The Nothing Factory by the Portuguese director Pedro Pinho is a manifesto for the democratic film. Everyone can have their say in it, and that is most probably the reason why this take on the financial crisis in Portugal turned out to be three hours long.
It tells the story of a group of factory workers who unite in order to protect their jobs. Realizing that the administration is stripping the factory of machines and materials overnight, they are forced to take action.
Continuous structure is provided by the romantic drama between a factory worker Ze (Jose Smith Vargas) and his Brazilian girlfriend Carla (Carla Galvao). The story of the couple and Carla's little son serves as an example of the impact that the crisis has on the private lives.
Pinho, director of several documentaries, uses interviews with workers and long static shots with the camera reduced to the role of a bystander, looking upon their debates about politics and leftist theories. Documentary-style imagery emphasizes the workers attempts to analyze the future of the factory and scrutinize the economic system. The scenes show the questioning how far they would go to keep their jobs. And if they were to settle with the pay-off offered to each of them individually by the new staff manager. How much exactly would they be worth?
Just when it seems that Pinho has run out of moves, he unexpectedly and suddenly turns to musical as the workers start singing and dancing. It appears later that a French filmmaker is visiting the factory and has assembled the factory crew for a test rehearsal.
Although the grassroots movement is essential to The Nothing Factory, the film tries hard not to lower itself to a mere glorification of heroes. The workers continue to come to work for their shifts in spite of the ominous future. There should be no excuse for a layoff. Even when there are no materials, they stand by their machines and let them run empty. Time passes and they either produce nothing or do nothing. A Nothing Factory, so to stay. A long process is about to begin as the workers are suddenly confronted with choices they have to make. Ultimately, they do settle for a strike and a successful occupation, which suddenly leaves them to manage the factory themselves. It is up to the people to look out for each other when the government fails.
The Nothing Factory becomes a manifesto only when you look at the factory behind the production, Pinho is one of the founders of Terratreme - a collective of young directors based in Lisbon, who have produced works by Portuguese Joao Nicolau and co-produced Marcela Said's Los Perros, also presented at Karlovy Vary this year.
The motivation behind the production house is for the filmmakers to be self-determined and free in making the films, they want to make and under the conditions they want to make them. "<...> Production is a fundamental aesthetic variable in the way a film turns out. We believe that only direct intervention of the directors in the global conception of the production plan and budget can contribute to generate the desired results", reads an explanatory note on the Terratreme website.
Could The Nothing Factory live up to the manifesto for this production creed? It does offer a democratic use of different genres in a film, depending on whatever the specific scene requires. And the film neither subjugates itself to its own production economics of time with its runtime of almost three hours nor to the productions costs of the 16mm film stock used.
What sets the Terratreme's factory apart from the one depicted on screen is that they have a plentiful of the best material for their production of The NothingFactory.
"The Nothing Factory" by Pedro Pinho (PT)
KVIFF 2017 - Karlovy Vary International Film Festival - Another View
Name: Sabine Kues
C. Photo Credit: The Nothing Factory (2017)