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Don’t try to make a Cow into a Camel!

Last week we had the pleasure of screening the Scottish premiere of The Women with The 5 Elephants at Edinburgh College of Art, with a long Q&A by director Vadim Jendreyko.

85-year-old Svetlana Geier dedicated her life to language. Considered the greatest translator of Russian literature into German, Svetlana has just concluded her magnum opus, completing new translations of Dostoyevsky’s five great novels—known as “the five elephants.” As a precocious teenager living in Ukraine with an unusual facility for languages, Svetlana was brought to the attention of her country’s Nazi occupiers during World War II, and found uneasy refuge translating for them. She fled in 1943 and never returned … until now.

During the screening  you could hear a pin drop in the audience, who were clearly in awe of Svetlana’s mode of thinking, her poignant use of language – in short her authenticity: whether she was ironing her table cloths, talking to a train guard on her first journey back to the Ukraine, or translating Dostoyevsky.

Svetlana is a unique person, and director Vadim Jendreyko really wanted to share with an audience what it meant knowing her. He spoke at length about what was involved in translating her journey onto the big screen.

Following the talk, Vadim also hosted a weekend workshop for our 11 short listed Bridging the Gap filmmakers, currently developing their 10 min films.

Here’s a few points of reflection gleaned from Vadim about filmmaking:

1. Filmmaking is self development: I want to be a different person when I’ve finished making a film.

2. Try to take the most uncomfortable part of your project, your biggest weakness, and really work on it. People will invariably pick up on it, and you need to have answers for them – and first of all for yourself.

3. Don’t show everything at once. Remember the original meaning of strip-tease

4. Use obstacles in your favour. Not having access to this or that person, location, object – you have to turn negatives into positives, or make the obstacle part of the film.

5. Always look for a personal connection. For my relationship to Svetlana that meant not shooting for 6 months. If you don’t have  a personal connection with your main character, how will you ever translate this into an interesting figure on screen?

6. Again: Authenticity is key. Doors will open – or you will find your way in. Only when I managed to take a still of myself with Svetlana, could I begin the process of recording. In fact we were never making a film, we were her guests. You could never do things twice. She never acknowledged the camera.

7. You have to strategise about getting access. You need patience to understand people’s viewpoints very much unlike your own; you may need to align yourself with the strongest, but perhaps not most likeable character. That person can often open the entire setting or milieu for you, and help you get accepted socially within their environment; other people, situations.

8. At the beginning, always raise a strong curiosity; give us real motivation to watch this film. Always be able to answer the question: Why do you want to make this film? What do I want to learn from it?

9. Be prepared. Know what you’re looking for and trust what you’ll find. Often it will seem serendipitous.

10. Music kills a scene when used as illustration. Use it sparingly. Never forget about the sound. Always get a clean track when you’ve finished a shot.

11. Don’t try to make a cow into a camel. Just try to make a really good cow.

PS: 4.1.2012
For a wonderful review of The Women with the 5 Elephants see Pamela Cohn’s blog: Still in Motion

Filed under: Filmmaking, Masterclasses, , , , , ,

Stay the Same – by Sam Firth

Stay the Same is an experimental film project by Sam Firth funded by the UK Film Council and Creative Scotland.

Sam is filming herself every day at exactly the same time in exactly the same place for a year where she lives on Knoydart, a remote Scottish peninsular only accessible by boat. The project is about our relationship with time, nature, and place.

This blog is a record of the process, a collection of related work, and responses to the project from friends, family, other artists and filmmakers. A shared insight into our perceptions of time and modern living.

If you would like to submit a response please see the invite below.

http://www.tinysparkproductions.com

AN INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE

I am collecting peoples personal and creative responses to the ideas behind this project which is about our relationship to nature and the passage of time. The project is an attempt to capture the experience of time, a year of life in one viewing. To stand still each day while time flows around me.  It is partly a reaction to the pace of modern living and the desire to speed up life whilst wanting to deny the inevitibility of death and ageing.

I am keen to move beyond my own personal experience and start collecting other peoples thoughts and experiences as I have found people’s responses to the project and the ideas behind it incredibly varied and fascinating (see Creating a Living Notebook).

I would like to invite you to participate in this project by contributing a response in some way.

