Nosferasta: First Bite (Adam Kahil, Bayley Sweitzer, 2022)

By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

Last week, the winners of Ammodo Tiger Competition were announced at IFFR 2022. And while my “to watch” list included the whole Ammodo section, I took a few minutes to focus on these particular films, and added an extra curiosity on a type of film that has always drawn my attention. What I ended up with, was traveling between Rastafarian vampires, a male pregnancy sci-fi, a found-footage magnificent poem, and a creepypasta film. My impressions were mixed, but overall I found myself pleasantly surprised.

The winner of the Ammodo competition was Pedro Neves Marques’ Tornar-se um Homen na Idade Média (2022). Neves Marques’ film deals heavily with the issue of motherhood/fatherhood and gender roles. In a fictionalized story (fictionalized in a sense that draws from science-fiction), homosexual couple Carl and Vicente are trying to get themselves pregnant, turning to a procedure where one of them gets a female ovary implanted in his body. In the other hand, we have Mirene and André, a couple who are dealing with infertility issues. There’s a complex relationship between the four of them, an interaction of gazes and roles where biology and gender roles play a pivotal run. This concept of having a foreign object in one’s body in order to reproduce; the idea of creating something new from something that doesn’t belong (there’s a perfect analogy in the synthetic meat André is asked to try in the beginning of the film) and the notion of procreation and family are explored minutely in Neves Marques film. While Carl and Mirene connect as members of this new “family unit”, interchanging gender roles in the emotional transaction, Vicente, with his hesitation of becoming a new father and André, with his infertility, become the other side of the coin in a drama that questions the normativity and expectations of traditional couples. And while personally, I’d have selected more risky films in the competition (Nosferasta and Nazarbazi felt much more “out there”, and Sara Cywnar’s Glass Life remains my favorite film in competition), one can understand the relevance of the topic in hand and how could it be important for the jury.

Another completely different trip is Adam Kahil and Bayley Sweitzer’s Nosferasta: First Bite (2021) a film that takes its time to take off but completely transforms itself in a mad journey of rituals and incantations. Both filmmakers drive the metafilm inside a film with particular dexterity, telling the story of Oba, an African slave stranded on a beach who is bitten by a vampire Christopher Columbus, and becomes inmortal. Oba, who becomes a Rastafarian through time, decides to make a film about this event, and is in turn followed in his present tribulations with passport problems and migrant status, legal issues where he claims a space in the country he has inhabited for hundred of years. And while we are subject of this meta/game of post colonial issues and identity crisis (following the idea of a diaspora which claims its rights after colonization), the film makes a 180 degree turn and inserts itself into the experience of a Rastafarian ritual, the use of marihuana as an evocation, the communal interaction and the immersion of this ritual that plays from a mutual play of music and dance. A fish-eye view of Oba (who co-wrote the story of the film) drops himself in a view of the center of the world and as a protagonist that, despite being inmortal, is still susceptible to the injustices of post colonization and reclaims his culture and his own fragment of land after having his blood sucked by this vampiric colonizer. A very clever way of touching a sensible topic.

Nazarbazi (Maryam Tafakory, 2022)

One of the most beautiful films of the competition is Maryam Tafakory’s Nazarbazi (2022), a video-essay, film poem on the gaze and desire in Iranian cinema. The IFFR website opens the film description like this: “After the revolution in 1979, Iran prohibited the depiction of men and women touching on the silver screen. Since then, directors have relied on every cinematic trick in the book to mirror the ecstatic release of tension through touch – but often it is the game of glances that is enough to set a scene ablaze.”

Through a carefully composed collage of moments in Iranian Cinema, Tafakory’s composes a visual poem where reflection becomes the main element of desire. This element of the mirror, the mediated gaze that interconnects the lovers, becomes both an impossibility and a true connection, a tangential vessel of desire. This “game of glances” (Nazarbazi translates roughly in these words) is both intimate and tender, incendiary and revolutionary, a way of circumventing censorship and igniting the possibilities of engagement and love on the screen. This paradoxical and dual interpretation of proximity/distance takes a main role in this fantastic homage to cinema, interlaced with written poetry. Poetry as a mirror, as a way of connecting gaps and setting bridges, of setting ablaze the screen.

The concept of creepypastas is well known within the communities of reddit/4-chan and other online forums. This urban legends have taken a life of their own, even becoming mainstream films (the “Slenderman”) and permeating popular culture altogether. Jon Rafman creates his own version of creepypasta with Punctured Sky (2021), a gamer tale which deals with issues of identity and memory, in its own version of a virtual, campy, digital world. Rafman draws cleverly from the conventions of the narrative structure of these internet tales, to carry around a fable that reflects back on our own personal take on the digital world (let’s say the metaverse), our mediated identity, and other selves. And, while the ending ends up having a similar structure of a lot of different creepypastas in the web, the metaphoric component of the film elevate this digital, virtual exercise into a realm of identity questioning similar to what people like Cory Arcangel (Super Mario Movie) or Alison Nguyen’s (My Favorite Software is Being Here) have been doing in past years.

Ammodo Tiger Competition

Tornar-se um Homen na Idade Média
Director: Pedro Neves Marques
Cast: Nuno Nolasco, Pedro Neves Marques, Isabel Costa, Zé Bernardino, Joana Manuel
Producer: Catarina de Sousa
Cinematography: Marta Simöes
Editing: Margarida Lucas
2022, 22 min

Nosferasta: First Bite
Director: Adam Kahil, Bayley Sweitzer
Script: Bayley Sweitzer Adam Khalil Oba
Cast: Adam-Rashad Glenn Jack Sockett Jerry G Angelo Sarah Kerr Steve Holmgren Oba
Cinematography: Alex Ashe
Editing: Bayley Sweitzer Adam Khalil
Music: Doug Hock Leila Bordreuil
2021, 33 min

Director: Maryam Tafakory
Iran, United Kingdom
2022, 19 min

Punctured Sky
Director: Jon Rafman
2021, 15 min