In 2014, a group of people with a background in culture joined forces to start a documentary film festival in the city of Porto. It presented itself to the public under the name of Porto/Post/Doc and established its intentions with the support of a provocation: “Our stories are real”.

In a kind of warm-up to the ascending elevator of post-truth, this festival amplified the ongoing debate about the documentary genre, of its relationship with reality and eternal fiction. The second decade of the current century was marked by a strong blow to the robustness of what we previously considered facts; a sign of the times. Bruno Latour (1947-2022) explains us, in part, the context that made this phenomenon possible. To the philosopher, the robustness of the facts “is supported by a common culture, by institutions that can be trusted, by a more or less decent public life, by a more or less reliable media”. All these things have failed. This is where the documentary cinema reacts and mirrors the critical dimension that allows for the context that is captured on film. This was also the year in which I started Studio Dobra along with João Guedes. It was then that the director of Porto/Post/Doc, Dario Oliveira, reached out to me with a new-born project that needed to be communicated.

For seven years, I had the chance to design the image of the festival in close collaboration with the people that were part of it. Since its first edition, I approached the festival with a strong editorial sense. Behind the conceptualization of Porto/Post/Doc there’s an effort and a search similar to the one that you experience in a classic newspaper editorial office. The topics are critical, urgent and current. Even the font (Graphic, by Commercial Type) was chosen due to its modernist headline classic feeling. For the first five editions, rooted in the statement “Our stories are real”, we turned to photography and worked on the idea of building analogies. From historical moments (Ben Johnson – not – beating the 100 meters world record at the Olympics) to other ridiculously vernacular ones (a couple taking a selfie while kissing), there was always a search for an editorial gesture in the choice of the images that would be used in the communication of that edition. The poster ends up being, in itself, a documental part to the memory of this festival on that specific year.

The poster of the first edition of the festival is a reflection on the “real”. We chose a photograph that represents a historical moment in popular culture: Ben Johnson’s celebration at the 1988 Seoul Olympics after winning the 100-meter sprint and breaking the world record. The index pointing in the air, a defiant gaze, gold chain around his neck. A real story, a real image. But how real? In the next 48 hours, the world’s fastest man would lose not just his gold medal, but also his reputation, as his anti-doping test result was confirmed positive. The image doesn’t come from any of the films admitted to the competition: we chose it because it disturbs the classical division of real/fiction, revealing that borderline where Porto/Post/Doc projects itself; a festival that assumes the tradition of documentary cinema, but affirms its contamination by the fictional virus. We designed not only the graphic image of the first edition but also the festival’s brand, which carries the concepts of cut and editing (the bars), and of framing and screen (the frame). Graphically, it hints at the tagline of Porto/Post/Doc: framing reality.

The formulation of the poster for the second edition of Porto/Post/Doc starts as a further development of the image achieved in 2014. The statement “Our stories are real” works as a motto for an ironic reflection on what reality is.
The documentary cinema is moving more and more to an area where the boundaries of fiction and reality are blurred. We feel that the combination of the statement with an image – intentionally revealing a historical period or moment – leads to an interpretation that is necessarily different from the one that was expected.
For this edition, centred around the theme “teenage”, we feel like honouring or referencing a moment or, perhaps, a state of mind very much akin to adolescence. We have the Honda XL250 (on which many learned how to ride), a wheelie, the long air, bell-bottoms and speed. All under the neon green frame drawn with the statement that ironically tells us that the teenage illusion is, after all, the reality. A festival popping a wheelie.

Group narcissism is huge. And the worst thing our collective narcissism is doing is the destruction of the planet. Together, we’re wiping out species after species after species, fuelled by consumerism, fuelled by our self-importance. Our narcissism may destroy us in the end.
— Pat MacDonald

The challenge we face when designing a new poster for Porto/Post/Doc comes from the attempt to build a proposal with a documental nature. It imposes itself as a kind of visual/graphic reflection on contemporary habits or behaviours. The poster for the third edition of the festival is the third in a series where the statement “Our stories are real” frames an image that is intended to be ironic, challenging, disturbing.
For 2016, we chose a photographic image through which, in a provocative way, a form of mirror is revealed. The typographic framework focuses on a manifestation of affection between a couple. The women, even with the smile of apparent happiness, is clearly engaged in taking a photographic record of the moment with the smartphone. In a way, the act itself becomes more important than the moment that the act intends to record.
We were interested in exploring the similarities between the narcissistic hunger fuelled by the selfie and the documentary cinema, in the sense that there is a kind of collective self-biographical trail online, which is real but, at the same time, fictionalized by our own attempt to pretend to look spectacular – living in a dystopic world of happiness – and not just regular people; sometimes unhappy, sometimes lonely, sometimes with wrinkles, sometimes with bad breath.

By the sixth edition, the festival enters a new phase, more stable and renowned. The statement went into the background and the power of image took shape in the development of an edition that focused on “identity”:

The main theme for the sixth edition of the festival was “identity”. Our approach for this year’s image was to question what can identity be today? Genre and its variations. What defines us and how do we want to be defined?
How others see and identify each one of us transported us to an idea focused on a phenomenon of this millennium that insists on living trapped in a collage of identities originating in the 20th century. From TV series to music, art or architecture, we’ve lived these last 20 years with a weird notion of how we can build a contemporary identity. What’s identity in a globalised world? What’s identity when you have to flee from the place you were born? What’s identity when you have social media? What’s identity?

Designed at Studio Dobra between 2014 and 2020.

Photos by Costa Mendes and André Cruz

Video filmed and edited by Miguel C. Tavares