I am leaving it purposefully very open. Your responses can be to any aspect of the project, it can be of any size or length and be in any form. It can be creative, personal, intellectual, philosophical or abstractical! It can be film, text, image, poem, handicraft, sung, knitted, doodled or a few words scrawled on the back of an envelope . . . .

Responses will be published on this web space which will stay live until June 21st 2012 then may become part of this or a larger piece of work. By sending a response you are agreeing to it’s use in this way, so please state if and how you would like to be acknowledged.

The deadline is the end of March 2012.

Please send your responses to staythesame@tinysparkproductions.com or by post to:

Sam Firth
Knoydart
Highlands
PH41 4PL

Thank you in advance for participating and do subscribe to the blog.

Sam

Filed under: Filmmaking, ,

João Moreira Salles talks about ‘Santiago’ – part VI

João Moreira Salles is a Brazilian documentarian and president of the Instituto Moreira Salles. In 2006, he founded the magazine piauí. He has also taught courses on documentary at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and Princeton University.

In 1992 he began shooting a film about Santiago, the butler in his childhood home who left an indelible mark upon the family. Santiago was an educated man who, in addition to his work, produced some 60,000 pages of stories documenting his surroundings as well as tales of aristocratic lifestyles, including that of the house in which he himself served.

Through his personal voice-over, Salles sheds light on his family and childhood, and on the reasons why the film took 13 years to complete. The result is an elegant mosaic with two parallel narratives, dealing with universal topics such as memories, identity, and documentary filmmaking.*

 

To view an extract of the film please click here.

 

This entry is part of a series of edited transcripts of João Moreira Salles’ Masterclass in Doc Montevideo 2011, hosted by Noe Mendelle.

 

*Unknown author.

The reasons behind ‘Santiago’

In this film, there’s something from which you can’t run away, which is… It sounds like by talking about it, I’m defending myself from my tyranny, a cleverly narcissistic procedure almost…  And because I’m talking about it, it’s as if everything is fine. I admit, therefore it’s as if I’m very brave. But it’s not like that, it’s not something that I’m proud of… even when I look at it today I feel embarrassed for having done something I didn’t quite realise I was doing, but I still did it. It doesn’t save me from anything; the film was made under those conditions. So by re-editing the film, not to show that I’m brave or to show what I did wrong – there is no bravery in showing what I did wrong when what I did condemned the relationship I had with Santiago. Now, that was the footage and that was the relationship, so if the film has to be made and if the first film failed because it didn’t show what actually happened, I only had two choices. I could either show what happened and expose myself to the critics of ‘He’s such a good guy for showing this, he’s redeemed himself, this film is a redemption, he saw the light, he’s almost a saint’.

No, that’s not why, but it’s the only way the film can exist, because the other way is to not have the film. And if there’s no film, there’s no way of revealing what was the actual process of filming and the nature of my relationship with Santiago. So I think this sequence clearly shows what I had with him, a relationship of power, although I insist it wasn’t just that. I believe there was affection, there was love, and that showed even if through a class structure, even though I wasn’t aware of it. So inside that class structure, therefore of inequality, there was love and it manifested itself that way.

I defend that it was better to have it made than not, at least from Santiago’s point of view, because we’re here today, some fifteen years after his death, talking about him. And he is, ultimately, an extraordinary and lively character. He would have disappeared without a trace if it weren’t for this film and I think that, somehow, redeems the film; it’s a counterpoint to the violence of the film. The fact that there was someone who went there to listen to him, even though I listened in a very specific way, and some of it I didn’t listen to but some I did. In that sense I’d like to think that the film does with Santiago what Santiago did with his old characters from his lists. He named them out loud and they became real. I made a film about Santiago and he became real too.

Click on the links to read part Ipart IIpart III,  part IV or part V.

Filed under: Masterclasses, , , , ,

João Moreira Salles talks about ‘Santiago’ – part V

João Moreira Salles is a Brazilian documentarian and president of the Instituto Moreira Salles. In 2006, he founded the magazine piauí. He has also taught courses on documentary at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and Princeton University.
In 1992 he began shooting a film about Santiago, the butler in his childhood home who left an indelible mark upon the family. Santiago was an educated man who, in addition to his work, produced some 60,000 pages of stories documenting his surroundings as well as tales of aristocratic lifestyles, including that of the house in which he himself served.
Through his personal voice-over, Salles sheds light on his family and childhood, and on the reasons why the film took 13 years to complete. The result is an elegant mosaic with two parallel narratives, dealing with universal topics such as memories, identity, and documentary filmmaking.*
 
To view an extract of the film please click here.
 
