Couple of weeks ago major Portuguese film festival simply called FEST closed. We decided to interview one of it's key-figures to find out more about event and encourage you to apply next year.
Fernando Vasquez is Producer and Artistic Director of Portuguese film forum FEST that includes Training Ground, biggest European educational campus for filmmakers.
Most of FEST’s organizing team members have filmmaking education. When we finished our film school, we realized that there was no such a place where we could go and network. There was a Talent Campus in Berlin, but that’s a very different structure. I don’t wanna say “limited”, but it’s very specific and held in bigger context. It’s much easier to lose yourself at such a big event like Berlinale. What we did, I believe, is more complete. It’s a 3-in-1 event (Training Ground, Pitching Forum and Film Festival), where networking is the main idea.
So, my position in FEST is Producer. It’s an official title. What I do, I am responsible for artistic direction. And at the same time I am responsible for several different teams and different aspects of those teams. I am a head of programming team. I form the team and lead the team – I do decide who is the right person for selecting films. Then I am managing the teams that are responsible for submission process, for invitations process, for contacting filmmakers and distributors. And I make everything that has to do with promotion of the program.
The composition of the programming team varies from year to year. Now we are going through restructuring process. At the moment we are 18 people and we received quite a lot of films. I now can’t remember the exact number, but over 3000 films were officially submitted. Plus to that number films that we watch at other festivals and films that we invite. We don’t have strict premiere policies, so on one hand we have a bigger choice, on the other there is much more work to do compare to premiere festivals of the same scale. We received over 500 features. Since everything has to be seen from the beginning to the end, watching them took us a lot of time.
What about statistic on what percentage of films selected comes from other festivals and what percentage was submitted officially… Well, it depends. When I see the film that could work for us, I try to stimulate filmmaker or distributor to submit a film. Or I just clearly invite it and do all the efforts to get the film. But it doesn’t happen much.
FEST is divided into 3 disciplines. Actually, there are 3 events taking place at the same time. On one side we have the festival with a competition of first and second features and competition of short films whose directors are under 30 years old. This is for fiction, documentary, animation and experiment films. There are side sections. As an example, we have a section called “Flags of the World”. We select couple of countries with emergence of new movement. Also we have retrospectives. We show 180 films in total.
At the same time we have a Training Ground which is a basically a film forum. It’s 6 days of master-classes, workshops and debates headed by key-people of the industry. We receive roughly 400 participants every year coming from different parts of the world, looking for different aspects of filmmaking – not only production, but also administration. We do try to make a program as complete as possible.
And at the same time we have the third side of FEST which is the Pitching Forum. Every year we select series of projects for it. They are films on paper. Selected projects are developed throughout a week with specially invited tutors. Aim is mainly to prepare for a 5-minutes presentation that is done at the end when the Pitching Forum actually takes place. Participants present their projects to producers, distributors and investors. It is where they get feedback on the project individually and collectively. And if everything is ok, they also get money.
Ultimately, there are 3 obvious and standard aims for such events. Pitching is for presentation of projects and helping them happen. Festival is for screening films to the local audience and festival guests. Campus is for improving filmmaking skills of its participants. All these things are very important, but main aim is to create a platform and put lots of young filmmakers at the same place giving them an opportunity to interact informally with presenting masters.
All tutors come for the whole week. It’s a key point. No one comes to conduct just one lesson. Espinho is a resort city on the ocean coast not far from Porto. There is not much happening in there at the time of festival, except the beach. So both participants and tutors spend much time on festival spots. Festival has its official restaurant and bar that provide friendly environment for making new contacts.
Those who work on film sets soon realize that all chain links matter. Every single stage from catering to editing is important. If you want to be director, you should know at least a little bit about everything.
We pay a big attention to technicians. We organize workshops on sound, editing, photography etc. We even had Foley Artists workshop.
Many of our participants are film students. So we try to fill the gaps in classical film school education. We don’t do standard meetings with filmmakers. It is interesting to listen to anecdotes about what happened on a film set with famous actors, but such meetings don’t give any knowledge. There is no point doing Q&As. It’s not worth all the efforts it takes to organize it. We are trying to do very specific workshops. For example, for couple of years we had Michael Katz running production workshop. He works with Michael Haneke for last 15 years. What we did was a ‘case study’ of a film. We chose ‘White Ribbon’ and he went it to the end: how the whole production was built and developed, what were major difficulties they had, how they solved it etc. It’s much more concrete and useful.
There are disciplines classic film schools ignore, such as distribution. So many young directors who had luck to be selected for a major festival are not prepared for promoting and work with press. They compete with hundreds of films, and unfortunately most of promising debutants disappear after 10 years.
Every year more than 500 participants attend FEST. Russians can apply for everything. Training Ground and Festival are open to everyone who is interested to participate, wherever he comes from. The only limitations are in Festival’s competitive sections. For Short Films Section we only accept films from directors up to the age of 30 at the time of production, and for Main Сompetition we accept first and second features. Everything else is welcomed to anyone who wants. We had many participants from Russia. Significant number of Russian filmmakers attend workshops of Training Ground. We had at least one Russian project at Pitching Forum. We screen Russian films as well. We even had a Russian Partner called Generation Campus, it’s a big pity it doesn’t exist anymore.
We do promote our training programs via schools and make really huge discounts to those students of partner schools who wish to attend workshops. We offer some other services like doing master-classes at school. For example, master-classes on film distribution and festival promotion are extremely popular.
Interviewed by Hanna Mironenko.
Main picture: O Centro Multimeios de Espinho, festival center.
Photographed by Luis Ferreira Alves e Jorge Santos, 2000