António Campos

António Campos:

O Amador de Leiria

First Spanish Retrospective


To Campos What is Campos’

The film work of António Campos (Leiria, 1922-1999) has reached the centenary of the author’s birth still haunted by an unfair lack of recognition. He is a separate island on the island of Portuguese cinema. He never affiliated to any associations or movements. He never shared fights and trenches, in spite of the fact that his films were a combat in themselves. He began by engaging in amateur theatre in Leiria and an ‘amateur filmmaker’ he became, with an 8 mm camera bought on instalments. In his work, much more extensive than many believe (he made almost fifty films, many of them institutional commissions), and of which this edition of Play-Doc shows the essential pillars, it was by filming the life of the countryside and the people that Campos built his artistic path. And he built it practically alone, far from urban centres and their fashions, far from any financial support from the state, which he would only benefit from at an already advanced stage of his work. The Portuguese film directors active at the end of the 1950s were unaware of what Campos was doing in Leiria with little or no means, in a system of self-production. What was saved was the admiration for his early films shown immediately by Manoel de Oliveira and the enthusiastic support – which at a certain point would become decisive – of the then still film student Paulo Rocha.

For lack of anything better, Campos’ work ended up being shelved as ethnographic documentary, which, while not a lie – he is one of the few filmmakers to focus on the age- old customs and ways of life of the Portuguese – does not entirely correspond to the truth. A filmmaker without a ‘school’, Campos invented his own. There are no obvious links in this work or in its modus operandi, not even with the avant-garde Portuguese documentary practice at the turn of the 1920s and 1930s. Two of Campos’ first four works, Um Tesoiro (1958) and O Senhor (1959), are in fact fictions – contrary to what sloppy dictionaries say – both adapted from short stories, the first from Loureiro Botas, a writer from Vieira de Leiria, the second from Miguel Torga, also an author dedicated to the ancestral values of the land and to rural work.

Filmed with amateur actors from Leiria, from the Miguel Leitão Group Theatre, in 8 mm and without sound, O Senhor is an extreme case of the perseverance and innate, inexplicable talent of António Campos. The story of this film is very simple: about to give birth, the wife of a miller writhes in pain, which leads her husband to seek help in the nearest village, where he is helped by the priest, given the doctor’s absence. And yet, it is fifteen minutes of cinema rigorously planned and framed. The editing is close to the strength of Soviet cinema, especially the first films by Dovzhenko, transforming the suffering of childbirth, the imminent birth of the baby and the miller’s race against the clock into an experience of harrowing suspense. Campos also manages to reject any hint of the folk ruralism that was then the norm in the Portuguese cinema of the 1950s. His approach is reckless, anti-naturalistic, dramatically consistent. And as Manuela Penafria wrote in her monograph O Paradigma do Documentário, there is here ‘a focus on the feminine universe and the same rootedness in the life of the people … the woman-mother as the central character and agglutinator of all the action’. This female figure would accompany Campos until his last films, Terra Fria (1992) and A Tremonha de Cristal (1993).

The originality of A Invenção do Amor (1965), based on a poem of the same name by Daniel Filipe, must also be underlined. The film follows two harried lovers who, because of the invention of the title, are persecuted by an oppressive society in a never-named city of modernist architecture. The soundtrack resorts to concrete and electronic music, something that had already seduced Oliveira in his short A Caça. A Invenção do Amor is an allegory of the New State and the dictatorship without any parallel in Portuguese cinema – so much so that the filmmaker, to protect himself from political persecutions, decided to suspend its exhibition. Praised by Paulo Rocha, who saw in it the ‘only Portuguese surrealist film’, it is proof that Campos’ filmography never stopped dreaming of fiction.


