Above: Trás-os-Montes (1976)
The origins of "Harvard at the Gulbenkian - Dialogues About Portuguese Film and World Cinema" lie in a series of influential programs and events organized by the Harvard Film Archive that together introduced US audiences to the incredible richness of Portuguese cinema. Of special importance among these was "The School of Reis," a 2012 Harvard Film Archive program which explored the legacy of the late António Reis by grouping major works by Reis' students and collaborators together with the pioneering films that he directed, both alone and together with Margarida Cordeiro. "The School of Reis" was critically acclaimed not only in the US, but also in Portugal where it was appreciated as an alternate way of historicizing the radical approaches to narrative cinema embraced by so many of the greatest Portuguese filmmakers.
Seeking a different approach to the work of those Portuguese filmmakers considered earlier by "The School of Reis," the Harvard-Gulbenkian program explores how these artists have consistently engaged the most exciting and urgent questions shaping cinema today—questions of realism, narrative and the cinematic image itself. Inspired by the new philosophical depth and artistry brought to the cinema by contemporary Portuguese filmmakers, the Harvard-Gulbenkian program explores the larger presence and influence of Portuguese cinema today through a series of extended dialogues between Portuguese directors and luminary filmmakers from around the world.
Yet it would be too quick, too easy, to simply celebrate the remarkable present moment of Portuguese cinema without fully acknowledging the rich, complex past from which it continues to actively draw. And nor should we define Portuguese film using an outmoded, reductionist concept of national cinema. For equally important as its restless exploration of deep seated national myths, legends and contested histories are the important ways that Portuguese cinema also continues to restlessly look beyond itself by engaging in a probing dialogue with world cinema. Keeping all this in mind, "Harvard at the Gulbenkian - Dialogues About Portuguese Film and World Cinema" proposes an alternate, more expansive, perspective on the unique vitality and imagination of contemporary Portuguese cinema. Challenging traditional ideas of national cinema, this program locates Portuguese filmmakers within a larger map that traces the transnational currents and tendencies that are the true lifeblood of cinema today. Gathering renown directors from around the world, the twelve "Dialogues" offers a series of exciting encounters between Portuguese filmmakers and directors from Latin America, Europe, North America and Asia who share similar aesthetic and philosophical concerns about the state of cinema today, film history and the new possibilities and limits of cinematic image and narrative. In order to enrich the dialogue so clearly at work between their respective films, the twelve programs offer intense and extended encounters between artists, combining screenings of their films with discussions between the filmmakers themselves, as well as invited critics and scholars, and the program's co-curators, Haden Guest and Joaquim Sapinho. Giving equal attention to Portuguese cinema's past as its notable present, twelve "Dialogues" also invites eminent international directors to reconsider the films and legacy of great "Old Masters"—from António Reis and César Monteiro to the late Paulo Rocha and, of course, Manoel de Oliveira.
Defying easy categorization, the remarkable energy of Portuguese cinema cannot be understood outside the overlapping generations of filmmakers who were students or teachers of the Portuguese Film School. Nor can we overlook the shaping role played by two seminal institutions: the Cinemateca Portuguesa, the crowning emblem of the richness and depth of Portuguese film history and the Gulbenkian Foundation, our host and supporter of the twelve "Dialogues" and the very institution that played such a critical role in the revitalization of Portuguese cinema before the fall of the Estado Novo dictatorship. Through the Gulbenkian, Portuguese filmmakers in the late 1970s and 1980s renewed the promise of art cinema only glimpsed in early years by ultimately declaring cinema as art, a bold gambit perhaps best embodied in the films of Manoel de Oliveira. The location of the Harvard-Gulbenkian program within one of the world's premier cultural foundations, grounds the twelve "Dialogues" firmly within a larger conversation taking place today about the new reality of cinema in the context of contemporary art and the rich cross-pollination and increased porosity between gallery and film theater, between installation and projection.
—Haden Guest & Joaquim Sapinho