Views from the Amazon: Some Notes from the Midpoint of the Amazonas Film Festival.

by Eric Kohn
November 6, 2010 6:56 AM
0 Comments
  • |

When you tell people you're going to the Amazonas Film Festival, located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, their eyes go wide and their imaginations go wider: Imagine the possibilities of watching movies with monkeys, crocodiles and sloths! Actually, the truth is a little subtler than that. Amazonas, currently in the midst of its seventh year, takes place in Manaus, Brazil, a lively city with close to two million residents at the heart of the country's largest state. Screenings are held in the magnificent Amazon Theater, most famous to outsiders for inspiring Klaus Kinski's character in "Fitzcarraldo" to build an opera house of his own. The theater was virtually abandoned for close to a century after the city lost its main source of revenue, the rubber industry, although it has managed to thrive ever since the government turned it into a tax-free zone. (Filmmaker magazine's Jason Guerrasio, my fellow U.S. journo/partner in crime at the festival alongside Film Journal's Sarah Sluis, provides a nice summary of the theater's history.)

When you tell people you're going to the Amazonas Film Festival, located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, their eyes go wide and their imaginations go wider: Imagine the possibilities of watching movies with monkeys, crocodiles and sloths! Actually, the truth is a little subtler than that. Amazonas, currently in the midst of its seventh year, takes place in Manaus, Brazil, a lively city with close to two million residents at the heart of the country's largest state. Screenings are held in the magnificent Amazon Theater, most famous to outsiders for inspiring Klaus Kinski's character in "Fitzcarraldo" to build an opera house of his own. The theater was virtually abandoned for close to a century after the city lost its main source of revenue, the rubber industry, although it has managed to thrive ever since the government turned it into a tax-free zone. (Filmmaker magazine's Jason Guerrasio, my fellow U.S. journo/partner in crime at the festival alongside Film Journal's Sarah Sluis, provides a nice summary of the theater's history.)

At most regional festivals, the main star of the show should be the movies and the dialogue that emerges from them; anything that qualifies as a tourist dalliance also qualifies as a distraction. In this case, however, my recent trip to an old rubber plantation and an upcoming overnight outing that will take me into the jungle feed directly into the festival's local intentions. A state-run event, the Amazonas Film Festival harbors an agenda of boosting film culture throughout the area, from the city itself to the far-off rural communities. Exploring the state, then, allows you to see the festival at work. (Look for a more detailed report of my findings by the end of the week.)

The screening schedule is a welcome low-stress affair. Each evening program contains a feature and several Brazilian shorts that always steal the show. Over the last few days, I've sat through Lucy Walker's well-meaning but uneven documentary "Waste Land," the overwrought Chinese epic "After Shock" and the soapy Venezuelan production "Habana Eva." While none of them blew me away, I admired how the crowd appeared to forgive their flaws for the sake of experiencing the larger spectacle of the festival.

But the shorts have been the real place for discoveries. Juliano Dornelles's "Cold Tropics" assembles a comical mockumentary out of the idea that a meteor will change Brazil's climate to below zero in the near future. Aping the style of a TV report, the movie investigates nearly every facet of Brazilian culture while envisioning its end with an apocalyptic sense of humor straight out of "Dr. Strangelove" (right down to the closing musical number). The runner-up spot on my current list goes to Anna Azevedo's "Geral," a fascinating look at soccer fandom in Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium. Rather than focusing on the game, Azevedo turns the camera on the faces in the crowd, resulting in a neat application of the famous Kuleshov Effect. Experiencing the game through their eyes provides an entry point for understanding the national temperament. Which is sort of like my experience so far watching movies in Manaus.

Some snapshots from the festival:

Charlie Chaplin is on hand at the red carpet to welcome moviegoers.

Across the street from the theater lies a church sporting architecture typical of the area.



The Amazonas Theater is magnificent enough to give Cannes's Palais des Festival a run for its money, even if the seats are a tad uncomfortable. Here's a brief look inside:


Manaus locals relax at E.T. bar, where the crowd spills out to the middle of the street.


The guest of honor at this year's festival is actress/singer Soledad Villamil, who put on a show for the crowd at the lavish Rio Negro, the former home of a rubber baron:

But I was personally more interested in the rubber itself, so I journeyed out to an old plantation in the jungle to learn about the process behind its creation:

After the opening night screening, a local band put on a killer performance:

You might also like:

0 Comments

Follow Me

Most "Liked"