Introduction An Interview with Portabella
Extraterritorial Portabella Vampir at MoMA, 1972



Excerpted from the Pere Portabella catalogue prepared by MACBA, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2001. Marcelo Esposito and Jorge Ribalta. Translated in New York by David Barba.

Pere Portabella: introduction to Vampir at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York (1972). [threats of the Spanish Embassy—which was trying to block the presence of Umbracle in the U.S.—can be gleaned from this frightful warning.]

For the first time since The Museum of Modern Art's Film Department started its "Cine Probe" Series (a weekly introduction to a new filmmaker, screening samples of his work accompanied by the discussion of the work by the filmmaker with an audience) we are faced with the situation where a director could not be present because his departure from his home country was turned down (the Spanish Government denied a passport to Pere Portabella).

The reasons adduced are both his participation in the production of Viridiana, which made Luis Buñuel a persona non grata in Spain, as well as, more recently, his public protest against the alleged "torture" of detainees by the hands of the Spanish authorities.

The Museum's directors read a long "written introduction" to the film, furnished by a friend.

The fact that I am not there among all of you today, much against my will, obliges me to write these words as an introduction to my film.

Vampir is a meditation on film language. It is also perhaps an attempt to unravel the fantastic reduced to the genre of terror, a voyage through the genre of film, a discourse on a discourse, a vampire-film then which was created during the filming of El conde Drácula [Count Dracula] directed by Jess Franco. But fundamentally, what I hope to point out is that Vampir is one of the first outcast films made in my country. A warning that the marginalization, in our case, is not the result of a voluntary choice, but forced on us by our current political, social and cultural context. It is the only possible response, the only way out for independent cinema in Spain; it starts with the definitive rejection of the "protection" of the State and the auspices of the great distributors, of censorship and official and industrial control, and the need to grapple with our actual reality, with a politics of ideological production coherent with our needs, fully rejecting the Administration's channels which, in the best of cases, are nothing more than another manifestation of the machinery of power.

Made with some extremely limited means of financing, but of our own, and work methods unfettered by the system, that must transform the traditional concept of production-artistic-quality, into a process of ideological evolution of the medium of film practice. It is the only road or alternative which allows us to take on the search for a language, specifically cinematic, which corresponds to a conscious and deep vision of the Spanish reality. Made from the inside, from its own roots and, as such, linked to the same revolutionary vanguard that does not excuse the filmmaker from his (historical) commitment to everyday actions. Unmasking the notion of the (political and artistic) avant-garde which dismisses the masses and sets itself "outside" of its own struggle. This active attitude develops and is only possible outside the limits of authority of a system which hardly appears capable of maintaining a minimal openness toward a process of pseudodemocratic or even critical integration or assimilation. At the same time, this system, as a result of its inability to offer a way out or a solution in itself, takes the initiative toward a political regression in which it currently finds itself. We take on, as such, the consequences of marginalizing ourselves in a country where minimal freedoms are non-existent. Where a gathering of more than nineteen people without prior government permit is considered a crime of unlawful assembly. Where a strike can be considered a crime of military sedition. Where censorship is practiced with impunity, without any respect for the person. Where it has been impossible to celebrate an official tribute to Picasso and, furthermore, an art critic and various students can be jailed for the act of presiding over an event dedicated to the Spanish painter at the University of Madrid. In this strictly cultural terrain, the list of confiscated books, withdrawn magazines, paralyzed publishers, banned plays and films, expelled university professors and arrested students and intellectuals would be endless.

The repression of the workers' movement is even harsher. While the current régime attempts a certain openness in its foreign affairs (in order to be admitted into the European Common Market) so as to strengthen its economy, on the inside, the stagnation and fear of open, ever stronger, declarations by the democratic movement, lead the system to further emphasize its contradictions in all fields.

If you bear this context in mind, the repeated passport denials that I, along with many other friends dedicated to intellectual pursuits, have endured—and which explains my absence today in New York, and the repression over the media that makes it possible for Vampir to lack any official recognition in my country, should not be considered isolated events because they better express the reality in Spain than all the official Spanish representations in international festivals, beyond any interest that this film can inspire in you.

Here, then, is Vampir, not despite everything, but as a result of everything.

After the film's screening, the audience was asked to sign a statement which read:

We have just seen the Spanish film Vampir by Pere Portabella. We are dismayed and concerned by the fact that an artist of such interest and with so much talent was refused a passport after being invited by the Film Department of The Museum of Modern Art with the purpose of presenting his film.

Our signatures manifest our trust and hope that this lamentable incident will not be repeated…

115 people related to the world of film have signed the statement. [Editor’s note: According to the documents in Portabella’s files, filmmaker Jonas Mekas’s signature was among the names on the list.] This text was delivered to the Spanish Ambassador to the U.S. in Washington DC.

Vampir Cuadecuc. 1970. Spain. Directed by Pere Portabella