Júlio Silvão: “The closing of Cape Verde’s movie theaters is an affront to culture” 15 June 2007
Júlio Silvão Tavares is currently one of the most visible faces of Cape Verde’s still incipient cinema, after making the documentary Batuque, a Alma de um Povo (Batuque, the Soul of a People) and promoting workshops in the area of cinematography. In this interview with A Semana Online, the filmmaker speaks of his projects and harshly criticizes the posture of public and private Cape Verdean institutions regarding audiovisual arts and cinema.
Interviewed by Teresa Sofia Fortes
How did you become involved in the audiovisual sector?
I worked for about three years with a radio program on then Cape Verdean National Radio, now Cape Verdean Radio, named “Articultura.” We’re talking about 1992. The program was essentially aimed at divulging traditional culture and its promoters. With this program, someone asked me to elaborate an identical program for television, for two fundamental reasons: first, the non-existence of programs divulging our traditions, habits and customs, and secondly, on television there were no programs connecting the traditional cultural community to promoters of culture. When I made the proposal, it was accepted immediately and in 1993 I began producing and directing the cultural program “Dragoeiro,” which went on the air every two weeks. It lasted for three years. I remember the first day of shooting, I believe it was in the afternoon, in 5 de Julho Park, in which the director of programming himself at the time, Calú, made a point of serving as the cameraman. The program worked beautifully, was watched by many people, and even today is remembered positively by many. That’s how my passion, albeit somewhat tremulous, for audiovisual began. I thought I could do more and better if I had the proper conditions. I had a wonderful staff. Rogério Marques was the cameraman, Tcheka was the sound man and I worked on journalistic issues, production, direction and the presentation of the program. The editing was done by Rogério under my supervision. Those were interesting years.
Currently, you no longer work with the national television network and you have an independent career.
Yes, I created a cinema production and direction company, Silvão - Produções, Filmes, which began operating in 2004 immediately after the formalities for the creation of a business were carried out. I maintain good if not excellent relations with TCV, and it’s my natural partner, and indeed we’ve entered into a number of interesting partnerships. I’m always available to maintain this partnership or support our national television network. Television networks and independent producers should work in partnerships as a way of economizing resources, mainly in a market like ours in which it is extremely difficult to get financing for things that have to do with audiovisual or cinema.
In 2005, you directed your first documentary film, Batuque, a Alma de um Povo. What was this experience like?
It was very good. It was my first experience in directing, and I believe it turned out very well. My humility was the foundation of the entire process that oriented the making of the film. From the very beginning, I realized that in cinema, as in our personal life, we have to have to be humble and serious to be successful. It’s not worth it just to have the appearance. We have to be authentic, for we’re constantly being evaluated by everyone everywhere. I learned a lot. I learned to listen, to hear... I learned from the experiences of many people in the AFRICADOC course, in the conception of the Batuque film project, in pitching it in Senegal, in filming in Cape Verde and editing it in France. And I’ll take this opportunity to thank everyone involved. I believe that of all of the films directed by Cape Verdeans, Batuque, a alma de um Povo has been seen by the most people around the world.
What projects is Silvão - Produção, Filmes developing or thinking of doing?
Silvão - Produção, Filmes is still a child, it’s still crawling, but it often thinks like an adult. It’s the dynamics of things that make it that way. Think about it and you’ll notice that Cape Verde, in all cinematographic aspects, is still virgin, it has a lot to be done. The world cinema bandwagon, particularly that of most of the other Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), is already way ahead of us. We’re just beginning now. Our engine hasn’t even gotten started yet. There have been sporadic activities on the part of some Cape Verdeans, and more on the part of foreigners.
Our intention is to invert this situation, so recently we promoted a training and awareness-raising activity in the area of the art of cinema. We’re going to continue with these activities and carry out the specialization phase so that, within a certain amount of time, and I don’t know how much, we’ll have human resources capable of producing wonderful things for the country. We produced and directed a 24-minute documentary on Cape Verdean visual arts that has been seen on both Cape Verdean Television and [Portuguese network] RTP-África. It needs a little more excitement, and we’re working on this, and soon it will reappear on the international market.
We have another very interesting project that portrays the story of the Tarrafal prison center from the point of view of the armed assault on the ship Pérola do Oceano in August 1970 by a group of Cape Verdean nationalists who wanted to reach Guinea Bissau to take part in the war for liberation, a story that seems perverse. It should have been filmed in May, but had to be postponed for lack of financial resources. That’s how the world of cinema is, we still have to raise the awareness of a lot of people, people with economic or financial power and many political and financial decision-makers.