A Salvage Cinema

António Campos does not possess the lyricism of a Vittorio De Seta or the overflowing delirium of a Jean Rouch, his contemporaries. But the ethical respect and intellectual integrity of his work, the fact that he knew how to place himself at the exact height of the people he films, his meticulous eye, extremely attentive to every gesture and every detail, made him a major filmmaker. He always put instinct before theory. A modest man, used to working alone, he kept his ‘author signature’ in the background. This was not the least of his qualities. He cultivated nothing that could resemble a ‘brand image’. He neither sold himself nor knew how to sell himself. All this also contributed to his alienation from official and honorary cinema, as well as from certain circles of artistic influence that ignored him. But Campos humbly and bravely bypassed this oblivion when he finally left the Lis River of his childhood and hit the road: it was not Lisbon or Porto that he was interested in, but rather the rural north or the fishing south, the Atlantic west or the mountainous northeast. His films were shown timidly in Portugal, almost always in one-off screenings. And it was only in 1994, almost four decades after his first film, that this work was honoured with due consideration at the La Rochelle Festival, through the intervention of the critic Jean-Loup Passek, followed by the retrospective at the Cinemateca Portuguesa in 2000, a year after the filmmaker’s death.

The value of A Almadraba Atuneira (1961), one of the great Portuguese films of its decade, is inestimable. It links Campos umbilically to the documentary practice that made his name and, no less important, it links him to a rurality heading towards extinction that the filmmaker would continue to pursue. At the time of Um Tesoiro, Campos had already shot a fishing community that would disappear soon afterwards due to various natural and social hazards. The same would happen with A Almadraba Atuneira, which records for posterity, in the summer of 1961, on the then called Ilha da Abóbora (now Ilha de Cabanas), opposite Conceição de Tavira, in the Algarve, what would be the last tuna fishing party in the camp that the sea would destroy the following winter. It was the first film by Campos shot in 16 mm, with a borrowed camera, and it is a cinematographic wonder, which takes us, with a touch of elevation and melancholy, to the fishermen’s lives, to the rituals of the day’s work, until the final slaughter, an exponent of the dramatisation accompanied by Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Vilarinho das Furnas (1971), shot in the Minho municipality of Terras de Bouro, is a much more complex film in terms of production, shooting and duration and also on a political level, which definitively cements Campos’ cinema to an idea of salvage cinema. It was Paulo Rocha who suggested that Campos should film the remaining days of a village with an announced death, condemned to disappear under the waters of a new dam that was under construction. And it is without imposing any doctrinal point of view, and also refusing the facility of a commentary or an oracle, that Campos sets off to Vilarinho in search of total complicity with its inhabitants, willing to film a present whose days are numbered. The filmmaker then imposes on himself the rule of wanting to live, behave and even speak with the manners of the villagers. He faces the generalised mistrust of the population, who sees him as a probable spy of the expropriating company (Hidro-Eléctrica do Cávado). Forced to work cautiously and to film from a distance, as trust was gained or lost day after day, Campos eventually spent eighteen months in the village, in a devout ‘immersion’ perhaps only comparable to the work of the Japanese documentary filmmaker Shinsuke Ogawa in the Ogawa Pro collective. Campos arrives at Vilarinho in the middle of a political clash of David against Goliath. The inhabitants are poor, they are going to lose their houses and a life of work, they fight against the miserable compensation of the political and economic power, symbolised by the visit to the village of a governor who comes to hand out promises. And if the image fixes the present, it is through the soundtrack that the film ‘travels in time’, through the voice-over of the villager to whom Campos gives the role of narrator of the film; that is: the story of a place, of a community, followed by the threat of its extinction. Vilarinho das Furnas exhaustively maps that space and that time, frames them in the social problem that is at stake, until it implicitly associates itself with the destiny of that people and its impotence. It does not speak only of that village, but of all the villages in the world that have reached the same dead end.

