Tuesday, July 27, 2021

‘The Last Forest’: Luiz Bolognesi talks about Berlinale’s winner

After receiving the audience award at the Summer Edition of the 71st Berlinale for “The Last Forest“, Luiz Bolognesi highlighted the strength of Brazil’s natives and the vulnerability in which their lands are under the shadow of Bolsonaro’s presidency.

This award is very important not only for us who made the film, but for Brazilian cinema – which had its anniversary this 19th, – and especially for the image of the indigenous, the Yanomamis, who are under attack at this moment, fighting against an invasion of more than 20,000 miners into their territory.

It is fundamental that this film is shown around the world  so that we can exert pressure for the removal of these illegal invaders from both Yanomami and Munduruku lands. This award means that the world is watching and I hope that the Brazilian government will comply with the constitution and remove these invaders from the Yanomami’s legally constituted land. It’s urgent that we stop the indigenous genocide immediately“, said Bolognesi, writer of Laís Bodanzky’s Brainstorm (2000) and writer-director of Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury (2013).

The Last Forest portrays the daily life of an isolated Yanomami group, who have lived between the north of Brazil and south of Venezuela for over a thousand years. Their shaman, Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, seeks to protect the traditions of his community.

In the following interview, Bolognesi tells C7nema details about his non-fiction pilgrimage in the land of indigenous wisdom. 

How do you define Davi Kopenawa’s Brazil and what does this country reflect about invisibility and resistance?

Davi Kopenawa’s Brazil is not 500 years old. For him, Brazil has existed for 4,000 years. It’s a Brazil in which there are no privileges. The cities are round, the houses are equal. It’s a country that knows how to defend itself, that resists and does not accept the evangelical invasion and the destruction of its cosmogony, cosmology, science, mythical and religious wisdom.

His Brazil resists to the invasion of a merchandise fetish. As Davi Kopenawa himself defines it: “we are bewitched by merchandise, we don’t think about anything, we are destroying everything and we are going to let our grandchildren die of thirst”. This is Davi Kopenawa’s Brazil.

A Brazil that resists and seeks to live in the most modern way by being sustainable. A Brazil in which the communities are small, with no more than 500 or 400 people, and are able to produce with abundance, when they are not in environments destroyed by the white man. They are able to live with their economic, health, cosmological, mythological, musical, aesthetic and artistic abundance, without destroying biomes. 

The white man arrived on their land and said that to survive he must destroy them. This white man has already destroyed 70% of the country’s original biomes. When the whites arrived, there were between 12 and 20 million Davis Kopenawas in this country, living with wealth without destroying the ecosystem, knowing how to coexist ecologically. Knowing how and what to preserve, in the words of David Kopenawa, is the greatest value there is: the fertility of the forest, the rivers, and the planet.

How did you advance through the geographical area you mapped?

Our job was to know how to approach such a radical group, in the best sense of radicality, which is to keep their roots alive, feeding their body, their soul, their cosmogony and their philosophy. How to do this? 

We dived into this universe and discovered things, like the harmony they live in, the beauty of that life. How wonderful it is at the end of the day to take a collective bath, where children, women, and adults go to different parts of a river. They bathe while laughing, telling the chronicles of their day as if it was a news report, always in a very humorous way. Then, at bedtime, everyone is in a hammock. Someone always comes to the middle and makes a little speech, as if it were the news of the world. Sometimes it’s a funny speech, sometimes it’s an important news story, like the arrival of mining to a certain area. Sometimes it’s a speech telling about the success of the hunt of some warrior, or the failure, or giving the breaking news that one of them has disappeared. 

We dived into this and it surprised us a lot. They have very low levels of stress and anxiety and an ability to live the present in its fullness, where there is no boredom because everything is very polyphonic and they listen to everything: a hunter who stays in the bush, sometimes for hours, waiting for an animal to pass by doesn’t need a cell phone and doesn’t get bored, because he keeps tracking the ants, a snake that passes by, a flock of birds, a group of monkeys. For them, everything has a meaning. It’s a way of understanding the geography and the logic of what is happening, connecting these events with mythological explanations, which bring to them deeper feelings, like sadness, health, the happiness of their children, being lucky in love. Things that for them are connected and which they read as signs. This was my quest. 

We understood that both myths and dreams are important to reality. They are not on a bookshelf. The magical beings of mythology are present in the water and in the air they breathe. What happens in dreams is real, a continuation of everyday life. They believe and see dreams as a real event.

What is the relevance of an award in an event like the Berlinale in this medieval moment that we live in Brazil?

