The Amazonas Film Festival: Good Movies, Good Times in the Jungle
Closing night at the Amazonas Film Festival (Photo: Jonathan Crow)
"Who would have thought that making a movie about a fast-food joint in Ohio would get me here?"
That's what Craig Zobel, director of the indie hit "Compliance," asked me while we were standing waist-deep in a stream in the Amazon rain forest.
This all started a month ago, when I got one of the most random emails of my life. I was selected as one of four journalists to cover, all expenses paid, the Amazonas Film Festival in Manaus, Brazil. My first thought was that the email was spam. My second thought was that this was some sort of scheme to separate me from my kidneys. But no, it was legit. I was invited. How could I turn this down?
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The Teatro Amazonas (Photo: Jonathan Crow)
Today, Manaus is a thriving, traffic-choked city of 2.2 million. During a press round table, state minister of culture Roberio Braga expounded at length about the need for culture in the city. Apart from the film fest, opera, jazz, and dance events also take place throughout the year. Clearly, the aim is to bolster Manaus's national and international image. But Braga's hope is also to inspire the city's youth to get involved in the arts. In an analogy that few American politicians would dare use, he said, "How do young people start smoking tobacco or taking drugs? They try it. The same thing with art."
Unlike the big film festivals out there -- say, Toronto, which programs so many movies that the catalog looks like a phone book -- Amazonas is a much more intimate affair. Roughly five dozen shorts and features are screened here -- some Brazilian, some international, and some specifically Amazonian. Moreover, everyone connected to the fest -- journalists, jury members, filmmakers, and hangers-on — is housed in the same business hotel located a couple miles outside the center of the city. And there isn't a heck of a lot to go to in the neighborhood, aside from a gas station that sells a local whiskey called "The Lord's Land" -- remarkably smooth for being so cheap -- and a mall that has a staggering number of shoe stores. The result is that the fest started to take on the feel of a freshman dorm during the first weeks of class, but without the beer bongs. Cliques quickly developed, breaking down mostly by nationality.