Year after year, the International Competition is one of the festival’s most eagerly awaited sections. And there’s a clear reason for it. Not only this section connects borders, brings cultures closer and establishes a dialogue between them, it also sets the tone for the kind of cinema marking its presence in the festival. In the year of IndieLisboa’s coming of age, International Competition features reveal a variety of cross-section and conscientious voices, through which one of the festival’s main concerns throughout its 18 years of existence is seen: the will to tear apart the walls caging one’s thoughts.
With part of the International Competition programme having been announced earlier this month – 32 short films -, the section now completes its programme with 12 feature films that travel from Kosovo to Georgia, through the Appalachian mountains and Argentina, and not only bring forward already affirmed talents, such as Alice Diop, Rosine Mbakam or Julien Faraut, but also alert us to new voices that have been enchanting both spectators and critics around the world, like Ephraim Asili, Norika Sefa, Manque la Banca, Emma Seligman or Alexandre Koberidze. Among these films, 6 are documentaries, 6 are fictional dramas and 7 women directors lead the section.
Among the documentaries is The Last Hillbilly, a look at a whole generation living in the Appalachian mountains in Kentucky which gives Brian Ritchie, a hillbilly, an opening to confirm the stereotypes associated with those who are part of the community, but also giving wings to a new portrait of its people that is poetically sewed in the process. Speaking of belonging, Alice Diop’s We will be one of the sections’ high points this year. A filmed essay that takes the diversity of human gesture as its motto, drawing isolated protraits that compose the stories and faces of a French nation haunted by separation and ruptures. A filmed testimony. In the same line of thought, there’s Radiograph of a Family, which tells the story of the life and marriage of director Firouzeh Khosrovani’s parents, who could not be at more opposite poles of secularism and religious Islamic ideology. Khosrovani does this using archive images, letters and conversations, examining, in the process, the core conflicts of the Iranian society. Another crude register is Rosine Mbakam’s, whose cinema has been focusing on the migrant experience. IndieLisboa presents her most recent film, Delphine’s Prayers, about a Cameroonian young, long-suffering woman who joins Mbakam’s exploration of themes such as weight, domination of patriarchal societies over African women, or sexual exploration.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo, during 1964’s Olympic Games, a Japanese feminine volley team wins the gold medal, and Julian Faraut, extraordinary sports filmmaker (The Realm of Perfection), remembers the historic moment seventy yeats later in The Witches of the Orient. Beyond these, there is also Ski, a film marking Manque La Banca’s return to IndieLisboa (after his short film T.R.A.P, selected in the Silvestre section in 2018) and paying a tribute to a hybrid and unconstrained cinema, mirrored in this first feature through the portrait of Bariloche, Patagonia’s sanctuary for ski lovers.
In the fiction field, The Inheritance, the first feature by Ephraim Asili, is a meta-textual film centered on a community of artists and black activists in the west side of Philadephia, uniting marxism with a memory of the liberation movement MOVE, attacked by the police in 1985. In the meantime, in the outskirts of Madrid, residents who built their homes from scratch are compelled to relocate. Last Days of Spring, the first film by Dutch director Isabel Lamberti, summons Italian neorealism to explore the transformation through which this community is forced to go.
There is a second glimpse of the wild Appalachian mountains in Brandon Colvin’s A Dim Valley. Part queer allegory, part folklore, it is an ethereal, modern version of a 60’s free love film, that
has at its centre a grumpy biologist and his postgraduate course assistants. Still in the United States, but now in a highly claustrophobic Brooklyn during the shiva period (a week of Jewish mourning), a young woman is put in an ungrateful situation of having to confront herself, her future, her ex-girlfriend, the sugar daddy, and the many nosy relatives. Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby is an acidic and nauseating comedy, that makes this section one not to be missed. Speaking of claustrophobia, Looking for Venera takes us to a small Kosovo town where three generations live in the same house. In it also lives Venera, a teenager with no space to grow up and explore who she might become. A sensible debut film by Norika Sefa, it is an observational work that deduces the importance of feeding the personal hunger for freedom. In this line of calm and bright films, there is also What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?, Aleksandre Koberidze’s pearl of a film, whose camera brings poetry to day-to-day gestures in an ode to love, football and cinema. In the form of a modern folk tale, it focuses on a classic meet-cute and a cursed love, and is another of the great highlights of this year’s programme, in the midst of films that travel through a world map and get under our skin before we even realise they are inside us.
- A Dim Valley, Brandon Colvin, fic., USA, 2020, 92’
- Looking for Venera, Norika Sefa, fic., Kosovo/North Macedonia, 2021, 111’
- The Last Hillbilly, Diane Sara Bouzgarrou/Thomas Jenkoe, doc., France/Qatar, 2020, 80’
- Shiva Baby, Emma Seligman, fic., USA, 2020, 77’
- What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?, Aleksandre Koberidze, fic., Georgia/Germany, 2021, 150’
- Ski, Manque La Banca, doc./fic., Argentina/Brazil, 2021, 74’
- The Inheritance, Ephraim Asili, doc./fic., USA, 2020, 101’
- We, Alice Diop, doc., France, 2021, 115’
- Last Days of Spring, Isabel Lamberti, fic., Spain/The Netherlands, 2020, 77’
- Radiograph of a Family, Firouzeh Khosrovani, doc., Iran/Norway/Switzerland, 2020, 80’
- The Witches of the Orient, Julien Faraut, doc., France, 2021, 100’
- Delphine’s Prayers, Rosine Mbakam, doc., Belgium/Cameroon, 2021, 91’