We’re going to have to analyze our domestic fund-raising actions, which so far have not been favorable. Perhaps the mistake is ours, and we haven’t yet been able to convince decision-makers of the real importance of cinema for their businesses. We have to find that magic wand of persuasion. But we’ll make it. We’re also working on the preparation of our first full-length film. It’s taking up practically all of our time (we’re working on it some 10 hours a day). It’s a project for 2008-2010. It’s a film whose synopsis has included in the FIICAV Festival in São Paulo (Brazil) last year, and interest has been shown by producers in some South American countries, which makes us very proud. We want to dedicate all the time we can on this project so we don’t disappoint anyone. The project’s provisional name is Triângulo Virgem (Virgin Triangle), and it’s a work of fiction that portrays Cape Verde’s fragility and lack of experience in terms of security during the first years of independence, being utilized as a drug warehouse from the Americas to Europe, with the crisis of the so-called direct line. We’ll see what happens. But the truth is that abroad it’s been very well-received by people working in fiction cinema.
No less important is the program Cinema Aberta, a very important activity for communities. We began the screenings on January 12 in the neighborhood of Calabaceira and it has garnered a lot of interest in various communities. It’s a partnership between my production company, the French Cultural Center and Cape Verdean Radio.
What is Cinema Aberta?
Cinema Aberto is a Silvão - Produções, Filmes project in partnership with the French Cultural Center aimed at showing films produced in or about Cape Verde by Cape Verdean and foreign filmmakers. The films are projected on large screens in the outdoors, free of charge, in various different districts. In addition to watching movies, the community has the opportunity to analyze its own experience in its locale of residence, by way of images of the neighborhood taken the day before the screening. As a result, the communities are participatory viewers in Cinema Aberta.
What is the objective of this project?
The idea is to bring cinema closer to the community. What’s more, Cinema Aberta’s purpose is to contribute toward educating and informing the community, helping it raise awareness regarding its own experience in the milieu of which it is a part. It is also intended as a space for observation and exchange of experiences with other media.
How do you maintain a documentary cinema production company in Cape Verde, where, as filmmaker Tambla stressed in an interview with Kriolidadi, there is no audiovisual law, no cinema or audiovisual institute, no cinemathèque and no working movie theaters?
It’s hard. My friend Tambla is right to a certain degree, and he has experienced this situation himself. Recently he promoted a documentary film festival in Mindelo and he faced a number of difficulties, due, in most cases, to the non-existence of certain norms, laws and regulations. In practical terms there is no audiovisual law. There are things here and there that need to be updated urgently with regards to both audiovisual and cinema. We need to review the law or law decree on the shooting of film in Cape Verdean territory in order to make it more attractive, making it possible to shoot major movies by world-renowned production companies. We have excellent locations, beautiful landscapes, territorial security, a climate appropriate for shooting all year round, etc. We do need major clean-up campaigns and a non-stop fight against litter, as well as the preservation of historical sites and the creation of more incentives. We have to regulate the co-production system, making it mandatory for non-Cape Verdeans who intend to shoot in our territorial space, as well as regulate the functioning of independent producers and create special incentives for independent Cape Verdean producers.
We also urgently need a cinema and audiovisual department within the Ministry of Culture until the conditions needs to create an institute can be met. With regards to movie theaters, the situation is outrageous. The closing of movie theaters in our country is incomprehensible. I know there are some films stored and conserved in the Historic Archives. This is an important part of our cinematographic history. It is urgent that they be digitalized so that we don’t run the risk of losing all the material.
The gaps in Cape Verdean cinema have been filled in by the participation of Cape Verdean filmmakers in international events such as Africadoc and Cineport. What advantages have these encounters brought Cape Verdean filmmakers?
These are two different and very important spaces. Africadoc is essentially a space for education, from A to Z. With this I mean from project conception to financing negotiation. You go in with an idea for a project and you can come out with a film. Cineport is more than just a festival. It mobilizes millions of people including producers, directors, actors, distributors, decision-makers, etc. It’s the greatest cultural bridge for Portuguese speakers. In my opinion, Africadoc and Cineport can function side by side perfectly well. I don’t think there’s any incompatibility between the two activities, and they can even complement one another. One operates in training and in the conception of projects and seeks financing, while the other works in technical training on the level of photography, editing, sound, light and visibility for cinematographic works both through the festival itself and through competition, in the documentary, fiction and animation realms. The advantage to be taken of this depends on each person’s aggressiveness and knowing what and how he or she wants things. It depends on dynamism and ambition, but above all on a desire to learn. These are activities that need to be nurtured and supported by all Portuguese-speaking countries. Each in its own way deserves attention and concrete support from the CPLP.
Despite all of the handicaps plaguing Cape Verdean cinema, according to what I know you currently have three different projects in planning. Can you tell us about them?
