Screened at the Cineasti del Presente competition in Locarno, Brazilian filmmaker and curator Ana Vaz’s first feature film depicts the struggle between Brasilia’s urban sprawl and the dislocation of the local fauna.
It recreates some of the artist’s obsessions and questions the urban identity of the Brazilian capital, condemning its institutional role and the artificiality of its architecture. The production was made possible thanks to the Italian, French and Brazilian collaboration of Fondazione In Between Art Film and Spectre Films.
This dark 16mm avant-garde documentary begins with a series of fixed long and panoramic shots that transport us into the haunting twilight of Brasilia, whose frenetic uniqueness drowns us in the deep shadows of the urban setting middle. Watts called her debut “a film out of the dark, a film that thinks and trembles in the dark”.
The “Its Night in America” image traverses twilight, dawn, and shadow, but is never full of sunlight. More precisely, Watts explained that she employed a day-and-night technique—a technique known throughout the early days of filmmaking that culminated in “Daytime,” the heyday of Westerns. This technique partly contributed to the film’s special blue tint.
For Watts, this “political fable” is an encounter with the Westerns themselves, a genre that inspired her from their conception given their often focus on settlements. “The West is the type of thing that happens during settlement,” Watts said. “Through the materiality of the images you see, and this imaginary dialogue with the history of cinema,” she added.
In the main plot of the film, the parallel montage of the 16mm lens is the main narrative tool used to present the struggles of animal life in Brasilia: on the one hand, we patiently observe several images of animals, agents, and vigilance; on the other hand, the framework highlights urban construction.
None of the animals had received any training, nor were they intended to act as extras, they were just on the street because they had been driven out of their habitat, Vaz said. “The gaze of modernity doesn’t keep them very often; these beings are kind of invisible.”
“My use of 16mm film is not only an aesthetic choice but an insistence on the materiality of the image,” adds Watts. The artist also spoke of the catastrophic drama of using expired film to express the extinction of the species. “We’re dealing with two extinction processes that happen in one way or another in the movie. The extinction of the image itself, and the extinction of these creatures”.
Vaz briefly introduces the historical background: the construction of Brasilia as a political project during the government of Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961). We see records of animals being removed during the Brazilian capital’s transfer from Rio de Janeiro to the new city, a project that promises to complete 50 years of development in five years.
These mistakes hold fate hostage to this day. “This is a historical crisis and we know all too well that the ghostly comeback we face today is a legacy from military dictatorships, it’s just a modern way of bringing colonialism into the present. We will never leave the past, the past will never be It won’t pass,” she stressed.
Anna Vaz made her Locarno debut at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival, where she screened “Apiyemiyekî?”. Extended applause in the forum.
“It’s American Night” had its world premiere on August 9 at the Locarno Film Festival. More festival appearances are expected to be announced soon.