This entry is part of a series of edited transcripts of João Moreira Salles’ Masterclass in Doc Montevideo 2011, hosted by Noe Mendelle.
 
*Unknown author.
 
The Edit and Voice Over Choices
 

Santiago and Memory

In this film we didn’t try to disguise the sound cuts. There’s always continuous dialogue instead. And another thing we don’t have is editing… I mean, there is association but not an obvious one, like, for example, someone saying: “I went to Montevideo.” Then you cut it with someone else saying: “Montevideo is a very beautiful city.” You start hooking these themes, which is a classic way of making documentaries; things go hand in hand and evolve through very obvious connections. In this film that doesn’t happen, instead, the themes change dramatically without the need to indicate it, and all the sequences happen in a single shot so when they’re over it’s a clear indication for the audience that there’s been a cut, therefore the film also tells the story of its own edit.

‘When I started talking in the first person the film started to exist’

Noe Mendelle: In contrast with Santiago’s voice, you then took the decision of using someone else’s voice, not yours. How do you explain this?

There were ideas of sequence. I wanted to make a sequence about flowerpots, so we would find the flower pots and try to edit a sequence together. I would then write the text straight away. Ninety per cent of what can be heard in the film was written on the day it was edited, in the edit suite. I would write it and Eduardo Escorel had a shabby microphone, which he used to record it, and then we would adjust it. The text was written after the image, which I find very important. The image was preeminent. There wasn’t a text to start with and then we would come up with images to illustrate. It was the opposite. The text followed the image’s rhythm. At the end of the process, we had a film with Escorel’s voice, which is in fact very beautiful. So I watched the film like that for a few months. Then, Escorel and a small group of people who had seen the film insisted that I recorded it. Also, during the first week of editing, the text that I had written was in the third person, I didn’t use ‘I’. Again, it was going in the direction of the first failure. I was dissuaded to write in the first person by Lívia and Escorel, and when I started using the first person the film started to exist. It meant that I became a character in the film and my relationship with Santiago became the main relationship established in it.

‘It’s in the middle of that road that documentary exists. It tosses its roots into the real world and throws its hand into the world of fairy tales, into the imaginary.’

Among other things, the film is also about that tenuous and mysterious border between what had actually happened and what I thought had happened; between the house where I lived and the house in Santiago’s imagination. What it is in reality and what it is in the imaginary; a fairy tale of the truth, which I think is the nature of documentary. It doesn’t mean it’s a lie, but there’s an impure, and good mixture between the concrete and the imaginary. And it’s in the middle of that road that documentary exists. It tosses its roots into the real world and throws its hand into the world of fairy tales, into the imaginary. When I started watching the footage again, thirteen years later, very humbly and without any rhetorical feelings, a lot of the times I didn’t know what I was looking at. I didn’t know if some of the scenes had been staged or if they had happened just like that without any external interference. I didn’t know if I had put that white cloth over Gávea’s house furniture. I didn’t know anymore. No one knew. Thirteen, fourteen years had gone past. So there was an element of doubt which for me was very important to include in the film… a doubt, an enigma that can’t be solved and that shouldn’t be solved. Is it the truth or is it not the truth? It’s not a ‘spot the differences’ game, ‘yes, it’s the truth!’ I don’t care… the important thing is to keep that fantasy territory alive, the one that doesn’t know what it is and will never find out.

In that sense, I thought that introducing someone else’s voice, not mine, speaking in my name, was to give the film another layer of illusion. A new layer saying: ‘Don’t believe in everything you see.’ And I could have use Escorel’s voice to do that, or an actor’s voice, which I did, there is a version narrated by an actor. And both Escorel and the actor introduced that layer of illusion, but in a blatant way. It was almost a militant proposal saying: ‘I am lying to you and I’m being blatant about it.’ But I find lying disinteresting. It’s not a question of lying or saying the truth; it’s a question of doubting, of ambiguity, of impurity. I love the idea of impurity but I don’t like the idea of purity which is closely associated with the idea of perfection. By speaking on my behalf, my brother Fernando in a way speaks about things that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to talk about, and he also talks about things that he could, because he lived in that house. He keeps a big part of those memories; they are his memories too. The things that he remembers are also things that he lived. It’s not a lying memory, it’s not a false memory; it’s not an artefact. He’s someone who incorporates my memories and has the right to have them. Not all of them, but most. So, it worked in that sense.