It’s true. There are projects for interesting films, both in the area of documentary and in fiction. We’re determined to turn them into films, but our greatest handicap is precisely in the mobilization of financial resources. If regarding a fiction project we can speak, to a certain degree, about the existence of possible partnerships and co-productions, the same cannot be said for documentaries. The documentary Unidos pela mesma causa (United by the same cause) tells the story of the Tarrafal prison center through the armed assault on the Pérola do Oceano ship in August of 1970. The story is narrated by the characters in the first person, with a pivotal character linking all the others together at the center. As it is something very important that has to do with out cultural and historical heritage, we thought, a priori, that it would be easier to mobilize resources in Cape Verde, even if it were only to begin shooting. But this hasn’t happened yet. In any case, it’s an investment we’ve made, a good project that sooner or later, with resources we don’t know where we’re going to get, will become reality.
In your opinion, what is the solution for Cape Verde’s movie theaters, which are closed, with São Vicente’s Éden Park the latest on the list?
It’s an extremely negative situation. The option of closing, finishing, putting an end to things, is always the easiest one. In my opinion, closing shouldn’t be one of the possible options or alternatives. The closing of movie theaters is an attack on culture. But we’re used to passiveness. Ah, that’s not my problem, I don’t care, etc., etc. The emergence and development of digital technology have made the survival of large movie houses difficult. The problem common to them all is the box office. But could it be that, in this case, policy should be more important than revenues? Isn’t it possible to create a system of counterincentives to cover the revenue deficit? Why is it that movie fans and the population have to pay? To pay for not informing, not educating, not occupying their free time, falling into social ills, etc.
In the case of Praia, four to six small multi-use theaters could be created with a capacity for 50 to 80 seats and a central restaurant. But it’s always hard to give an opinion about these kinds of things, and it’s complicated to give your opinion in Cape Verde. If your opinion doesn’t align with mine, it’s because you’re against me, you’re a target to be downed, but if you don’t say or do anything, you’re a parasite. For me, what’s fundamental is that we have a functioning movie theater and nothing more.
In April, Silvão - Produção, Filmes promoted an awareness-raising course in cinematography in partnership with Brazil’s Minas Gerais Center for Cinematographic Learning, Cape Verde’s Ministry of Culture and a number of Cape Verdean institutions. What conclusions were reached? Do we have talents in this area?
It really was a great partnership. It was the first partnership among civil institutions in the area of cinema in Cape Verde, and as far as I know within the space of the CPLP. This course gave us various indications that should be taken into account. We would like to mention a few of them: first, the number of people who signed up (180) is a clear demonstration of the thirst for training in this country, more precisely in the city of Praia; secondly, those selected to attend the course (25) demonstrated with their assiduousness, dedication, sacrifices and determination that people want to make cinema and enjoy cinema; and, thirdly, that it is urgently necessary to debate technical and professional training in the various different areas of cinema.
Guenny Pires and Tambla both affirmed in interviews with A Semana that foreigners’ views of Cape Verde are important, which is why the documentaries made by filmmakers from other countries are valid. But they believe that Cape Verdean filmmakers should take the helm of this movement. What do you think?
In my opinion all views are important. But I fully agree with Guenny and Tambla when they affirm that we have the idea that everything that comes from abroad is better, is more secure, is more serious, and as a result, that’s what we invest in. Then we just sit here watching the caravan go by. We have foreign filmmakers who have and continue to project Cape Verde’s image through cinema. We should acknowledge them and support them. I’ve had the opportunity to thank some of them and invite them to present their films in our territory and accept partnerships to train talented young people among us who could be promising cinema professionals.
It’s also no less true, and we should acknowledge this, that there are people who come to Cape Verde to fill their pockets, but don’t even say goodbye when they leave, and we only see their work through binoculars. We should support our own, believe that it’s possible to create quality work here, and trust in our most promising talents. That way we can speak of taking the helm or doing something serious in the area of cinema.
How do you evaluate the fiction films and documentaries that have been produced so far by Cape Verdean filmmakers?
I think they’re of a good level. This opinion isn’t mine, it’s shared by many with knowledge of the subject, who have seen the few films produced by Cape Verdean filmmakers and thought they were quality. Our greatest problem, which is shared to a greater or lesser degree throughout the Portuguese-speaking world, is distribution and copyrights. For example, the film Ilhéu de Contenda, which is of excellent quality, produced and directed in Cape Verde based on a novel by a Cape Verdean writer, almost entirely made in Cape Verde, is not very well-known in Cape Verde.
What does one need to be an excellent filmmaker?
Humility, humility, humility, work, work.
In what area should Cape Verdean filmmakers invest more, fiction or documentary?
Do you think the Cape Verdean government has a policy for the audiovisual sector or not?
If there’s a deficit in terms of legislation, there is no cinema and audiovisual institute, the country’s movie theaters have closed their doors and there’s no training, where is the policy?
You were a member of the jury for the II Cineport. Tell us about this experience evaluating the work of colleagues from the CPLP?
It wasn’t easy. A child still on his mother’s lap with very little light radiating in its eyes, beside experienced filmmakers and judging other people’s work... Humility has to come to the forefront. It was a good experience, my presence was that of someone who was there to learn.