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ReFocus: The Films of Pedro CostaProducing and Consuming Contemporary Art Cinema$

Nuno Barradas Jorge

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781474444538

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474444538.001.0001

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(p.148) Conclusion
ReFocus: The Films of Pedro Costa

Nuno Barradas Jorge

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The concluding chapter of this volume provides further clues about Pedro Costa’s creative and technical competence by discussing other of his professional activities, such as curator and “recuperation agent” of the work of other filmmakers. It also discusses how Costa’s cinema provides both an aesthetic and a filmmaking blueprint for international young filmmakers working with low budgets and using digital video.

Keywords:   Pedro Costa, Authorship, Film Recuperation, Filmmaking processes, Global Art Cinema

In 2015, two seminal works of the Portuguese Cinema Novo, Os Verdes Anos (Green Years, 1963) and Mudar de Vida (Change One’s Life, 1966), were rereleased for the Portuguese commercial cinema and home cinema circuits. Exhibited and circulating for decades through poor-quality theatrical and VHS copies, the two feature films, both directed by Paulo Rocha, were subjected to a prolonged and careful digital restoration of image and sound initiated in 2011 and supervised by Pedro Costa. The restoration work of Rocha’s films was only completed after his death, in December 2012. The process, nonetheless, illustrates the aesthetic complicity shared, and relation of trust established, between the two filmmakers over the years.1

The working process around the restoration of Rocha’s films provides us with clues as to how Costa’s creative and technical competence is not merely confined to the films he authored and directed over the last three decades. As examined in Chapter 6, Costa’s filmmaking activities also include the recuperation of his own works, as the re-mastering processes of Blood and Casa de Lava demonstrate. During the last decade, such expertise has also been extended to films of other filmmakers who were an influence on both his work and professional attitude. This aspect of Costa as a ‘recuperation’ agent, it should be noted, started earlier when he took the initiative to help recover and restore Jean Eustache’s documentary Numéro Zéro (1971), which was considered lost until 2003.2 These activities around film recuperation, moreover, are extended to exhibition and circulation. Costa’s active role in film promotion encompasses both his films but also, for instance, the championing of the cinema of António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro within international cinephile circles in which his own work commonly circulates. In similar terms, Costa also participated in promotional activities of Rocha’s posthumously-released (p.149) Se Eu Fosse Ladrão … Roubava (2013), premiered at the 2013 Locarno International Film Festival.

These recent activities around the restoration of Rocha’s films and the promotion of the cinema of Reis and Cordeiro provide yet another layer to Costa’s manifold production and consumption contexts. These particular undertakings are integrated within an articulated professional agency which allows different intersecting roles – director, author and artist – as well as a creative and commercial agent with significant authority in the production and promotion of his films. As discussed across this book these different roles reflect a narrative of production, maintained through different collaborative practices and sustained by interconnected networks of film production and cultural consumption. What transpires in this role of recuperation agent, moreover, is the management of a rich cinema legacy which informs Costa’s films. Once confined to visible stylistic allusions and homages, this legacy seems to be managed through some of the consumption practices maintained by Costa. In the case of Rocha’s two films, such agency is also extended to technical procedures that were once confined to his own films.

More broadly, and with exhibition and circulation still in mind, the management of a legacy around the filmic works of Pedro Costa gains visible expression in numerous initiatives curated with the help of the Portuguese filmmaker. Among others, the film retrospective The School of Reis, held in 2012 at different venues in the USA (mentioned in Chapter 1), and the film cycle curated by Costa at the Portuguese Cinematheque in January 2015 (mentioned in Chapter 5), serve as examples of how his work has come to be commonly positioned side by side with already canonised art cinema. This curatorial agency – yet another of Costa’s possible roles – gains further countenance in the 2018 exhibition Company, discussed at the beginning of Chapter 7. These and other initiatives helped to resituate the work of different filmmakers within Costa’s own filmic universe, as well as include them in the authorial practices that animate it.

As also discussed across this book, Costa’s cinema shows reverence for a constellation of canonised filmmakers – Tourneur, Ozu, Straub and Huillet, Bresson … Inevitably, such reverence is also manifested through a discourse transmitted in public disclosures. These and other filmmakers are commonly referred to by Costa as being models, both for the aesthetics of his films and for his filmmaking practices. Concerning the latter, these influences are mediated through a personal narrative maintained by Costa, who depicts them as able to somehow escape imposed restrictions of the film industry and, instead, become meticulous and obstinate highly-skilled cinema artisans. Consistently and over the years, film criticism and fan commentary use these same qualities to describe Costa’s austere filmmaking practices. It can be argued, even if only tentatively, that Costa himself became a model for young film directors (p.150) whose works have recently started to circulate on the art-house and festival international circuits. Costa’s consistent presence at the international film festival and his promotional activities over this and the past decade, created awareness of his work among different international cinephile communities outside Europe – communities whose constituencies also include different film professionals. As Kazuyuki Yano pointed out to me, both Costa’s film aesthetics and filmmaking practices have been influential to a new generation of Japanese filmmakers working within low-budget frameworks. Among others, he mentions the emerging filmmakers Kei Shichiri and Katsuya Tomita (Yano 2014).