Click on the links to read part Ipart IIpart III or part IV.

Come back next week for the last instalment of this blog.

Filed under: Masterclasses, , , , ,

On Building Up Trust and Getting People to Open Up

Noe Mendelle, Director of SDI, was asked to make a documentary about a housing research project led by Edinburgh University and Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Here are some reflections on her experience.

The Cement City

The Home Space project is based on a 20 year research on how the suburbs and land around Maputo is changing. The cement city aka Maputo city centre is like a fungus growing at the expense of the land around it. The suburbs around the city are mainly self-built dwellings, first out of bamboo now slowly being replaced by cement blocks and corrugated iron. At a time when land had no value, plots were given to poor people mainly dislocated during the war, to cultivate. Over the years families grew and so did poverty and plots got divided and sold off, often sacrificing the allotments where women grew the household food.

“Barrios”  mushroomed all around Maputo in what appears an up hazard fashion but functionable.  After many years of peace, now Maputo is fast developing into a beautiful city, favoured by many Europeans to move in and make their fortune. Entrepreneurs and land developers are ceasing an amazing opportunity to get rid of the slums and buy off the land for peanuts and build all the infrastructures alongside elegant villas and condoniums. The poor are happy because for a very brief moment they have money in their pockets and the promise of another plot of land far away from the city. Most employment for men will be in the city, therefore to be living even further away than they already are will mean that in no time at all they will mainly drink and eat their cash before having a chance to construct a new house. To put it blantly they are being squezed.

Meeting Luis and Mama Maria

For the documentary I am working with families who are living in different parts of the city to see how they get affected. The family the furthest away – 20km- consists of a polygamist, living with his second and third wife, in a 2 room- house. The furniture consists of one bed and one chair and my guess is that it is for Luis, the head of household. Last year he sold half of his land in order to keep drinking. The first day I was introduced to him and went to ask him for permission to film, the ritual around this request is very typical of traditions of that part of the world. I had a male fixer who spoke Changana and the three of us stood there under the shade of the tree for at least an hour, with a lot of greetings and enquiries about health and good being of the family but nothing too specific, followed by long pauses and silences before we get to the matter in hand, but then quickly diverted by something else, then a return to the request, then another greeting to a passer by and so on… The outcome was to ring him and then maybe we could make direct arrangements. Of course it took several phone calls and several visits before I saw him again. That gave me plenty of opportunities to meet up with the main wife and sit under the tree that she uses to sell her vegetables to passers-by, who are only neighbours as we are in the last rural part of the boundaries of Maputo. But not for long, as neighbours are all splitting their plots and selling it off to better off families from the city centre who are wanting to pursue the national dream of building their own homes. The wife did not say much while I was hanging around and I started to despair that I will not be able to cover their story until I proposed to go with her to her Machamba (allotment), another 8km away from the house. We got there soon after 5am and desperate to get her to open up I took the line of provocation asking if this plot of land will be the next sale by her husband Luis. She retaliated very quickly that the land is hers and not to be sold by her drunken husband. The sad reality is if the land belongs to anyone it will be the man. Widows are often thrown out their houses after the death of the husband either by sons or uncles.

‘It is very important not to give up with the silence of characters and use different spaces to get them to open up’

The allotment was beautifully kept, planning the basic food to keep the drunken husband, herself, her daughter, her 2 grand-children and  the third wife with her off springs and a little surplus to sell in order to buy basic necessities. It is very important not to give up with the silence of characters and use different spaces to get them to open up. The allotment was her space and from then on I could not get her to stop talking.  We kept meeting other women at the water point, with the same determination on their faces and one can only imagine that their stories are not too dissimilar to Mama Maria.

Noe

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João Moreira Salles talks about ‘Santiago’ – part IV

João Moreira Salles is a Brazilian documentarian and president of the Instituto Moreira Salles. In 2006, he founded the magazine piauí. He has also taught courses on documentary at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and Princeton University.

