October 2004 – January 2005: A long (and mostly virtual) way to Porto Alegre!
Journey across the world
We crossed half the world in two days (Delhi – Paris – Sao Paulo – Porto Alegre) with a film festival in our hand baggage! Too nervous to trust the screening masters to the bellies of the series of planes we took to Porto Alegre, we kept them physically with us and kept our fingers crossed about the posters and brochures that were travelling in the same bellies. Expensively over weighted, harassed and exhausted we only hoped to get THERE. For sure we also hoped that the screening copies that were supposed to reach Porto Alegre directly had actually reached, and were working, and would be compatible with the equipment in the auditorium that had been allotted to the festival and many such extraordinary hopes. ‘Other Worlds are Breathing 2005’, the festival of films on alternatives that we curated for the World Social Forum 2005 was truly a ‘mad affair’ with films; rooted in hope, faith and love. Perhaps in its spirit it really reflected the hope and madness of the World Social Forum itself!
WSF 2005 and Porto Alegre
WSF 2005 gathered 155,000 participants from 135 countries in Porto Alegre, capital of the state of Rio Sul in South-East Brazil, between 26-31 January. 2,500 odd activities were housed over a few kilometres on bank of the river Guaíba. 2,800 volunteers supported the whole event.
The Forum was geographically hugely spread out with each thematic terrain housed in clearly defined areas. The central point of the Forum was Usina do Gasômetro, a gas factory reconverted into the central co-ordination area of the WSF with spaces for cultural activities too. Usina do Gasômetro was right on the river bank, just where the Guaíba takes a bend and the Forum stretched out on its two sides. Thematic terrains were housed together, in wonderfully converted sheds or creatively constructed tents.
The Forum took place under a ferocious summer sun and the nicely shaded streets of down town Porto Alegre seemed filled with WSF participants… Every single walker-by seemed to have his WSF cotton bag over the shoulder!
But to begin at the beginning…
In December 2003, while selecting films for the global film festival Magic Lantern Foundation (MLF) was organising for WSF Mumbai 2004, and after having watched dozens of films, one of the members of the selection committee expressed his surprise that so few films actually focused on exploring alternatives for another world. Most of them indeed documented social tragedies, economic collapses, environmental disasters and injustice in its various forms.
After debating the issue, we managed to club together a few films exploring alternatives under the theme ‘Other Worlds Are Breathing’ and we evoked the possibility of creating a festival later on that would specifically look into alternatives. The overall film festival eventually took the name of that section and the foreword to the brochure ended on a call for a film festival exploring alternatives in 2005.
The overwhelming response to the 2004 festival got us started. The next project in line would be to put together a festival of films on alternatives. Someone had sowed the idea and we were ready to give it all we had to see it happen! Because we believed so much that there is a need, a space to be gained in the media to give inspiration and ignite people’s imagination. We believed so much in people’s need for hope and in films’ ability to be a first partial answer, a sparkle.
First meetings to discuss the concept took place in May – June 2004. From then on it would be endless chats over large cups of coffee. We had a great time dreaming it! We never imagined Other Worlds are Breathing 2005 as a one-time event curated for Porto Alegre: From the early conceptual phase, we saw it as a travelling package whose start in Porto Alegre would be symbolic. We always dreamt it further than Brazil because such a package would only take its full meaning through its expansion and multiplication.
But at the same time, we decided to write a project proposal which would only target WSF 2005: We needed a budget to at least reach Porto Alegre, which seemed so far away!
In July 2004 the Co-ordinator for Culture for WSF 2004 was asked by the International Organising Committee to explore possibilities of creating a cultural content for the WSF 2005. Before she left for the meeting in Sao Paolo, she asked the old team for ideas. Although we, from Magic Lantern, could not attend the meeting that was held in Mumbai, we sent our idea. After that it was once again a long wait while different actors in different parts of the world got their acts together.
Finally on 28th September 2004 some of us who were very interested in working with culture at WSF 2005 met in Mumbai. We decided a few things. First of all we (three organisations and four individual artists) formed a loose collective called @Culture. We also agreed on creating five events: a programme for the opening ceremony (by Bishakha Dutta of Point of View), a plenary on culture (by filmmakers Madhushree Dutta and Paromita Vohra), an exhibition on hunger (by the artist Tushar Joag), an installation on borders (curated by artists Mamta Murthy and Shilpa Gupta) and finally, a curated film festival on alternatives (Magic Lantern Foundation had proposed it and was responsible for this.).
A joint proposal was developed and search for funding began. HIVOS came through in October and funded 50% of the budget. Eventually, we did not manage to raise the other 50% Mainly because the search for funding had begun very late and also many donors have begun to withdraw from the WSF process altogether. However, the plenary and the opening ceremony were partially subsidised by the WSF.
