quarta-feira, 16 de março de 2011

“O fim e o princípio”

Critical Review of Ethnographic Film.

Translation: The end and the beginning.
Language: Portuguese
Director: Eduardo Coutinho
Country: Brasil Film Location: São João do Rio do Peixe Year: 2006
Producer: VideoFilmes
Sponsors: Lei the Incentivo a Cultura
Programa Petrobras Cultural
Duration: 1:49:46
Genre: Ethnographic documentary; Observational Cinema

Director Eduardo Coutinho arranges his crew formed of around 4 people and migrates from Southeast Brasil to the remote and dry Northeast region of the country. At a first moment, the crew did not have a script. Their actions and fieldwork are grounded based and the documentary grows from that field exploration. According to an internet summary “In the village of São João do Rio do Peixe they come to Sítio Araçás, a rural community of 86 families, mostly relatives. With a girl from Araçás as mediator, the residents, in their majority, elderly, tell their life story, marked by popular catholicism, by a hierarchy, by a sense of family and honor - in a world fast disappearing.” (Trassalg, 2011)

The movie starts with the director talking about the movie idea: Find a location in the arid “Sertão” in the Paraiba state to document the lives of its communities and its culture. Sertão is the name of the dry regions of Northeastern Brasil in English would be described as a hinterland. This is Brazilian’s poorest region in economic terms and its population suffers of all basic needs from water, to food. Although the population is very poor the culture is still very rich with folkloric value coming from oral history and to the singularities of this environment. The region, in general, is underrepresented by documentary film makers and by the media in general. The information that is usually spread by the media emphasizes the negative aspects of the region.

The director starts telling the spectator that they did not chose an specific theme or site, like a community or city and that if they did not find a place where they could make a good documentary they would just come back with the documentary which theme would be about their search for a theme, story or characters. They had 1 month to film a place where they had never researched or being about before.

They wanted to find a rural community that was interested to accept and enjoy the crew’s project and a nice motel to stay. After crossing some cities they were told that at the “São João do Rio do Peixe” town or Saint John of the Fish River, there was a nice place to stay. The producer notified the local religious health center to ask them for help in introducing individuals from other community places. They were looking for people that could serve as mediators to receive the crew and introduce them to a possible subject, in other words to other people that would be interested to collaborate with the film making.

The mediator was a woman who knew many people in the community because she worked to the religious health center, visiting families in their houses and because she was a family member of the many people involved. She participated as an important ally to the film crew because she volunteered to introduce them to everyone she thought might like to participate and collaborate. She instructed the groups about the community member’s residencies and characteristics and suggested the routes.

The camera was mobile and started in the car while Eduardo Coutinho introduced the “plot” and continued following him throughout the film while they walked by places; entered on people’s houses and even when they approached people, apparently, for the first time. I noticed that by observing the different ways people reacted in front of the camera.

The takes were usually long portraying complete sequences of people speaking and telling their stories. What turned the movie into an ethnographic search for oral history more then cultural events that usually happens spread in different times of a certain place. Even without a focus on the documentation of special events or celebrations the film developed dynamism centered by people’s performances on their ways to tell about their stories. The dynamic aspect was enhanced by the edition that sometimes fragmented some sequences connecting them with different related or unrelated ones to later come back to previews sequences. The edition mixed takes and sequences displaying ordinary and interesting facts and points of view from different members of the same community, most of them family members or related neighbors.

The way they portrayed the landscape was also a way to tell the narrative through the camera and production’s point of view. The focus on the arid landscapes while the crew walked from one location to the other showed the spectator about the harshness of leaving in such arid regions the difficulties to get food and water, the poverty of houses with they typical furniture and clothing. Everything reduced to the minimum necessary until the limit of the lack of basic needs, expressed by peoples’ testimonials, when talking about their salaries, the drought and the government water and food provision.

The film aesthetics is provided by the local landscape and locations without light or technological special effects. The composition is an aspect that seems sometimes intentional to get the better settings, close-ups, arrangements, sceneries and natural light. The edition allows a sense of local time and space by portraying the configurations of events in the events. (Henley, 2004) It allows us to have an idea of how long time is in that location. I stayed with the impression that in these places time seems to pass slowly due to the natural flux of natural events, following days, nights and seasons summed up to occasional cultural and social events that even if they are not portrayed are still in the scenes’ subjectivity.

My only observation of a negative aspect that I noticed in the director’s method was the way he interviewed people. He sometimes interrupted individuals’ narrative to pose a following or another question and that seemed a little artificial in the conversation flux as if there was an impatient approach to individuals in some moments.

Overall Eduardo initiated the conversation by asking people to talk about anything they wanted or thought as important or memorable. Sometimes to initiate the conversation he asked about stories, life opinions and perspectives, and stories in relation to related family members. That was a way the author found to get rapport from the individuals who were asking for the projects’ topic or theme. Eduardo also counted with the mediator help to tell people about the project and recruit some volunteers before the crew arrived. But most of the time the approach seemed to be at the same time as the crew arrived, even because anybody portrayed seemed to have a way to be communicated beforehand either because they lived far from one another and because they did not have telephones to communicate.

I noticed how people performed in front of the camera sometimes taking that very seriously by being conscious of their participation in a movie or either taking that as an opportunity to act as a story teller or as a humorous character. Some people tough gave the impression of natural conversation flow as if they had got used to the camera presence and were engaged in an informal conversation talking about random things in their lives.

In fact, what we can see from the documentary is that from the most remote parts in the world still we can unveil aspects of the folklore that are interesting and important to document, either for its singularities or for the documental value that these cultures entail. According to Henley, “film-making can be employed to enhance the generation of knowledge in fieldwork, and how this knowledge can be represented in ways that are sensitive to the social and cultural contexts of that knowledge.” (Henley, 2004)

I was wondering if the film was successful in the representational requirements stated by Henley. In my opinion it was, but I still represent the opinion of an outsider a spectator. To make sure if the film “accurately represents the acquired knowledge in the context that generated the knowledge” (Henley, 2004) I should make a new research, interviewing people who knows the culture, and if possible doing a new fieldwork. Even tough, the film called my attention to some “subjective and embodied aspects of human experience” (Henley, 2004) that I could not agther just from an anthropological text.

This documentary has this value and it shows us a part of the country that most of us, Brazilians won’t never go. A part of Brasil where people speak the same language and share related values that still reflects the identity of a people that is allocated in different ways and manifested in other regions. The spread of such manifestations is shared in different ways, being them by the media or by the people who migrate from the droughts in search of better life conditions and jobs in the larger cities.

Reference List

Henley, P. (2004). Putting film to work: Observational cinema as practical research. In Working images : visual research and representation in ethnography (pp. 109-130). London; New York: Routledge.
Trassalg (2011). O fim e o principio. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0796979/plotsummary [On-line].

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