Filming One’s Own History and Traditions
Filming One’s Own History and Traditions
Vincent Carelli created a unique film school for indigenous populations in Brazil. The School will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2016.
At 16, “a rebellious teenager caught up in an existential crisis,” Vincent Carelli decided to embark on an adventure: in 1969, the son of a Brazilian father and a French mother left for the indigenous village of Xikrin in the south of the state of Pará, where he was adopted by an “Indian father.” For Carelli, that meant becoming part of the village community, participating in hunting excursions, making roads in the dense forests, and helping with construction.
Back then as he witnessed such “spectacular ceremonies,” Carelli thought that he should not be the only one to be so privileged to see it. So he began to photograph everything he saw. That was the initial impetus for a project that he developed nearly 20 years later, in 1986: Vídeo nas aldeias (Video in the Villages). It was also when the indigenist became a filmmaker and started filming the rituals and daily life of different ethnic groups. “My equipment consisted of a VHS camera, a small generator, a player and a monitor. That was the kit. And I didn’t even know how to make films. I learned how to film with the Indians, making films about them,” he says.
In 2016, as Vídeo nas aldeias enters its 30th year of existence, the project houses one of the largest known collections of indigenous images. Several films have won awards at festivals throughout the world. Among the project’s admirers are cultural figures, Brazilian filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho (1933-2014) and the French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009). The latter wrote two letters to Carelli, stating, for example, that O amendoim da cutia (The Peanut of the Agouti, 2005), one of the many fruits of the Video nas aldeias project filmed and conceived by indigenous creators, was the best film he had ever seen about Latin American Indians.
Preserving history and ceremonies in films
Carelli, who still considers himself more of an indigenist than a filmmaker, says that militancy is the “basis of everything”. He explains that at the beginning of the project the idea wasn’t even to make films – much less to train indigenous filmmakers, which ended up happening in the 2000s. It was, rather, to show the Indians their own images, and in doing so to offer cultural exchanges, by means of filming different ethnic groups. “I would film and then organize small screening sessions for everyone. And it was the dynamics that were always more important than the films themselves. Many times a group would revive a tradition because they saw, in the images, other groups doing it.”
The first film of the Vídeo nas aldeias project, titled A festa da moça (The Maiden’s Festival, 1987), already shows this “experimental” nature of the project: in framing not only the Nambiquara Indians, but rather their encounter with their own images on the screen. “I was interested in how the Indians would react to their projected image. At first, they didn’t really like what they saw; they were disappointed. And they criticized the excess of clothing,” he said.
Cláudia Mesquita, professor at the School of Social Communications at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), highlights one aspect in particular regarding the documentaries of Carelli’s first phase. “These films not only record ritual, but they also provoke ritual, or rather, the presence of the camera makes the ritual happen. And this is very interesting.” The indigenist-filmmaker points to an example in A festa da moça where the Indians decided to pierce their noses and lips because of the camera. “That is why the film was so magical, more than being merely a pale image of what happened there. The eldest said: ‘If I had a camera a generation ago, I would have an image of my grandfather to bring to these young people in order to show them that the things I am saying are not inventions.’” A little while after A festa da moça, Vincent Carelli also filmed – “still with no funding” – O Espírito da TV (The TV’s Spirit, 1990), considered the “inaugural stone of the project, for the completeness of the video-processing,” and A arca dos Zo’é (Zo’é’s Ark, 1993).
Indigenous Film School
For the filmmaker, what was always central to the Vídeo nas aldeias project was “giving voice to the Indians in a way that was distinct from ethnographic cinema’s explanations of this and that.” So, it was only natural that the indigenous groups started filming themselves. At the end of the 1990s, the project was more consolidated after achieving international acclaim. During those years, Vídeo nas aldeias managed to continue, thanks to some scholarships for artists. And Carelli thought that it was time to invest in a training program for young indigenous filmmakers. “Actually, I had been distributing cameras since the beginning because, in a way, the indigenous leaders always took over the direction of the films, deciding what to film and how. But I had a kind of foolish idea not to teach anything. Letting them do what they wanted to do.”
Little by little, a method was being developed. Becoming familiar with similar projects that other countries, like Mexico and Bolivia, had already started and also with the Ateliers Varan (traditional Direct Cinema school headquartered in Paris), Vídeo nas aldeias was consolidating into a film school. Today, more than 100 films have been made by nearly 50 different ethnic groups.