We managed to work with a shoe-string budget because all members of @Culture took a policy decision to work on a voluntary basis and to only spend on creation or curation. At our end the festival happened because MLF chipped in with a part of the administrative budget and the filmmakers generously contributed their films, for preview and some for the screening too, at their own cost. In fact Boris Mitic, whose screening copy never reached Brazil, sent another copy by courier at the last minute, which did not reach either! (We managed to show his film, twice, to enthusiastic audiences, because we had taken a NTSC DVD back up from the preview VHS tapes (in PAL!) for each film that was expected to reach Brazil directly. With so much riding on hope and trust we had none left for courier companies and as it turned out, it was a good thing to do.
The curation process
We started looking for films in October, still full of uncertainties and not quite sure whether we would make it till Porto Alegre, but we had faith! We started receiving films by the third week of October and all together received over 115 films, from all over the world. The festival was clearly defined as a curated one and we were therefore considering films we knew of too.
The curation process was a very spontaneous, personal and intuitive one. We would watch films and somehow quickly know which ones fit. For instance, some good films were kept out because they did not offer any context to their local story and were therefore difficult to share with a multi-cultural audience.
By the third week of December, we had selected films from the ones received through the call letter. In the following weeks, we added to them films we knew of that fitted the package. Some of them were in fact films which had formed the ‘Other Worlds are Breathing’s section of Other Worlds are Breathing, at WSF Mumbai 2004.
By 10th of January, we had what we thought would be our package of films.
Entering WSF cultural space: a mission!
Curating the film festival was not the only challenging part of the process; the other side of it was to make our way in the wild WSF space! Whom to talk to in order to get a space for the festival? Who were the people behind the anonymous cultural committee’s email id? A film festival required a specific space, we had to make sure we would not end up in a tent; we had to ensure we would receive enough space to accommodate all the films that composed the package. Nothing was simple as the organisation of a substantial self-organised film festival was a first-timer for the WSF organisers.
This is where Daniela Broitman enters the picture: Daniela is an activist filmmaker from Rio de Janeiro whom MLF knew since Other Worlds are Breathing at WSF Mumbai 2004. Daniela submitted films for Other Worlds are Breathing 2005 and happened to be part of the Cultural Committee for WSF 2005: We requested her to hunt for a space for the film festival, by first urgently sending her to a meeting of the Cultural Committee in Sao Paulo mid-December 2004, during which spaces for the various cultural events would be allocated. The fact that we finally received a space which fitted a film festival’s requirements can only be attributed to her presence in that meeting: The films’ section of the cultural committee had never heard of our film festival despite our registration on the WSF website’s cultural section!
It took much longer to precisely figure out the kind of space it would be, the number of hours we would receive and so on. All this happened a week before our departure for Brazil. We got the auditorium’s name after posters and brochures had gone to press!
The language issue in this whole negotiation process was a major one: Even once the contact got established with the Cultural Committee members working on films, everything had to transit through Daniela because most members spoke only Portuguese, a language we have come to admire but didn’t even know enough to say hello in!
Virtual encounter with Eduardo Rosa
By the time we got in touch with Daniela, we also realised the need for a local contact in Porto Alegre (Daniela was based in Rio). Todd Lester, who had volunteered with the film festival in 2004, put us into a loop of friends, and we contacted a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, based in Porto Alegre: Eduardo Rosa. When we wrote to him for the first time, all we knew about him was that he organised film festivals in Porto Alegre and would certainly be delighted to help us organised ours. It was freaky to trust a virtual being enough to entitle him with the right of receiving screening tapes, but there was no choice but to trust. Eduardo remained a mystery pretty much till we met him on our first day in Porto Alegre. His emails would always be enthusiastic and reassuring but short! We figured out he was a film student through one such email.
Language issues around the festival went far beyond this mere communication problem with the cultural committee members. The whole festival presented a language issue: 30 films from 24 countries, selected from India, for a widely multilingual audience in Brazil could not be a simple affair!
From the Mumbai experience, we knew that we had to think the translation issue through from an early stage. But here again we faced difficulties: unanswered emails from voluntary translation networks committed to the WSF, not knowing the kind of space we would get, etc.
We asked all filmmakers for scripts, got Daniela and Eduardo to enquire on equipment and translators’ costs in Brazil, figured out that professional prices were unaffordable and availability limited (due to the Forum), put a special request in front of the Cultural Committee for free equipment and received a negative answer few days before leaving for Brazil (they suddenly got their budget cut).
We really tried everything, contacted every single person we thought could help, rang every bell, thought of every way out, in, up, around: it did not happen.
Entering WSF 2005 physical space
The WSF had warned us that there would be no volunteers available to support our event. We ended up getting one, who seemed promising but spent his days sitting among the public, watching films.