The importance of a Brazilian film winning an award in one of the most important and biggest festivals in the world is immense for the resistance of our cinema. Immense, above all, in a moment in which the National Cinema Agency (Ancine) acts against Brazilian cinema, as it doesn’t fulfill its purpose, which is to foment cinema and redirect the resources it collects from its own activity to the production of new audiovisual works. Everything has stopped and almost nothing is coming out. There is a persecution against Brazilian cinema, trying to leave us without conditions to produce. But we keep resisting. We won another very important award this weekend. “Bob Cuspe – Nós Não Gostamos de Gente” won at Annecy. At the same time we won the audience award at the Berlin Film Festival. We were competing with 15 other films, between fiction and documentaries, from various countries. Films of incredible quality. There were more than two thousand films submitted to Berlinale. This year the festival was very small, and there were only around 80 films. It’s very significant to be rewarded by the audience, which was predominantly German, especially this year, because of the pandemic. 

I was at the three sessions in which we showed the film in a public square. 90% of the audience was German. Maybe 5% were Brazilians, with 5% from other countries. They embarked on a difficult film, from the inside out, which has an indigenous time. The people who work at the festival told me that no film has ever experienced what happened with ours: nobody left when the screening ended and everybody stayed until the end of the credits. 

I saw this and thought it was normal. They said that there was some kind of synesthesia  experience with that gigantic screen and the incredible sound of the forest, with the power, beauty and struggle of the Yanomami. 

They were absolutely enchanted. It was like a real enchantment. Then, when they turned on the lights and put the spotlight on us, there was endless applause. It was, of course, a ritual of welcoming and thanking our work, but I feel that they were thanking Brazilian cinema and people who resist. I think that this film winning there is the victory of the resistance of Brazilian cinema and indigenous people against this totalitarian and fascist project Brazil is living under right now.

How has animation and documentary filmmaking changed your perception about cinema? What is it like to write a screenplay today, especially after that experience?

Animation enchanted me. It was a journey of years that I went through to make ‘A History of Love and Fury’. Anything the screenwriter imagines can be drawn on paper, at a cost similar to shooting a scene in the kitchen of your house. Animating a spaceship flying over Rio de Janeiro in the 22nd century or animating a war between 500 Tupinambás against 500 Tupiniquins on the beach in the 15th century costs the same as filming a scene of a couple in the living room of their home. This interested me in animation, as a storyteller. Besides, the language of animation is very open. We can let go of our dreams and bring into the scenes the myths, psychological questions, erotic, sensual, apocalyptic, utopian, and diatopical fantasies. All fantasies fit very well in animation. It is not the same with live action, where the chance of creating something embarrassing is tremendous. Animation is welcoming and that’s what interested me. It is at one extreme of cinema. 

The other extreme is documentary. I don’t see documentaries as the opposite to fiction. Each day the boundary between documentary and fiction is imperceptible and hard to tell. In my two films there are actors and constructed scenes. We tell the story that happened weeks before and they interpret it. The question here is not the filming device. It is not that one thing is true and another one is false. Everything is true and everything is constructed. The big difference is in the approach: in documentary filmmaking our objective is to approach and translate the real, not to invent it. That’s the beauty of documentary filmmaking.

Of course, to translate the real, you can fictionalize, as I did, but you are looking to bring and find what is real. By the way… what is real? This frontier also widens when we go to work with the original people in Brazil. In that sense, for them the reality is different than it is for us. For them, an enchanted creature from the bottom of the river that comes ashore and takes people with them is absolutely real. In this search for the real, which documentary provides us, I have been working in an environment where reality is an extremely expanded concept compared to ours. It is as if the universe was bigger and they have a third dimension in their day to day life. This is showed a little in “Ex-Pajé” and a lot in “The Last Forest“. 

But how does this play out in practice?

One day I went out with a hunter in the morning. I met him about half past five. He told me he was exhausted. He said he spent the whole night being chased by a jaguar. In fact he dreamed about the jaguar, the whole night. It has many meanings, because he was very nervous, breathless, and very alert. It’s not that he thought the jaguar might come. The jaguar had already come and he spent the night running from it. 

I began to understand that this was real and true, so it can be filmed. The big difficulty is how to film myths and dreams, and white people understand them. It was a risk I was bought into and it worked. We won a prize at a festival in Korea, which is now one of the most interesting places in filmmaking. We have just won this prize in Berlin and the reviews were very positive.

What are your next steps in cinema today, as a screenwriter and as a director?

I am about to launch another series, produced by the Gullane brothers, with HBO, about funk. It is called “Funk.Doc” and it’s almost finished. It should be launched on HBO in the second semester. I am also developing a project for another series, also a documentary and again with Gullane. I have a project for a new feature film, in this line of fiction + documentary about indigenous issues. I have the script ready and I am going to start shooting it. I believe that the Berlin prize will also help in this.

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