Contrary to colleague Allan Berg, who sat in jury with the Portuguese director in Bilbao in 2003, I have never met Pedro Costa.(See link below). I had hoped to do so last night at Cinemateket in Copenhagen, where he was announced to be present to introduce and talk about two of his films, ”Colossal Youth” and ”Vitalina Varela”. But he did not come for family reasons. Instead a young man from Cinemateket, Oscar Pedersen made a good introduction. Obviously he knows about Costa and his many films that are now being shown in Copenhagen. 8 films.

BUT – most important – I saw the two films, all together I was in the cinematic universe of Pedro Costa for almost 5 hours. Which was quite a unique experience. In the cinematic universe that he has created around Fontainhas, the now-vanished Lisbon neighbourhood that he first began chronicling over two decades ago. In the cinematic universe with non-professional actors. Vitalina Varela, who Costa met in connection with “Horse Money” (2014) is the protagonist in the film that carries her name – it’s her story (she came from Cap Verde to Lisbon to meet her husband but she came too late, the husband had died 3 days before her arrival) that is the starting point for the film and she is the one who has – so to say – made the script.

I know that because I decided to meet Pedro Costa virtually, where there are 


so many masterclasses with him and Q&A’s from festival screenings. In these (even if he refrains from being too specific about working methods) he tells that with Vitalina they made sometimes up to 40 takes to achieve precisely what was wanted. It was a collaboration. And when Costa is asked about the light and sound, he just says « It’s Work, we are four people on the set, and the actors, and we work, for years, we need time, I don’t understand how colleagues can live with only 5 weeks of shooting… » Words to that effect. Work… and he stresses how important it is for him to know everything about the people and the place, historically, sociologically, anthropologically. “It’s obnoxious to write a script to get funding and to have a sales agent to sell your film”. He is not a happy man when it comes to cinema today, he talks about John Ford, Mizoguchi, Godard, Jean-Marie Straub – and Wang Bing, with enthusiasm.

Back to “Vitalina Varela” that came out 2019 and has won awards. “Let me quote from the TIFF (Toronto) talks: Shot almost entirely at night, Vitalina Varela plays out as a series of burnished, painterly still lifes, its namesake monumentalized in stunningly static compositions that are at once expressionistically heightened and starkly beautiful in their austerity…”

Out of darkness come magnificent claire-obscure scenes. According to Collins claire-obscure is « the artistic distribution of light and dark masses in a picture”. I can’t find a better way to describe what I saw last night in a dark cinema in Cinemateket in Copenhagen.

Ventura is also in the two films from last night as is Vanda, Ventura is the father of Vanda in “Colossal Youth ». It’s difficult to get funding for my films, « they » say that it is the same film I want to make, in a way they are right, Costa says in one of the interviews – but this is my world. And my people with whom I am always in contact.

Go to youtube and search for Pedro Costa and you will find a lot of material. Search also for Vitalina Varela – there is a lovely 8 minutes long interview with her after she got the Best Actress Award at the Locarno FF.

Allan Bergs note/review of ”In Vanda’s Room” and ”Horse Money”:

There is an interview (by Daniel Kasman) with Costa to be recommended:

The photos from the film are taken from there. 

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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