It's already been a week since I left the wonderful city of Ourense (Galicia, Spain), where I took part as a jury member in the “Óperas Primas” (Debut Features) competition of the most prestigious film festival in the region, Ourense International Film Festival (OUFF). The Festival celebrated its 22nd edition this year, running from 20th to 27th of October, and was the second under the new management team, formed in 2016 by renowned programmer and OUFF’s new Artistic Director Fran Gayo (FICX Gijón, BAFICI), producer Analía G. Alonso and their team. OUFF was until then just a showcase of films, focused on worldwide independent and Galician authors, but now has re-emerged as a visionary festival, with a clear artistic force and the main focus put on Ibero-American films as well as new filmmakers, serving at the same time as the epicentre where the solid Galician film industry converges with the neighbour Portugal, with the first post-production Forum aimed for Galician and Portuguese productions.Winners Press AnouncementWinners Press Anouncement (pic: Daniel Gallego)

The Debut Features competition had nine strong, challenging films including fiction, documentary, essay and experimental works showing the strength of new filmmakers from the Americas, Europe, Russia or the Far East. I had the pleasure of sharing my jury duties with Meghan Monsour, Head of Programming at Ambulante Gira de Documentales (Mexico) and Blanca Martínez, cultural agitator and part of Visual404, an exhibition project on feminist digital anthropology. Together we reached a unanimous decision to give the award of Best Film in the competition to Baronesa (Juliana Antunes, Brazil, 2017) for its sensitive look to urgent issues such as female intimacy and sexuality in the Favelas of Brazil, creating a courageous and vital portrait of the spaces of resistance and perseverance of women. A Special Mention went to 69 Minutes of 86 Days (Egil Håskjold Larsen, Norway, 2017) for its human approach to the situation of the refugees, and its innovative formal proposal in which its original music stands out.Baronesa by Juliana AntunesBaronesa by Juliana Antunes

The Festival took the old thermal city of Ourense by storm (jury members were given a treat at one of these gorgeous hot springs - with well-known healing properties, the city is Europe’s second thermal destination after Budapest) across 10 days packed with world-class cinema screenings, talks, masterclasses, exhibitions and gigs, creating a dialogue between the city and its inhabitants. One of the most interesting roundtables was that on Sunday afternoon when we had the opportunity to hear key Argentinian filmmaker Mariano Llinás talking about financing independent cinema, along with Alejo Moguillansky, also part of the of the production company El Pampero Cine, defending a production system that rejects industrial film ideas and embraces radical independence from conventional sources of funding.Roundtable on the state of FestivalsRoundtable on the state of Festivals (pic: Daniel Gallego)

On Wednesday morning I participated in a roundtable, along with fellow programmers Meghan Monsour, Andrea Franco (OUFF) and Ángel Rueda, co-director of the established experimental and expanded-cinema film festival Mostra de Cinema Períferico S8, moderated by Fran Gayo and centred on the role of film festivals nowadays. The session delved into their purpose as a platform for audiences and filmmakers to meet and talk about films instead of a marketplace for industry business and press, the complexity of programming around premieres and the challenge and need of attracting new young audiences, by promoting an education programme at the core of the festivals. This last point is something that OUFF is addressing well this year with the inclusion of OUFF Escola, a film competition created with the aim of promoting the use of Galician language among young people. The discussion went on for two enlightening hours where the main goal was not to give answers but to lay the cards on the table, thus giving the festival its rightful place as space for debate around film.Film Toys Exhibition, Federico RansenbergFilm Toys Exhibition by Federico Ransenberg (pic: Daniel Gallego)

The last couple of days of the festival, and after all my jury duties were over including a few radio and TV interviews, I enjoyed exploring other films and events in the programme, such as the presentation of the first images of Oliver Laxe’s new film Aquilo Que Arde or the wonderful and hypnotic exhibition “Film toys” by the talented Argentinian special effects specialist Federico Ransenberg, bringing toys to life by using optical illusion that relates back to the zoetrope and to the birth of cinema. And of course, time to enjoy the incredible variety and quality of the local culinary offer, as Galician cuisine is well-known in all of Spain. The festival’s organisation proved to be first class, with a super professional, nice and approachable team that has pampered us in so many ways, expanding the festival experience beyond the screening rooms, creating a real community of film lovers and experts debating about films in every lunch or dinner and making Ourense the place to be for a few days. I hope the new team stays at the front of OUFF for many years to come.Jury at Closing Gala OUFFThe Jury at the OUFF Closing Gala (pic: Daniel Gallego)

Many thanks to all the team at OUFF for making my stay in Ourense a delight, to Fran Gayo for the invitation and to Acción Cultural Española for the support to make it happen.