Krakow Film Festival 2024

«Since we are far from the big urban centres makes it a unique and different experience from other film festivals»

MDOC / Director Carlos Eduardo Viana on the Portuguese documentary festival's 2022 edition.

From 1 – 7 August, MDOC – Melgaço International Documentary Film Festival brings a meeting focused on non-fiction cinema and the different realities and concerns that intersect the contemporary world. At the festival, 32 documentaries reflecting the author’s point of view on social, individual and cultural issues related with identity, memory and border will compete for its Jean-Loup Passek Award.

The festival itself is organized by the Municipality of Melgaço and the AO NORTE Association. It intends to promote and disclose social and ethnographic cinema, reflecting with films about identity, memory and border, and to contribute for an audiovisual archive about the territory.

Ahead of the 2022 edition, Modern Times Review spoke with festival and AO NORTE Association Director, Carlos Eduardo Viana as a primer to the festival’s mission, hios own background in the genre, and more.

MDOC Melgaço International Documentary Film Festival atmosphere
PC: Edmundo Correia

In your words, what is your role at the festival?

My role is to coordinate a team from Associação AO NORTE committed to ensuring the strengths, structure and values ​​that embody the festival. Doing so in a territory where such an event would be unlikely to occur since we are far from the big urban centres makes it a unique and different experience from other film festivals. Another function is to ensure a selection of films and a programme that promotes and disseminates documentary cinema through films that show the author’s point of view on social, individual and cultural issues related to identity, memory, and border, the keywords of the MDOC.

Another concern is to connect the festival to the local population. One of the ways to achieve this has been to produce documentaries about the territory of Melgaço, contributing to an audiovisual archive of its intangible heritage. In all editions, and in a residency context, four teams of young directors, sound operators, and camera operators produce four documentaries on local themes proposed to them.

Finally, to collaborate on a proposal that offers discussions and conversations that allow us «to look at the world in Melgaço» at a festival without a red carpet. Rather, we privilege the meeting and fraternization between filmmakers and all participants.

Can you tell us about the area where the festival takes place? What is its history? Geography?

Melgaço is a village located in the extreme north region of Portugal. Located on the border with Spain, the village developed around the castle built in the XII/XIII century by the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques. It is the county seat with an area of 238.25 km2 and has about 8,000 inhabitants. Melgaço is part of the Peneda-Gerês National Park.

In the economy, wine production stands out, especially sparkling wine and Alvarinho wine from Melgaço, where there are 30 producers. The unique microclimate has made the white variety «alvarinho» one of the ex-libris of the municipality. In addition to the wines, Melgaço mineral water is extracted. It is a carbonated mineral water that is bottled as it is collected. Due to its geographical and geological characteristics, Melgaço has become, in recent decades, a tourist destination for nature and for the practice of extreme sports, such as rafting, canoeing and canyoning.

The festival prominently features the name Jean-Loup Passek. Can you explain Jean-Loup Passek’s relationship with the town and festival?

Born in 1936 in Boulogne-sur-Seine, Jean-Loup Passek graduated in History and Geography at the Sorbonne in Paris. Affectively and professionally linked to cinema, he was editorial director of the Dictionnaire Larousse du Cinéma, director of cinema at the Center Georges Pompidou, founder and director of the Festival de la Rochelle and coordinator of the «Caméra d’Or» at the Cannes festival. During his entire life, he collected more than one hundred thousand photographs, thousands of posters, books and an important set of devices from the so-called pre-cinema period. Jean-Loup Passek donated his entire collection to the municipality of Melgaço due to the friendship he established with the Portuguese emigrant community in Paris, whom he met while filming his works in the metro. One of the emigrants with whom he had a strong friendship was António Souto, from Melgaço. This meeting began a deep connection to Portugal, which would become his second homeland. In 2005, the Municipality of Melgaço fulfilled its dream, the creation of a «sentimental museum» where its collection could be presented. The Melgaço International Documentary Festival was created in 2014, and its origin is linked to the existence of the Jean-Loup Passek Cinema Museum.

The MDOC themes, identity, memory, and border, are universal and directly related to the history of Melgaço and its territory.

The festival is ethnographic in nature, focusing on films around identity, memory, and border themes. Why these themes?

The MDOC themes, identity, memory, and border, are universal and directly related to the history of Melgaço and its territory. A cultural identity marked by geographical conditions gave rise to many local activities. One is transhumance, an agro-pastoral organization that characterized life in mountainous regions until the 20th century. The extensive and diversified border, which goes from the River Minho, passing through mountain rivers such as Trancoso and Laboreiro and a dry strip that extends along the plateau of Castro Laboreiro, allowed a strong mark left by the massive illegal emigration that marked the county after the 2nd World War due to economic shortages and deep social inequalities with a drop in the population of around 48.2%, and smuggling, a survival activity that the border with Spain allowed and accompanied the period of the Salazar dictatorship.

We understand identity, memory and boundary in a very comprehensive way. As an example, the theme «border» can have a «geographic», «psychological», «thought» reading, etc., and it is a very expressive theme to be explored in documentary.

These themes are the starting point for the festival to present documentaries with cinematic expression, share points of view on a world that is in crisis, and challenge viewers to answer universal questions, such as: What is the world in which we live? What is my place in it?

For you, is there a seminal film, filmography, or filmmaker that really kick-started your interest in documentary?

My relationship with documentaries begins almost simultaneously, and in two ways – through film club activity and making them. A decisive milestone in Portuguese history, the Revolution of 25 April 1974 opened the door to the world. It drew attention to all that was urgently needed in the field of culture. The awareness of this urgency led, at the time, many young people to dedicate themselves to militant work in the area of ​​theatre, cinema, and culture. The film club activity in which I participated found to question, promote debates and show filmographies that were unknown and prohibited in a Portugal that had ceased to be ruled by a dictator and wanted to keep pace with Europe.

From the 1980s onwards, I was able to collaborate in an intense activity of regular dissemination of cinema in the city of Viana do Castelo and in exhibition circuits that included associations in the region. Understanding documentary as a means of giving voice to ordinary people, I started filming in Super8 and had the opportunity to participate, in Portugal, in the first stage of direct cinema supervised by Jean LoÏc Portron, trainer of the Center de Recherche et Formation au Cinéma Direct, today Ateliers Varan. This first approach allowed me to attend two more internships at Ateliers Varan in Paris (initiation, in 1982 and improvement, in 1986). I was able to meet and follow Jean Rouch’s classes at the French Cinematheque. This encounter with direct cinema was decisive in my subsequent activity in the field of cinema, which I always shared with my teaching activity.

Steve Rickinson
Steve Rickinson
Steve lives in Bucharest, Romania. He is Communications Manager and Industry Editor of MTR.

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