Pedro Maia, Berlin

Words: Patrícia Barnabé

While everyone seems to be in a hurry, he films and sits in the laboratory to transform the patina of analogue film into a soundtrack of beautiful, timeless images to create new classics.

It all began with the International Short Film Festival in Vila do Conde, where he grew up, and where his “passion for cinema was ignited”. He was still a boy when he started working for the festival. “Its focus on experimental and expanded cinema awakened in me an interest in making films, particularly in this genre.” When he was 18 he went to Porto to study, but his almost 20-year relationship with the Short Film Festival was “a privilege and the most enriching experience of my education”. In it he discovered “great filmmakers and artists who used the medium of film as an important part of their work, and who contemplated the strengths and weaknesses of using this medium.” It inspired him “in many ways”: “I was obsessed by this way of thinking, making and showing cinema; fascinated by analogue and I focused on exploring that concept.”

Always discovering and exploring, he works with 8mm and 16mm film to create tasteful footage with a dedication to the rare classics in the age of digital. “Many filmmakers of the younger generation are impressed by the endless possibilities of digital and often film and film without much thought. For me, working with film is the exact opposite. The image is not immediately available and it cannot be corrected, shared or repeated straight away. I like the idea that what you film is what you get; and you can’t go back, you can’t look at or search for mistakes or things to correct. This is what fascinated me and it is what continues to fascinate me.” On the other hand, “the material and physical elements of this analogue medium, which are generally hidden in the image, have always interested me. I am interested in how the light reacts with the film emulation and is transformed into an image, and several images into a sequence. That we can touch an image, manipulate it. I am interested in these unique moments that analogue film offers and which some may find to be a restriction. For me it is the opposite. The pressure of knowing I have to trust my instincts, that each second costs money, I have to focus on what I want to film.”

Berlin came into his life via the Berlin International Film Festival he attended before going on the next year to compete with a selection for the Talents programme (then known as the Talent Campus). He returned several times before finally moving there in 2013. His main reason for setting up home in Berlin was the cinema lab in which he started working as an intern. He has since been put in charge of digitising the analogue films, “using a digitisation machine the company itself created” and which he helped develop over the years. This experience has brought him into contact with a number of different analogue processes and digital ways of working the analogue material.

His magic begins with this challenge to tradition, knowing and experiencing the technical limits that result in beautiful images. Beautiful and closely linked to the music that energises them: “Unfortunately, with no talent or skill with music, I discovered this way of approaching cinema that is much more open and free. I like the idea of exploring sound and music in images, of making visual music. Most of my ideas are triggered by music, and music is probably the biggest influence on my emotional state. I need a lot of music in my everyday life.” So it is important “to have a strong connection: not just with music itself, but mainly with the musician. And in my work it is not just decorative: I want it to add something, to say something, so the music and the image complement each other and create something new.” We saw this happen in How to Become Nothing, his first feature film in which he collaborated with the musician Paulo Furtado, aka The Legendary Tigerman, and the photographer Rita Lino to create a film-concert feature (which premiered in a competition at IndieLisboa), an exhibition, a photography book and was the motto for the album Misfit. He has also worked closely with Sebastian Gainsborough aka Vessel (and travelled Portugal from north to south to film the supporting videos for his most recent album), Fennesz, Shackleton, Visionist, Shapednoise, Jacaszek, Shxcxchcxsh, Tropic of Cancer, Craig Leon, Lee Ranaldo (ex-Sonic Youth), Porto Remix Ensemble and Nisennenmondai. His work has been on such stages as Sónar, Unsound, Berlin Atonal, All Tomorrow’s Party, Mutek, Dekmantel, TaicoClub Japa, Red Bull Music Academy, and some of the world’s major art institutes, including the Barbican in London and the Serralves Museum in Porto. Pedro Maia’s films and performances weren’t just shown at the Curtas Film Festival or at the Indie: he also had work on show at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the São Paulo International Film Festival, at the Tokyo Contemporary Art Museum, the Armenian Centre for Contemporary Experimental Art and the MACBA in Barcelona. Among others. And this is just the beginning, because so many films and concerts are coming, from the project shot in Madeira with The Legendary Tigerman, to Texture & Lines with the musicians Joana Gama, Luís Fernandes and Drumming. There is also a new short and “a book of photographs that I am thinking about.”

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