In 1992 he began shooting a film about Santiago, the butler in his childhood home who left an indelible mark upon the family. Santiago was an educated man who, in addition to his work, produced some 60,000 pages of stories documenting his surroundings as well as tales of aristocratic lifestyles, including that of the house in which he himself served.

Through his personal voice-over, Salles sheds light on his family and childhood, and on the reasons why the film took 13 years to complete. The result is an elegant mosaic with two parallel narratives, dealing with universal topics such as memories, identity, and documentary filmmaking. *

To view an extract of the film please click here.

This entry is part of a series of edited transcripts of João Moreira Salles’ Masterclass in Doc Montevideo 2011, hosted by Noe Mendelle.

*Unknown author.

Santiago and Memory

The film is very close to that sensation of celebrating nostalgia, which I think of as being the conservative idea that the past is better than the present, and that one needs to recover the past, which is impossible, so all that’s left is sadness and melancholy of the time that went past and the feeling you can’t invest in the present. From that you get the happiness of the past too. Nostalgia is necessarily melancholic and conservative. The past is better than the present and therefore, sometimes, better than the future… And I didn’t want to convey that in the film.

So I think the sound design would have had that connotation. I think beyond that, there’s also the need to say the following; past is irrecoverable and what you’re watching now, these images, are images that are missing an essential component, which is live sound. The shouting of those children, the affectionate word, the affection between my mother and my brother, my father playing with him… all of that is gone. If you put a soundtrack on it, the feeling that there’s something missing is lost. And this idea, that time produces a non-material effect is an idea that became very important at the time of filming. Why was that idea so important? Because it was Santiago’s idea. Santiago said: ‘The past passes. Things go past. Things are lost.’ What to do in face of that? Santiago found a way, through his lists and his imagination, by recovering that past by naming those people in the lists; by speaking about them and by speaking to them; by saying their names out loud it was as if they existed again, through memory.

Santiago and his lists

It’s a Greek idea, because their biggest fear was to be forgotten. The hero went to the battle and it was important there was a poet to sing about his bravery in the battlefield, because he would always be alive in the poet’s song. The curse is to be forgotten. That’s why the river that flows in Greek mythology is the river of oblivion, when you die. Santiago had that idea very much alive in him. To remember, sing, name, and say these names to keep them alive.

But there are things that go missing. And in the case of this film, things went missing. We, Video Filmes, my production company, used to be in a part of Rio de Janeiro when I made the film. Thirteen years later we had moved somewhere else in Rio and, during the moving, some things went missing, among them some of ‘Santiago’s’ audio tracks. At the end of the movie, you can see scenes of Santiago talking with no sound, and no music either. Again, it was an attempt to show that this was the subject; time. Time loses things. And whatever Santiago said in that moment, I will never know, because it’s lost. And that is included in the film.

When we started editing again, myself, Escorel and Lívia made the decision to include all those very concrete accidents in the film. If we have sound but the image is lost, let’s use the sound and not the image. Leave it all black. If there’s image but the sound is lost, let’s use the image without the sound, because the history of the footage is in those mistakes, in what the footage has left behind, because it got lost in time and because time went past. So in that scene you can’t hear the noises of the house; the sonority of that house doesn’t exist. Any attempt to create sound for it, would be, in fact, violent in relation to what I was trying to say with this film.

Click on the links to read part I, part IIpart III or part V.

Filed under: Masterclasses, , , , , ,

On Working with Foreign Language

Mama Teresa and her two grandchildren

Noe Mendelle, Director of SDI, was asked to make a documentary about a housing research project led by Edinburgh University and Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Here are some reflections on her experience.

Do we need to understand every word to shoot a sequence?

Mama Teresa was my favourite right from the beginning. She spoke a few Portuguese words but went on speaking to me in Changana, her local language. The energy she gave out seemed to allow me to understand what she was communicating. I have used translators in past situations but although we gain information through the translation, I often feel very frustrated because the attention, focus, keeps slipping from the character to the translator and part of me stops feeling the person that I’m filming. So I  took the decision not to work with a translator and allow me to go with the feel of her and allow her to just talk to me, whenever she wants, knowing that I did not understand her. No  doubt I will discover crucial details during editing and probably get kicked by my editor for not having followed some of the leads. But I ask myself:  do we need to understand every word to shoot a sequence? Can’t we sometimes just work on the feel of it?

