Previously, I wrote about the importance of streaming platforms and reinventing cinema in times of pandemic. After this year’s Golden Globes, I was looking for a somewhat forgotten concept, but one that seems to be very present in front of us: the telefilm.
You remember, as I do, that telefilm was once a middle ground between a film and a television product. It was never a fully stabilized concept, but it was used to characterize films (within “audiovisual” products) with the following characteristics: production (or majority co-production) responsible for television stations; short budgets; tapered rifle scope; bad cast; normal length of a feature film; and, most importantly and most decisively, diffusion through the channels that promoted them.
Often without the right to the supposed distinction given by distribution and display in space, this meant that a telefilm was like a child of some inferior god. It was a kind of limbo work that was often just as quickly understood for consumption as other content on streaming television. It had the characteristics of the film, but without the ability (or pretense) to achieve certain levels of cultural validation.
In addition to telefilm, there was another term (more in English-speaking than in Portugal): direct-to-video films. While dependent on the market, these films were also not released via the commercial space showing in order to reduce costs. They went straight to video clubs, stores, or pay-per-view platforms. The history of these films is littered with trivialities with comical outlines. For example, Portugal was one of the few countries in the world where films of this genre, of which Steven Seagal was the protagonist, had the honor of being distributed in the theater – reminiscent of the bizarre phenomenon that actor David Hasselhoff was a successful singer German market (but never outside this sphere).
RTP, SIC and TVI have ordered and produced telefilms for years. In the early 2000s, SIC invested heavily in these productions (including the famous Amo-te Teresa, launched by Diogo Morgado and featuring an unforgettable GNR soundtrack). At that time, this work also had a limited edition in space, which was due to experimental synergies between companies.
The telefilm had several lives in Portugal. Aside from the case already mentioned, this subgenre only had a continuous and consistent production strategy a few times, which meant that many of these films were loosely produced or their release on television was some sort of patch after negotiations. Distribution and showing in the room (which determined that this film was a telefilm based on the circumstances, not the nature). Some of these films were shot under the relevant names of our place and, in my opinion, are entitled to incorporate the history of Portuguese cinema.
However, nowadays (especially recently) we have been watching telefilms strictly speaking. Almost all films from Netflix or HBO are telephony or direct video – precisely because the business model of these companies is based on the individual availability of content. However, I don’t remember anyone applying this derogatory term to them. It is understood. Many are strictly sensu telefilms, but they share little or nothing regarding production with their older and poorer colleagues. This means that the revolution in the world of contemporary cinema is essentially centered at the telefilm level (not necessarily produced by television channels, but by platforms that use small screens as broadcast vehicles). Interestingly, the term telefilm swept out of our lives and our conversations.
The normalization of this content by the platforms complementing television and its subsequent acceptance by the highest canonical bodies (film festivals and academies) presupposed that the film was “tele”, which is what the term “telefilm” does in a tautology. I think it’s a case of saying, “The telefilm died. Long life to the telefilm ”.