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                  EDGAR PÊRA

What kind of stuff did amaze you as a teenager?


I guess in my teen years I became interested in the avant-garde, so moving away a little bit from the conventions of narrative cinema as per Hollywood and the notion of a very straightforward narrative, a theological narrative: you start with a problem, you apparently solve it, more problems present themselves and then there is a narrative equilibrium restored at the end.

I was interested in – what we thought of in those days, and I was living in Australia and Britain – as “European Cinema”. And European Cinema seemed more centered on character rather than “task”, it seemed centered on visual beauty rather than individual human beauty, so the visual beauty of landscape.

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And also, a lot of the filmmaking, a lot of the shots, the long takes, and so on – were not motivated by storytelling so much as by visual pleasure. I think those were the things that started to have an impact on me in my teen years – at the same time as I was interested in reading existentialism, and the philosophy and the novels of people like Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus… suddenly had a massive impact on me, and then, also the impact of Feminism, Simone de Beauvoir and later writers – and thinking about the ways in which my understandings of femininity and masculinity were driven very much by things like “Hollywood Cinema”.

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And today there’s anything that amazes you in cinema or in the net – what kind of images and sounds do make you think?


I think that some of the images and sounds that really get me going now are the ones that are surprising and so often they come from things like sports or “news & current affairs”. And the way they are shot is, of course, the same as it was when Leni Riefenstahl shot “Olympia” – where she pioneered the methods of filming sport.

But when something occurs in front of the camera that no one has scripted, that sort of sense of the profilmic event if you like, that is occurring organically but someone has captured, that’s always extraordinary for me, that’s why I always admired press photographers: people who are at events, take still-shots, and so on.

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Also I guess, whenever I get a sense of a cosmopolitan internationalism that is breaking through the borders of Nationalism. When I see something that seems to express the hopefulness as well as the difficulty in the struggle of our contemporary era. An example would be, for instance, a television program I saw on Al-Jazeera a couple of years ago about Muslim women in the Arabic world going out after night-time, when the men in the house are all asleep, gathering together and going to watch men in strip-bars. And seeing in them, not so much in the strip-bars, but seeing them talk about their pleasure at evading control – and their notion of wanting to do this still in what they saw as a sort of Islamic way. And the way they talked in their excitement, the visual pleasure on their faces to me was really something exciting.

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So when I see on the faces of people intense pleasure, intense joy, that I think is one of the things that really gets me going, that gets me moving. And that’s one of the reasons I quite like films nowadays that show spectators. When you see the emotion of the spectator in the program, or the text or alternatively you see the spectators making out or eating popcorn or working on their cell-phones, whatever it is, whatever it is embracing them.


Do you think auteur films spoken in English but made in Europe, by europeans are in some way cine-cosmopolitan?


Well, one of the things about Cinema is: it has been international since 1896 because the Lumière Brothers and others were all over the world. You know, by the time the technology was going it was available in India, and Singapore, and New York and Lisbon. And that´s an extraordinary thing, traveling so incredibly quickly.

So, it always had an international component, and in different times depending on geo-politics. It has had dominant forces, you know, until the 1st World War most film technology, most films, were imported to the U.S., not exported. They were imported from France, from Germany which were the main manufactures of film technology and also the dominant film nations. Their film industries were almost wiped out by the 1st World War, similar things happened after the 2nd World War. So, you get moments when there are dominant international forces and then they are interrupted. You get it with the french, with the germans, with the italians, with the japoneses, with the soviets. Geo-politics intervenes but still there is a heritage, a tradition that travels internationally.

One that we have all for the last 80 years is Hollywood. So you don´t have Nouvelle Vague without Hollywood, you probably don´t have “Cinema Novo” in the lusophone world without Hollywood. It may not be what everybody loves and wants to see but it is always there as an implicit point of departure, a place for dialog. I think about Godard and I believe that that influence would be on going at the same time because the geo-politics shifts will see others cinemas rising. So popular chinese cinema, popular indian cinema would become more significant. So, yes, we will always have commentaries we are making on the Other, particularly the American Other. It is unavoidable in our lifetimes! And that will be both cosmopolitan and national, it will be both open-minded and petty, it will be both adoring and critical.