How do we film the invisible, the impalpable?

By forcing myself to film what I feel next to this woman, I look around and try to use my camera to capture light and images to translate and create meaning to those feelings/energy. I often try to reflect on how do we film the invisible, the impalpable?
It was a risk but something to play with during editing.

Click on the links to read part I or part II of this thread.

Filed under: Filmmaking, , , ,

João Moreira Salles talks about ‘Santiago’ – part III

João Moreira Salles is a Brazilian documentarian and president of the Instituto Moreira Salles. In 2006, he founded the magazine piauí. He has also taught courses on documentary at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro and Princeton University.In 1992 he began shooting a film about Santiago, the butler in his childhood home who left an indelible mark upon the family. Santiago was an educated man who, in addition to his work, produced some 60,000 pages of stories documenting his surroundings as well as tales of aristocratic lifestyles, including that of the house in which he himself served.

Through his personal voice-over, Salles sheds light on his family and childhood, and on the reasons why the film took 13 years to complete. The result is an elegant mosaic with two parallel narratives, dealing with universal topics such as memories, identity, and documentary filmmaking.*

To view an extract of the film please click here.

This entry is part of a series of edited transcripts of João Moreira Salles’ Masterclass in Doc Montevideo 2011, hosted by Noe Mendelle.

*Unknown author.

Santiago’s freedom and the concept behind the film

This excerpt follows Noe Mendelle’s remark on this scene, in which she asks João if he thinks this was the only moment of the film where Santiago exercised his freedom.

Santiago told me once: ‘I find my hands very beautiful and I remember making these gestures as a child, like an exercise, whilst listening to Bach.’ And he asked me to do that in the film. So you’re right when you say that maybe that is one of the only moments in the film in which he’s exercising his freedom. To be able to do what he wanted to and be proud of it to the point he wanted it to be filmed. And he’s absolutely free and happy doing it, because it’s important for him and it’s beautiful.

When it came to editing, I had a discussion with Eduardo Escorel and with another editor, Lívia. There was three generations in the edit suite. Lívia was 22, 23 years old, I was 40 something and Escorel was 60 something. And as I mentioned yesterday, this film was edited without any expectations. Not only expectations about the audience, which didn’t even cross my mind, but any expectations that this was going to be a film.  It was something made for me, so everything was allowed. We didn’t worry about it being too long or too short, if it’s beautiful and we want to look at it, let’s leave it, because no one is going to judge it.  It’s not a rhetoric film and, I know a lot of people say they made a personal project but this was specifically and truly a very personal project. And no one remembered it existed and there was no pretension to transform it into a film.

So everything was allowed. There was no kind of thoughts asking ‘What about the audience?’

So that specific scene was left long, and Escorel said: ‘But that’s too long!’ and I said: ‘That is a little too long.’ And Lívia, who was the most orthodox and the bravest, said: ‘It’s too short! Leave it for longer!’ She ended up being the radical element in our edit. And it stayed that long because it’s the time he takes… it’s all there is in the film, there’s no more than that. And it lasted for as long as he wanted to show us his hands. So what he had to show us is all in the film, in its entirety, just like a present he gave us. There is no other interpretation beyond that, but I think that you’re right, it is a moment of absolute freedom in which Santiago is not being directed, in fact, the camera is only observing what he chose to show us. And all of it was his choice, including the frame. He said: ‘I don’t want my face in it; I only want my hands, like two ballerinas.’ So we closed in and got a black backdrop in front of him, and he would pass his hands in front of it and do it… There isn’t a place for it either. There’s no geographical place, it breaks from the prison of the apartment, it breaks free from the rigidness of the frame. It breaks from…

Noe Mendelle: Even the hands get out of frame.

João Salles: And the hands break free from the frame too. And they come back when he and Bach’s music decide to give the hands back to the frame. So, you’re right, I’d never thought about it like that but it’s a moment in which Santiago exercises his freedom, right in front of the tyranny of filmmaking.

Noe Mendelle: But you decided to shoot it statically. The frame doesn’t go looking for the hands, it stays put.

João Salles: It stays put.

Noe Mendelle: And you have, there is some sort of respect for these hands that move out of frame.