António Campos would make another feature documentary before the April Revolution of 1974, Falamos de Rio de Onor, shot between 1972 and 1973, but only shown after the end of the dictatorship. The working method and the cinematographic approach do not differ much from what had already been seen in Vilarinho das Furnas. There is a greater synchronism at certain moments (the village priest’s homily, for example) between the image track and the soundtrack, although these continue to function as independent tracks in much of the work. While the image is centred on everyday gestures and pictorial descriptions, it is through sound that the narrative progresses once again, sometimes giving a voice to the inhabitants of Rio de Onor, sometimes reproducing texts taken from the book Rio de Onor: Comunitarismo Agro-Pastoril, by the ethnologist Jorge Dias. One senses, however, that Campos experienced a tranquillity here that he did not find in his previous film, and which allowed him to alternate moments of observation with others of contemplation, frequently moving from a general shot to a close-up (the fabulous sequence of the birth of the calf and the astonished look on the child’s face), in a more telluric whole, with obvious lyrical touches. This aspect is also highlighted by the presence of colour in the 16 mm film of Falamos de Rio de Onor. Campos had already experimented with colour in the ten minutes of the silent short film Retratos dos das Margens do Rio Lis, commissioned by the Leiria Tourist Board, in 1965. He had not yet had the precious collaboration of the great Portuguese photography director Acácio de Almeida, who from Falamos de Rio de Onor onwards would be present, including as producer (Terra Fria), in practically all of Campos’s following films. Falamos de Rio de Onor is no less pessimistic a work than its predecessors, nor less haunted by death. The film begins, in fact, with a death knell and a trip to the cemetery (‘The families of the dead and the widows of the living are present …’). This, too, talks of a past threatened by the future, in the face of the ambiguity of the priest’s speech, which calls for a return to traditions, and the power of the Church that he represents. It is said that the men left, and the women and children stayed. And the problem is vast because one realises that that isolated village, right at the Spanish border, is threatened by the question of emigration, a subject to which Campos will return in his following feature film. Falamos de Rio de Onor is also the film in which Campos himself exposes himself (in the closing credits), for the first time, face to face, to his audience. And the film ends with the freeze-frame of a child who, by his expression, seems to throw all the questions to the spectator, recalling the child who also closed the film of the portraits of Lis and who plucked the leaves of an olive branch.

This Play-Doc cycle ends with the sublime Gente da Praia da Vieira, which has a direct relationship with the short film A Festa, both from 1975. These are the first films by Campos in a democratic Portugal. And for the first time, the director receives a state subsidy from the Portuguese Film Institute. At 53 years of age, Campos feels the need to make a balance of his unusual path, looking at that rear-view mirror with his usual frankness. Campos knows he is filming a new Portugal. But his cinematographic country remains the same, in harmony with the movements of a world he knows inside out. Gente da Praia da Vieira is a film of affinities and reunions with past places (Vieira de Leiria and Escaroupim), people and films. It simultaneously documents and fictionalises that childhood beach and the difficulties of survival of the people he chose as protagonists. And it is, once again, a film of confrontation with the present and its contradictions, free from the cards of a political militancy that, for understandable reasons, had become the dominant rule in Portuguese cinema in 1975. It so happens that Campos, before the revolution and before militancy, was already in the place where he had always been and which he never wanted to leave: in the countryside, alongside the underprivileged, in the deep Portugal that the film cooperatives of the revolutionary period were now looking for. Gente da Praia da Vieira has an amazing freedom of movement; it comments on its production process and at the same time comments on a whole work. It anticipates in decades some recent practices of contemporary cinema that wanted to be taken as novelty when, in truth, they had long been invented.

António Campos’ cinema was a privilege for the ‘happy few’ for too long. Unfortunately, it has remained so in the more than twenty years since his death. With the restorations now completed by the Cinemateca Portuguesa, it will now be shown in all its splendour, as it has never been seen before. The time has come to share this legacy.


Written by Francisco Ferreira for our catalogue.


THE LORD (O Senhor)

António Campos, 14', 1959, Portugal
Director, Cinematography, Editing: António Campos.
Script: António Campos, from the homonymous tale by Miguel Torga.
Cast: Dulcina de Sousa, Miguel Franco, Manuel Catarro, Assis Brasil, Octavia de Almeida, people of Telhados Grandes.