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So the old notion of being cosmopolitan like when you go to another country to serve or offer your services… like some kind of… a gesture of generosity… I was telling you that about Lars von Trier films in English… Well, you can see it as him selling out, in a way, because he doesn’t speak his own language – but at the same time  it’s… he is giving something.


He is giving something, absolutely! Look, think about Alfred Hitchcock… Hitchcock, when asked, as he repeatedly was, by english people: ‘How can you deal with all those fucking Americans, they’re so awful, it must be dreadful for you in Hollywood with all these Yankees’. He said: ‘I don’t know any American people in Hollywood, I don’t meet them. Hollywood is filled with people from Denmark, from India, from Thailand, you name it. I don’t meet any americans’.

Obviously Hitchcock was playing a joke. But it is extraordinary when you look at the number of people from different countries that go and make movies there. And if you think about some of the ways in which, for example, lots of filmmakers applied their trade, sometimes they take the money in order to be able to do something they believe in. You can say that about Martin Scorsese with Cape Fear, just as you can say it about Lars Von Trier. Buying an audience sometimes is worth having and that means that you can go back and make the films that have more signature or essay pictures, or are true to your national roots, or whatever it may be.

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And remember, when people go and decide to shoot in english and try to get the big audience, and maybe the big money for themselves, they’re not necessarily giving up on entirely honorable and cosmopolitan national traditions. Many criticisms were made, for example, of traditional latin american cinema that’s obsessed with rural life meant that they didn’t really deal adequately with the realities of urban existence. That they didn’t addressed it to the ‘totality’ of the population in whose name it was made. So sometimes the idea that you are selling out when you shoot in english or you make this film for a cosmopolitan trade may actually be a misplaced critique. It may be that there is a stultifying chauvinistic quality to the national discourses about Cinema.


Yeah, yeah, sure. Godard once, in an interview, said that you never should show a problem without presenting some kind of solution… For me as a spectator, sometimes I see  films which only show misery. And there’s no light. Well, at least for me, I don’t see in those films a way to escape or…


There’s no way out!


No way out…


…. Raymond Williams, one of his last books was called “Resources of Hope”. And I think this is probably what Godard was alluding to. That you can have all the negativity and tragedy you want but, having a possibility of an outside that was always there. And, of course, cultural imperialism aside, one of the successes of Hollywood is that it offers a prospect of transcendence. Not all Hollywood films but, lots of them offer the idea that in the secular world, in the here and now, not in the after-life, you can have a better existence, your experience can be different, you can start out as someone in the Proletariat and end up being the wealthy. This is the fantasy that is sold by Hollywood through sex and commodities your life would be improved. Hey!, I like sex, I like commodities. Sounds good to me! So, in amongst the negativity that can be, someway out, some positivity. This not arguing against the importance of socialist realism, or the importance of documentary focusing on equal and justice, and so on…It’ s to say that there is something about finding another side, a different space, a different story that can be told. And something positive that is part of the beguiling nature of Cinema.

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 I did in 1994, for Lisbon – European Capital of Culture, a “cine-cosmopolitan” film called “Manual of Evasion LX94”. It was with three guys from californian counter-culture, may be you know them, : Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson and Rudy Rucker.


 Ah wow!


I put them together in Lisbon. And talking ways to evade from this reality and from this time.

So, for me kine-kosmopolitanism is an old fight… (laughs)


  • (also laughing)
  • It’s an never ending one! 
  • It is the issue about pleasure. Should we all have a distanciation where we don’t understand what’s going on the screen and we don’t know what happened at the end? We don’t know what the problem was, we don’t know if there was a solution – that makes us lively spectators. Or, should there be a narrative, a resolution and hope that gives us sense of control of our lives? Because, often when we watch the avant-garde we’re giving away a lot of power. But if we watch a very conventional film we feel quite powerful because we understand it. We may not know from moment to moment what it’s going to happen, that’s part of the pleasure, but at the end of the film we are able to say in a sentence: ‘ that is what this was about.This is what happened, this is what the film was about’.
  • These are things that are easy filled out in the cards from Hollywood studios and in our own minds. But in the avant-garde we give up that power of certainty and knowledge and we say: ‘well…things went on…(laughs)…I felt this, I felt that…I think I saw that, but I don’t really know what it meant.’ But it is signifying.
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