By José Sarmiento Hinojosa
Somehow this particular edition of Cinéma du Réel has made me feel as being trapped in the fauces of history. And history, it is something inescapable. It’s part of what we as humans are experiencing currently, history-in-the-making, as well as part of the aftermath of history. But the history that has been told throughout the more than 10 films I watched in the program suggests that there seems to be an urgency by the filmmakers or the programmers to situate us in this moment to both look back on the remains of the past, or to look under our feet to watch the passage of time and its terrible unavoidability unfold. And the ghosts on the past reappear over and over: colonialism, capitalism, and the eternal contingency of abuse/revolt/aftermath. Maybe the state of current affairs have made this edition specially political, and one can’t help to struggle to overcome this duality of pessimism/hope that is painfully present.
In this sense, two films like Anyox (2022), by Canadian filmmakers Ryan Ermacora and Jessica Johnson, and Urban Solutions (2022), by Brazilians Arne Hector, Luciana Mazeto and Vinílicus Lopes, both articulate the past and its aftermath to present us with the current problems facing two different situations.
The opening long shot of Anyox depicts a miner riding a small train, making his way through mountains of debris/scraps of a former copper smelting mining company. This grey and desolate wasteland is home to a couple of inhabitants now handling the remains of what was a monumental operation. This first few minutes open the film in a monumental way: the contemplation of this magnificent landscape as a symbol of what the film description mentions is a “complex labour history and a story of immense environmental degradation”. The surplus of the smelting process, this intense grey ash which lies everywhere, is the landscape of capitalist eco-violence, a testimony not only of a history of labor union resistance (mainly inscribed in the heavy use of archive and testimony) but of the catastrophic residual nothingness that is to be found after the exploitation of the land.
Anyox works best when it’s just lost in the exploration of archive and contemplation of landscape. The ruins of a former mine/colony are wonderfully explored (in all its frightening presence) through the outstanding cinematography of Jeremy Cox, and the interweaving of archive (video and documents) drags us across a the history behind the people and their conflicts through the existence of this artificial city. Like many latent testimonies of late-stage capitalism, all that remains of the ever cyclical story of human and land exploitation are the mere remains.
The collective film Urban Solutions, winner of the Short Film award at Cinéma du Réel, portrays the complicated post-colonial condition of Brazil, a country violently possessed by the ghosts of fascism in the current stage of Bolsonaro’s regime. Maybe it’s strongest element lies in capturing the exoticizing gaze of the colonizers through the film, and mix this element with the biopolitical reality of the working class in present Brazil. So the gaze is the undulating element in the film, both technological and human, the gaze of the other, technology and invasor.
But the performatic element that comes later in the film somehow lacks nuance and drowns it in its own political intentions (nonetheless valid and necessary). Urgency sometimes requires nuance and what is left unsaid is sometimes can become the strongest element in an openly political film like this. And while one can understand the emergency currently operating in Brazil, somehow the staging of what is being said detracts from its political motive. This is not to say that Urban Solutions is a failed short film, one can indeed find value in its intention and the voices of its protagonists. But at moments, the film dangerously moves towards the overdrawn caricature, and hence loses part of its power. In a country like present-day Brazil, one needs not to recreate a caricature of its present. Its open wounds are open for everyone to see.
Nonetheless, the elements of the colonialist and biopolitical gaze keep the short film afloat and draw sufficient interest to a film that would’ve benefited from a less heavy-handed approach to its portraying of problematic characters. A hit-and-miss offering.
Directed and Produced by Ryan Ermacora, Jessica Johnson
Cinematography: Jeremy Cox
Music: Lea Bertucci
Producer: Alysha Seriani
Sound: Eugenio Battaglia, Dave Pullmer
Canada, 2022, 87 min
Directed by: Arne Hector, Luciana Mazeto, Vinílicus Lopes
Produced by Minze Tummescheit
Germany, Brazil, 2022