Digital Restoration World Premiere

The miller’s wife is about to give birth. Lying in her bed, she writhes in pain. The midwife cannot help her and the doctor is not here. It is then that the priest is called.


THE TUNA TRAP (A Almadraba Atuneira)

António Campos, 27', 1961, Portugal
Directed, produced, written, filmed and edited by António Campos.
Sound: Alexandre Gonçalves.
Music: Stravinsky.
Cast: Tuna fishermen in the companha da Ilha da Abóbora, across Conceição de Tavira, and there families.

Digital Restoration World Premiere

Tribute to the work and effort of the Algarve tuna fishermen, filming what would become the last almadraba or “companha” made by them, since shortly after the film was finished the sea destroyed this Algarve arraial. The sound was made in 1974, with the support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.


PORTRAITS OF THE PEOPLE OF THE LIS RIVER BANKS (Retratos dos das Margens do Rio Lis)

António Campos, 10', 1965, Portugal
Directed and produced by António Campos

Digital Restoration World Premiere

This is a film supported by an association between the flow of the waters of the river and the flow of the lives of the men and women who work day to day, fighting for their survival. The title of the film states that the focus will be on the people who live on the banks of the River Lis, that is, the film offers us portraits of those who are from the banks of the River Lis. The work and poverty of the people living on the banks of the river run side by side, but also hope, as children have a special place in this film… Manuela Penafria, O Paradigma do Documentário – António Campos, Cineasta



António Campos, 77', 1971, Portugal
Directed, produced, filmed and edited by António Campos.
Script by António Campos, based on an idea by Paulo Rocha and on “Vilarinho das Furnas, Aldeia Comunitária”, by Jorge Dias.
Sound: Alexandre Gonçalves (mixing).
With: Aníbal Gonçalves Pereira (narrador), Joaquim Manuel (Quiné), Fernando Cruz, Jorge Pereira, Glória.

Digital Restoration World Premiere

The death sentence that had been dictated was postponed for some years, but in 1969 Vilarinho das Furnas saw the time come for its destruction by the construction of a dam. Removed to a pastoral community life system, the only possible to overcome the deficient subsistence conditions that the place offered, it disappeared under the mantle of cold and clear waters that, for so many years, gave it life… A tribute to the people, by who followed its last twelve months of existence.


TALKING ABOUT RIO DE ONOR (Falamos do rio de Onor)

António Campos, 63', 1974, Portugal
Directed, written and edited by António Campos.
Cinematography: António Campos, Acácio de Almeida.
Sound: Alexandre Gonçalves.
Produced by António Campos, with the support of the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian – Centro Português de Cinema.

Digital Restoration World Premiere

A border village of Trás-os-Montes, twenty-seven kilometres from Bragança, Rio de Onor has maintained – until recently, thanks to its isolation – the old community customs, of farmers and shepherds, which make it an important nucleus, unmistakable. The decadence: some inhabitants argue that something still remains, the priest says that all the characteristics have been lost.


PEOPLE FROM PRAIA DA VIEIRA (Gente da praia da Vieira)

António Campos, 73', 1975, Portugal
Directed, written and edited by António Campos.
Dialogues and Actor’s Direction: Joaquim Manuel (Quiné).
Cinematography: Acácio de Almeida, António Vampos.
Sound: Alexandre Gonçalves.
Camera Assistant: Carlos Mena.
Production Assistant: José J. Mota.
Music: Shostakovich, Luciano Bério, Bruno Maderna.
Cast: Joaquim Manuel (Quiné), Miguel Franco, Carolina Young, Octávio Ferreira, atores do Grupo de Teatro do Orfeão de Leiria.

Digital Restoration World Premiere

This film includes fictional elements and illustrates the life of fishermen from Vieira Beach (Vieira de Leiria), showing aspects of their migration to the Tagus River, to calmer waters, in the middle of the century, and of the occupation of riverside areas in the Ribatejo marshes, where they built small villages on stilts, by the water’s edge.