Ana Vaz on Locarno title It Is Night in America

The first feature film by Brazilian filmmaker and curator Ana Vaz, presented at the Cineasti del Presente competition in Locarno, portrays the struggle between Brasília’s urban expansion and the displacement of its local fauna.

Resuming some of the artist’s obsessions, it challenges the urban identity of the Brazilian capital, denouncing both its institutional role and the artificiality of its architecture. The production was possible thanks to an Italian, French and Brazilian collaboration carried out by Fondazione In Between Art Film and Specter Films.

This somber 16mm avant-garde documentary begins with a series of long stills and pans that plunge us into the twilight that afflicts Brasilia, whose frenetic peculiarity drowns us in the deep shadows of an urban setting. Vaz describes her feature debut as “a film that comes out of the dark, a piece that thinks and trembles with the dark”.

It’s Night in America’s imagery travels through twilight, dusk, and shadows, but never through full sunlight. More specifically, Vaz explains that she employed a day-by-night shooting technique – well-known from the early days of filmmaking, which culminated in the heyday of the western “Day By Night.” This technical part contributed to the special blue tones of the film.

For Vaz, this “political fable” is a sort of encounter with the western itself, a genre that conceptually inspires her films, as the western often relies on settlements. “Western is the genre of what happens during the settlement process,” says Vaz. “There’s also this imaginary conversation with the history of cinema, through the materiality of the images you’ve seen,” she adds.

In the film’s main plot, the parallel montage of 16mm shots is the main narrative device used to depict the struggle of the wildlife in Brasilia: on the one hand, we patiently observe the images of multiple fauna, agents and guardians; on the other hand, frames emphasize urban constructions.

None of the animals have been trained in any way, they are not there as extras, they are only on the street because they have been driven from their habitat, says Vaz. “The modern gaze does not often perceive them; these presences are somehow invisible.”

Lazy loaded image

“My use of 16mm film isn’t just an aesthetic choice, it’s an insistence on the materiality of the image,” adds Vaz. The artist also talks about filming with expired footage to express this catastrophic drama of the endangered species. “We are dealing with two processes of annihilation that play out in the film in one way or another. The extinction of the image itself and the extinction of these beings”.

Vaz dedicates a short room to the historical context: the construction of Brasília as a political project during the government of Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-1961). We see footage of animals being removed during the Brazilian capital’s move from Rio de Janeiro to the new city in a construction project that promised to complete 50 years of development in five years.

These mistakes have left hostages of fate to this day; “It is a historic crisis, we know full well that the return of the ghosts we are dealing with today stems from the legacy of military dictatorship, which is just a modern way of bringing colonialism into a contemporary age. We never leave the past, the past never goes,” she stresses.

Ana Vaz’ first appearance in Locarno follows her appearance at the Berlinale 2020, where she showed “Apiyemiyekî?”. to great applause at Forum Expanded.

“It is Night in America” ​​celebrated its world premiere on August 9th at the Locarno Film Festival. Further festival appearances will be announced shortly. Ana Vaz on Locarno title It Is Night in America

Charles Jones

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