• Interviews

Javier Porta Fouz: “The word ‘pioneer’ fits Jan Oxenberg perfectly”

Although Javier Porta Fouz has been the artistic director of the Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival (Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente, popularly known as BAFICI) since 2016, his relationship with the festival began much earlier, having programmed 19 of the previous 23 editions.

In a rare moment of calm in the days before the festival, which takes place this year from April 20 to May 1, Porta Fouz told us about his expectations regarding what will happen in the coming days and what should not be missed. He also talked about Jan Oxenberg, whose films restored by IndieCollect with financial support from the HFPA will be screened for the first time in Argentina during the festival.

Below are excerpts of our interview with Porta Fouz:

This is a very special edition of BAFICI…

Every edition is special; if you don’t feel like it’s going to be that way, it’s better to dedicate yourself to something else. It is true that this event comes after not being held in 2020, and in 2021, it was one of the very few festivals that were held in person. Of course, that was done with a lot of restrictions, including limiting the number of people, the lack of time allowed between screenings, and the absence of foreign guests.

Despite the fact that the festive aspect was attenuated or almost erased, at one point, I was very happy because it was done just at the moment that it could be done. And thanks to that, a lot of films could be presented in theaters and in outdoor screenings.

This year, we return with everything, with screening rooms that will connect those close to the Obelisk and Corrientes Street. That is going to add vitality to BAFICI. I think it is what we are all waiting for. We are very happy because many people from abroad are going to come. We have great expectations.

The center of Buenos Aires has a very important connection to the history of cinema in Argentina. But the festival has not been held there for a long time. Is it somehow a recovery of a lost tradition?

I figure that recovering the base will take several decades. I don’t know if I will see that time. We are going to have the opening gala. And then a couple of movie theaters, now called Multiplex Monumental Lavalle, will be the venues, which used to be the Monumental Cinema that I went to a lot in the ’80s and ’90s.

Hopefully, we can reclaim that street, which has the highest density of theater seats in Argentina, for sure, and I don’t know if also in all of Latin America. It was a kind of cinema corridor.

I remember leaving a function on a Saturday night with my family and not being able to walk through because of the number of people there. I believe that this connection with that place is going to do BAFICI very well because it invites us to relate to cinema as it happened decades ago when the films had equal footing between them.

Because when one thinks that in Argentina, the last Spider-Man was seen by four million viewers, one feels that this character got a lot more attention from the public, and that brought an economic benefit for that film but does tremendous damage to the other cinema offerings. So, in some way, we planted a flag in order to screen the 200-odd films in BAFICI and will be presented in such a way that one can once again feel the flavor of what that place was when cinema offered more variety.

Corrientes Avenue was also another focus of cinema, which the city has reclaimed…

Yes, for example, if you go to Corrientes street on a Friday or Saturday night, you can’t find a seat in the pizzerias. Everything is full and that’s great. Having theaters there and in its surroundings again is important. Our epicenter is going to be one block from the avenue, in the San Martín Cultural Center, but we have in Corrientes, the two theaters of the Lorca Cinema, the Leopoldo Lugones theater of the San Martin, and the Cosmos Cinema.

Four blocks away, on Rivadavia, will be the INCAA Cinema Gaumont Space and we also have the French Alliance on Córdoba Avenue. They are places loaded with meaning in cinematographic terms.

What distinguishes BAFICI from the other Latin American festivals?

I don’t know all the Latin American festivals but what I feel is that at BAFICI, we have to rethink a lot about what we are doing. For example, with the type of format we had in last year’s edition, it was already enough in terms of novelties. But we came up with the idea of ​​making feature films and short films be on an equal level in the competitions.

I think that in this constant renewal, BAFICI is implementing more and more, in recent years, the idea of ​​not programming films just because they come with the seal of having been in other festivals, no matter how famous and have a lot of critical acclaim.

We hope to draw a map of contemporary world cinema and, above all, to present those things that have not yet been released. Half of our programming is a world or international premiere. We are a festival that tries to have its own perspective on cinema. So we do not want to make a Greatest Hits of what happened at the other events. The core of the BAFICI program goes in a different direction.

How does the word “independent” define the festival?