João Salles: Yes, there is respect in a general sense.

Noe Mendelle: Did you get more than one take?

João Salles: No, no. Everything in that scene, everything you see it’s all that was filmed. There’s no before or after. If I had more I have the feeling that Lívia would have convinced us to put it in. Now, the rigidness of the shot is something that is present in the whole film. I mean, it was a very pretentious film. The original idea was very pretentious. And what was the original idea? Santiago represents to me memory. That is, a sort of vertical axis, fixed on the ground, without moving, except in my imagination. The house, that I filmed empty, was a house that, at that time, for me, only symbolized a place. It didn’t symbolize history anymore, because history had abandoned that house. My family had left it and somehow it lost all its purpose, because times were changing. It was impossible to have such a big house so close to the millennium. This was a house built at the start of the 50’s, when Rio de Janeiro was another city. It was too big a house, too pompous for the ‘90’s. The house was built when Rio de Janeiro was still Brazil’s capital. My dad had been the State Minister and he was Joselino’s colleague. So this house was a centre for Rio de Janeiro’s political life.

Now, at the time of filming, Rio de Janeiro wasn’t the capital anymore; it had been taken over by violence. It lost its consciousness, it didn’t know what it was anymore, and it didn’t reinvent itself… so the city lost its centrality. Brasilia was now the capital; São Paulo was the financial capital. Rio de Janeiro was a memory of something that didn’t exist anymore. And that house represented all of that, for me, a drifting place, without history’s courage, as if it had been ditched by history and it was adrift in the sea. Therefore, because it was pure geography without history’s anchor, the scenes in the house are all moving, just like anything that doesn’t have an anchor.

Santiago is pure memory, not geography anymore, because Rio was not important to me then, the city didn’t matter anymore, what mattered was the verticality of memory and time. So, everything that happened in Santiago’s house was filmed statically. And all the movement in it is the movement of imagination. In the house, all empty, everything is moving because the imagination has left, it was over. Its purpose is over, its history was over, and the idea was over too, the idea that ended on the cutting room floor… because it was pretentious. That was the idea; that empty place was to be filled by Santiago’s memories. I didn’t have to go anywhere to travel in time. The house was sliding but it couldn’t find rest in reason, or a place where it could feel at ease, anchored or stopped. So that was the big opposition of the film. It’s static when you’re watching Santiago, in constant movement when you’re inside the house.

Click on the links to read part Ipart II, part IV or part V.

Filed under: Masterclasses, , , , , ,

On Filmmakers Participation

Noe Mendelle, Director of SDI, was asked to make a documentary about a housing research project led by Edinburgh University and Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Here are some reflections on her experience.

Mozambique

Bank banner advertising a credit scheme in Maputo: 'We will help you redecorate your home, invest in education, go on holiday and look after your health.'

A bank banner advertising a credit scheme in Maputo: ‘We will help you redecorate your home, invest in education, go on holiday and look after your health.’ Mozambique is a Socialist country but with a privatised infrastructure, such as most education, electricity, water, transport etc… all except the land. So technically people get offered a plot of land but do not own it! The power of banks is only starting, as most people are self employed or do not earn enough to be paid through banks, unless you work for the government. Anything they save, they invest in developing their house: a few more cement blocks or cement bags or corrugated iron… With the privatisation of water, most people have a tap in their yard but many cannot afford it, so children and women will walk to a selling point and buy one jerry can at a time for 20 medicais (50 pence). The electricity is re-bought. They go to petrol stations or kiosks and have a primitive system of “pay as you go.”

Buying Electricity

The other day I asked Mama Teresa to take me with her on her next electricity shopping trip. She fed the babies, changed them and then put one on her back and one on her front to walk the 3km to the petrol station. I did not realise it was this far and in good faith happily left her carrying her double burden while filming her walking through the maze of alleys. Only when I realised she was sweating profusely, I understood the effort involved, so I took both babies. If she can do it, I can do it! And then went on filming… Rather badly! Babies and cameras do not mix well! I think that is when the local community realised that I wasn’t just a white woman, I was a mad white woman… and that deserves many laughs.

But I gained trust by showing the community that the woman and the camera are an item and it was no longer a surprise to be met by me filming in alleys…

Noe

Click on the links to read part I or part III of this thread.

Filed under: Filmmaking, , ,

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