potential inherent to people’s struggles for self-determination. It shows, demonstrates and materializes from a particular place, without ever conforming to be just local or just institutional or even just cinema. Desobedoc is politics in action, shaped by the enthusiasm of a city that struggles to recover itself.  


    1. Walter Benjamin, A Modernidade, Lisbon: Assírio & Alvim, 2006.

    2. Edgar Morin, O cinema ou o homem imaginário, Lisbon: Relógio d’Água, 1997. 

    3. Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Portugal. Ensaio contra a autoflagelação, Porto: Afrontamento, 2011, p. 57.

    4. Jorge de Sena, Sobre Cinema, Lisbon: Assírio & Alvim, 1988.


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