This exposure seems to have generated a similar effect in Latin America. Since 2014, Horse Money has circulated through film festivals in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico, and has had theatrical releases in Argentina and Ecuador. Among several Latin American filmmakers citing Costa as an influence, both aesthetically and in terms of filmmaking practice, are José Luis Torres Leiva (Chile), Yulene Olaizola (Mexico), Matias Piñedo (Argentina) and Argentina-based Spanish director Hermes Paralluelo. It is pertinent to point out that Leiva’s El cielo, la tierra, y la lluvia (Sky, The Earth and the Rain, 2008), Paralluelo’s Todo no es vigilia (Not All Is Vigil, 2014), and Olaizola’s Paraísos Artificiales (Artificial Paradises, 2011) and Fogo (2012) are stylistically close to Costa’s films shot in digital video. This aesthetic approximation is extended to works produced outside this particular geographical region. Among others, Costa’s (assumed or only noted) influence expands to films such as Putty Hill (dir. Matthew Porterfield, USA, 2010), Nana (dir. Valérie Massadian, France, 2011), Cilaos (directed by Paris-based Colombian filmmaker Camilo Restrepo, 2016), as well as to the work of Portuguese filmmaker João Salaviza. It is problematic, of course, to maintain that these different works may present a coherent filmic sensibility or a filmmaking style which links them to Costa. In the same vein, it is difficult to contend that Costa’s influence may be revealed in the same way as, for instance, the inspiration provided by António Reis to a group of Portuguese filmmakers emerging in the 1980s. However it can be argued that, in recent years, Costa’s cinema provides both an aesthetic and a filmmaking blueprint for young filmmakers working with low budgets and using digital video.

The dialogue between aesthetics and technique, central in such an influential digital video blueprint, is also carried further in academic-related activities maintained by Pedro Costa during the present decade. As explained in Chapter 6, Costa maintains regular activities in university-related venues, such as master classes and lectures. These activities are often integrated into dissemination practices, and offer an opportunity for Costa to articulate aesthetic preoccupations and to dispense technical competence with regard to his approach to digital video. This pedagogic facet became further visible in 2013 (p.151) when Costa collaborated at the intensive doctoral level (DLA) programme of Film.Factory. This course in filmmaking was a collaborative effort between Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr, the University of Sarajevo School of Science and Technology and the Sarajevo Film Academy. As an invited lecturer, Costa participated in a curriculum which included both theoretical and practical modules, delivered by the actor Tilda Swinton, the filmmakers Gael García Bernal, Fred Kelemen, Carlos Reygadas, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and film critics and scholars Jonathan Rosenbaum and Jean-Michel Frodon, among others.

These different practices undertaken by, and concentrated around, Pedro Costa offer further understanding of the complex mechanisms operated by the manifold art cinema institutional formations. The end of Chapter 7 hints at possible new characteristics in Costa’s narrative of production, and these will surely animate future discussions about the Portuguese filmmaker. Overall, I aimed to provide, instead, a comprehensive understanding of this evolving narrative over the last three decades. As discussed across this book, Costa’s professional agency elucidates the multiple forms in which specific filmmaking, authorial, exhibition and reception practices are sustained by both cultural discourses and industrial and commercial processes. Some of the evidence presented in this book may tend to suggest that there is a need to emphasise the centrality of production and consumption practices in scholarly discussions about contemporary art film. More conclusively the aims of the book have been to unpack the social, cultural and political contexts within which such production and consumption practices take place. As such, the films of Pedro Costa served here to illustrate some of the multifaceted and constantly changing practices which underpin our understanding of contemporary art cinema.


(1.) Costa provides a detailed account of the restoration process of Rocha’s films in Lisboa (2019).

(2.) Costa became aware of Numéro Zéro through a conversation with Jean-Marie Straub in 2001. With the help of filmmaker and producer Thierry Lounas, Costa was able to contact Eustache’s son, who provided a working print of the film. This print was restored by the Portuguese Cinematheque and later used to produce the exhibition copies used to commercially re-release the film in 2003 (for details and anecdotes concerning the finding Eustache’s film see, for example, Morain 2003).