Eduardo Rosa, on the other hand, was a dream-come-true. He was helpful, gentle, caring, and practical. He, among other things, created a team of volunteers for the festival from his friends, all smart, multi-lingual students and really helped promoting as well as conducting the festival. We can positively say that without his support that film festival would not have happened as well as it did.
Promotion campaign in Porto Alegre
The film festival took place at Santander Cultural, a 7 minutes-walk from the other cultural activities of the Forum and a 10-minutes walk from Usina do Gasômetro but it remained nonetheless outside the Forum’s space. This geographical situation necessitated us to make a special effort in terms of publicising the festival at the Forum.
From India, we had brought the festival’s poster and brochure designed by Sherna Dastur. The poster is a 40 x 30 inches horizontal format and the brochure a square 3-folds handout, available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.We started pasting the posters with the help of our volunteers on 24th around the Gasômetro, and quickly realised that people liked it so much that they were stealing it right after we had pasted it. It was certainly a compliment but a clear drawback on the information dissemination front! We however kept going back to Gasômetro and covered the other most important areas of the Forum’s space with our posters, knowing that we would have to do it again the next day! Eduardo Rosa involved his friends in the pasting campaign and we also did our fair bit, taking the opportunity of some pasting in Porto Alegre’s cafes in the evening to discover the happening places of the Brazilian city.
The brochure was meant for distribution at the film festival. We had 1,500 brochures which covered 3 languages: Portuguese, Spanish and English. By the time we left, stocks were exhausted.
On our first meeting with Eduardo Rosa, we decided that we would require some kind of a ‘flyer’, which could be massively distributed to people and would contain basic information on the festival. Eduardo, a rock D.J. apart from being a film student, designed the flyer in the fashion of a concert flyer. It was tiny, 10×10 cm but contained all the necessary information, was bi-lingual, English and Portuguese, and was printed in purple. We printed 5,000 of those and kept distributing them wherever we went and left some at strategic points. (And we were simply delighted to see many people walking in to the festival holding, unbelievingly, that slip of paper. And practically speaking – given the distance between say Area J (where the terrain on Dignity was being held) and Santander Cultural, easily a distance of 5 km, their lack of faith was not surprising. In fact what was surprising, but immensely gratifying, was their eagerness to see films on alternatives that made them brave the harsh Brazilian sun, the distance and the maze of the Santander Cultural to find their way into the festival.
The @culture handout
@Culture too had created a bi-lingual flyer in English and Spanish that mentioned all the five events that were being held at the WSF 2005. This too was distributed generously and helped people to find their way towards the festival.
The WSF cultural programme
Other Worlds are Breathing 2005’s detailed programme was of course announced in the WSF cultural programme, but the Forum’ various programmes were so thick and unreadable that it took people some time to figure out their options. However by Day 2, January 28th, a sizeable number of people began to stream in with this information.
Other Worlds are Breathing 2005, 27-30 January 2005
Santander Cultural – The venue
Other Worlds are Breathing 2005 took place in Santander Cultural, an art centre nested in a beautiful old building in down town Porto Alegre, on the Praça da Alfandega, and well known in the city for the quality of its cultural programme. On arriving at Porto Alegre we learnt that Santander Cultural is sponsored by the Santander Bank and felt that it was quite ironical that a WSF event would take place in such a space! The building was gorgeous (though as formal as a museum of natural sciences!) and the exhibition space amazing unfortunately they would not allow any pictures inside the building, and there would be a security person every 20 metres. While we were there, Santander Cultural hosted a Brazilian contemporary photography exhibition on the ground floor and an extensive Cartier Bresson exhibition on the first floor, where the festival was also taking place. The ground floor also hosted two very nice cafes, a free internet space run on Linux and an art cinema. Santander was a strange mix of conservative rules, slightly decadent people and contemporary art but the team was friendly and sometimes helpful.
Other Worlds are Breathing 2005 was hosted in 2 identical rooms opposite each other (Sala Leste and Sala Oeste, ie Room East and Room West) separated by a fairly narrow space that became the festival’s lobby space over those 4 days. Here the festival’s volunteers stood and handed over to people the brochure and film’s schedule and gave tireless explanations on films, schedules, Magic Lantern Foundation and so on, in Portuguese, English, Spanish and sometimes French.
The rooms had a capacity of 100 seats each. The first 2 days, we only had Sala Leste and the last 2 days we had both. The rooms had moulded ceilings, wooden floors, large but covered windows and red velvet chairs.
The screening facilities were very good. The sound system was excellent and the screens of very good quality. Sala Oeste had a surrounding sound system. The Santander technicians were absolute sweet hearts with whom we communicated in slow English and confused Spanish topped with few Portuguese words, smiles and sign language. They never complained about the fact that we got late every single day, and sometimes very late!