I think it is a somewhat complicated word because there are people who believe that independent cinema is one that is made with a low budget. And that does not apply to all. There are films made that way and that is absolutely dependent on what they think a festival program will screen. They have a lot of features that are made to please festivals.

To be independent has to do with the complexity, the individuality, and the desire of the filmmakers. That’s where the thing goes, to make the feature films you want with little or a lot of money. That is why it is a concept that lends itself to confusion. Many people believe that at BAFICI, we offer films made with very little money.

One of the focuses of BAFICI is the restoration of old films, both Argentine and Italian, or American. Why is it important to see these films in a theater?

A movie theater implies an impact that you don’t have otherwise because of the size, the elimination of distraction from the rest of the world, and by sharing the film experience with others. Seeing those films makes you rediscover yourself through cinema.

It happened to me recently while reviewing Sylvester Stallone‘s Rocky 4 where I said, “How was this kind of movie made this way, with this self-confidence and with that level of expertise?” Even though Stallone was ridiculed afterward.

Suddenly, he was thinking that he was like a continuation of Eisenstein’s montage. Clearly, few were encouraged to follow those teachings. Also, when I saw Thank You and Good Night by Jan Oxenberg, I discovered that so much of the later cinema came from that film that it is a very important link. So restoring those films is how sometimes you complete the map of cinema, a map that is territorial and also historical.

Why do you think the work done by a lot of organizations in the world to restore films is important?

It is very clear that without memory and the availability of its history, cinema becomes less rich. To rebel against tradition, you need not only to know that but also to know the multiple attempts or achievements of breaking it.

It is impossible to imagine that someone goes to study cinema and does not know Jean-Luc Godard because his films are not available. There are things that are cultural heritage and have to be in order to have a better and more diverse cinema and, above all, to cultivate better filmgoers.

In Argentine cinema, there is an extraordinary variety. I see every year what comes to us at BAFICI. I think that this continues to regenerate and recover. There are people who are interested in seeing those films they have heard about in a theater.

That happens with the films by Michelangelo Antonioni, those by Jan Oxenberg, and those by Manuel Antín, to whom we are precisely paying homage for the 60th anniversary of La cifra impar. The good thing is that you can notice there is an interest in knowing all that.

There is also the issue of films that disappeared forever. Even in the history of Argentine cinema, there are many titles that no longer exist, that were lost precisely because they were not protected.

Yes, there are films hit harder than others in that sense, which are not going to be recovered. Unfortunately, that has happened in Argentine cinema. Perhaps due to a lack of political decision and a lot of other things. That’s why the motto of many film conservationists is that you have to recover everything you can before it’s too late.

There is cinema better taken care of than ours. For example, the French and the American despite the fact that they have also suffered many losses.

In the BAFICI catalog, you wrote that one of the most important events is the screening of Jan Oxenberg films. Why?

Because it clearly shows that certain topics that are fashionable or on the front page today already had very clear and courageous antecedents. It seems to me that the word “pioneer” fits Jan Oxenberg perfectly. It is also a cinema of tremendous contemporary value and at the same time, it is still innovating, as it was there at the beginning.

What films can’t be missed by people who go to BAFICI or which are the highlights, in your opinion?

The truth is that what I would do is watch the nine short film programs that are in competition and that will be a little more than 40 varieties, in total. The keys to the cinema are going to come in those nine films. They reflect the map of contemporary cinema to which BAFICI pays attention.

You have everything from a fake documentary that is a comedy about a town where they play hide-and-seek every year and it’s tremendously funny, a study about a digital Noah’s ark, to a comedy about a man who can’t stop eating. As I said, there are more than 40 varieties, all within a very rich contemporary cinematography.

You will probably end up watching the debuts of many great directors because most of them come from the world of short films.

Yes, and there are also cases of directors of feature films who switch to short films for one time only but surely, this time, are showing a different kind of work. You will be able to find a little bit of everything.

Outside of BAFICI, you are a film critic, professor and theologian. When the festival rolls around, is it your favorite time of the year or the craziest time that you want to be over quickly?

It is my favorite time of the year, especially when I start to make the programming grid of movie theaters, a function that I performed in 19 of the 23 editions that BAFICI has carried out. I love that moment when I find myself alone putting together an Excel file. It’s my favorite moment. I think it’s beautiful.


Translation by Mario Amaya