Around mid-January, we learnt of the availability of auditoriums and the time allotted. Accordingly we had prepared the screening schedule and this had been published in the main WSF programme, in the section on culture. However, because everything kept changing all the time and we were not 100% sure that this schedule would be adhered to we did not print a schedule in India. Once we were confirmed about the time allotted Eduardo Rosa took the responsibility of designing and printing a screening schedule.
The advantage of a focused selection meant that we could repeat a few sections and films.
Other Worlds Are Breathing 2005 would begin at 2.00 p.m. each afternoon and continue till 8.30 p.m. One of the curators introduced the Sections and films and the volunteers translated into Portuguese. If filmmakers were present the screening would be followed by a 10-15 minute interaction.
On Day 1 approximately 40 people attended. Most of the audience was extremely surprised and pleased with the selection. Many people told us that this was a significant collection. Almost everyone told us that they would also spread the word around.
Day 2 onwards the number of audience increased and by the evening we had the unpleasant task of telling people that the house was full.
On Day 3 & 4 we had two auditoriums and the audience varied. A few films attracted full house and some saw about 50% in attendance. People also came to see specific sections.
Overall, the screenings were well attended. The first day was a bit too quiet for our taste but from the second day onwards, people started pouring in. People really enjoyed the films’ quality and diversity and fully understood the need for this package to be created. This was extremely rewarding.
We got positive comments on each and every film, questions on where to buy them from, questions on why it is so difficult to see such films on a regular basis, and so on. Quite a few people came to us expressing their desire to host the festival in their university, college, cultural centre, Municipality and so on.
A few hitches
On arriving in Porto Alegre we found that there had been a problem with Rodrigo Infante’s film, ‘Brave New Words.’ This was the one film we had not worried endlessly about as the filmmaker was in Brazil. Rodrigo had run into a technical snag and was not going to be able to send in his film at all! We replaced that with ‘Work in Progress’ a film by Paromita Vohra who is a member of @Culture. The film provided an account of the last WSF, held in Mumbai in January 2004.
Encounters with filmmakers
Filmmakers’ presence to screenings brought a lot of energy into the process and a lot of excitement from the public.
Paromita Vohra was there from India to introduce her film to the very first spectators of the festival, a warm audience of about 40 people. Her film was very well received but she could unfortunately not take any questions after the screening as she was expected in another event.
Scott O’Brien, filmmaker and activist from Burma, came to introduce ‘Karen Education Surviving’ and had a Q&A session with a very interested audience. His special request to not take photographs of him – underlined the threats people like him live under. His conversation mostly centred around the current situation in Burma and Karen lands.
Farah Nousheen came from the US to present ‘Nazrah: A Muslim’s woman’s perspective’. The film is a series of conversations with Muslim women living in the US and explores a range of issues, from cultural diversity to sexuality. The filmmaker felt that the inclusion of such a film at a festival called Other Worlds Are Breathing was truly a cause for celebration in today’s times when there are attempt to contain identities into narrow, parochial boundaries. Most of the questions revolved around the issues of feminism and Islam.
Daniela Broitman had a long discussion with the audience over her and Fernando Salis’ film ‘Voices from the edge – The Favela goes to the World Social Forum’, as it was the last screening of the day. However, the discussion soon shifted gears and language into Portuguese and the intensity of the discussion was so heightened that the translators got left behind!
Debora Palomo, Silvia de Los Santos, Lalo Paret and Freddy Espinosa, all part of the movement of workers who take over their factories in Argentina and are the main characters of ‘The Take’, by Avi Lewis, were there, with some members of the production crew, to receive a very emotional standing ovation from an overwhelmed audience. See http://rabble.ca/redirect.php3?ID=4605 for a full account of the screening. That evening, the 29th of January, it got very difficult to wrap up the discussion, conversations carried on in the Plaza, much after Santander Cultural shut down.
On 30th January, The Take’s actors came back to introduce the second screening of the film as did Marcelo, both in front of a very crowded and enthusiastic hall.
Concluding and conclusive matters
From a comment thrown at us during the selection process of Other Worlds are Breathing 2004 to Porto Alegre 2005, the journey has indeed been very significant. We had felt there was a need to curate a festival focused on alternatives. We had hoped that people would respond to it. And people’s response in Porto Alegre was overwhelming and strongly reaffirmed our belief in the need for such a package! The breadth and depth of the package surprised people. Many of them told us that the film festival communicated the concepts and challenges of the WSF far more effectively than the speeches they had heard. It had the ability to bring in the non-converted. And more importantly the festival gave many people a sense of excitement and this energising feeling which is the prerequisite to any kind of ‘doing’; ‘making’ and ‘moving forward’.
The challenge now lies in making the film festival travel a long way, to the different social forums as well as to other spaces, to spread the word and unlock the energy. And for this we will need support from each of you!
A report by Aurélie de Lalande and Gargi Sen
Photographs by Aurélie de Lalande