Interview with María Rojas Arias and Andrés Jurado: Raquel Morais for The Essay Film Festival, March 2022

Fu, María Rojas Arias, Andrés Jurado, Colombia, 2018, 16mm transfer to digital, 9 minutes, Spanish with English subtitles

As part of its 2022 edition, the EFF brings together a programme of three works directed by the Colombian filmmakers and artists María Rojas Arias and Andrés Jurado, founder members of creative laboratory La Vulcanizadora: Fu (2018), The Rebirth of Carare (El renacer del Carare, 2020), and Open Mountain (Abrir monte, 2021).

EFF: Within your practice, how do you conceive of the crossing between moving image, writing, the visual arts, and expanded theatre? And how do they relate to the research dimension of your work?

We were born in a country engulfed in war, which is still at war and if there is no turning point will probably continue to be so. What we believe in as filmmakers is the product of a series of encounters and ways of doing that we learned from theatre, film and artistic practices which have always been with us. We both went to art school in Colombia, and there we came across many of the European avant-garde movements which also dealt with the experience of war. Moreover, our narrative is set in a territory which is currently undergoing convulsions that go through a complex visual regime. Our work is concerned with unravelling it.

We grew up with the idea of ​​belonging to Latin America, and thus being part of the United States’ “backyard”, while also knowing we were “children of the colony” and being aware of several other forms of historical oppressions. Assuredly, the cinema we make has to deal with this. We live in a kind of Military Theatre (Warfare), or at least that is what we have been trying to bring to light with the projects of La Vulcanizadora.

That theatricality is a very strong premise for our research because it allows us to approach different living objects as archival materials: even our own Latin American bodies and subjects can be seen as repositories containing data and physiognomic information. One can read from the territories as if they were registers of specific operations, and rediscover orality as a powerful remembrance device, which starts from a place of intense poetic resistance.

From our point of view, doing research is, above all, understanding what one does as a researcher and developing a way of doing it. The goal is to enable the possibility of repetition and expansion without needing to deal with seemingly easy yet difficult things, such as those that researchers need to contextualise at each step, accounting for the way they are working. That requires getting oneself into trouble: being willing to learn what is happening, what has happened and what will happen, not as fixed objects but as movable ones.

EFF: Can you think of specific examples, in relation to your work, where that unfixed reality is made visible and ways in which that continuing learning process takes place?

Sometimes, La Vulcanizadora reactivates dead projects, which do not seem to be of interest or that are about to disappear. In this way, we have been able to get to know other territories and other forms of understanding them, as well as new people and colleagues, different ways of feeling and grasping what is happening. We are interested in dealing with what other meanings art has had in those places. In each project, knowledge is linked to a specific place. Something we are interested in exploring and questioning is the notion that knowledge has something to do with ownership, as if knowledge was a form of ownership without property. We do not think that should be the case.

During the makingof Fu, a film we created a few years ago in Fúquene, the image of the indigenous emerged as a grotesque figure who returns and haunts dreams and narratives. For us, making films is a process that traverses art, a structure that amplifies the way in which we understand territories, landscapes as archives, and images as something that is not easy to disconnect from oral expression or memory. For example, in Fúquene, we became aware of things that had happened in the past and the way in which they impact the present time and the arts.  Figures like Simón Bolívar and José Ignacio París Ricaurte promoted and participated in an ecocide similar to that of the Ituango Dam project in the Antioquia region in actual Colombia. Many people have been responsible for that calamity since the time Simón Bolivar’s alleged independence and still responsible to this day. These same people contributed to the creation of a model in the art and cinema context, a model for how to construct the landscape and conceive it trough the exploitation of the land and of human seeing everything as resources. This is our contemporary model of knowledge: hyper-racialized, classist and patriarchal, contrary to the representation of the landscape in terms of possession, we insist in the territoriality beyond property.

EFF: In what way do you conceive of La Vulcanizadora as a collective project and what is the importance of working together and contributing to each other’s creations?

La Vulcanizadora can be seen as a collective endeavour, but it is also a project that transfers the shape of collectivity to forms of commonality, be it between us and the people we collaborate with, but also between ourselves. We may have distinct objectives and work differently, but we inhabit a common territory, a common space and time.

We are not exactly a collective. We start from something in common, from a shared experience of differences. In this way we can respect the processes of the communities and the people who collaborate with us. For example, the projects that we are carrying out now in the Colombian Amazon, in La Chorrera, and those that we are starting in Guinea-Bissau and the Caribbean are strongly connected by difference, perspective and diversity. In some cases, we have to confront collective ideas to allow us to work together and create a present aware of something that haunts it: that ghost is that the territories have been converted in a mass grave.

EFF: Do you see a connection between your practice and movements like that of Third Cinema or the tradition of militant film?

There is definitely a reconstitution of that notion of Third Cinema, and we never attempted to escape from it, on the contrary. It is like an additional muscle to be able to reflect about what we are doing, but we do not feel like heirs of the movement. We did not find our voice by thinking of ourselves as children of that movement, but it is true that we feel accompanied by the films of Marta Rodriguez, Santiago Álvarez, Glauber Rocha and other filmmakers. Still there are other more important influences that have to do with other experiences, relating to folk music, with urban lives that ask about the rural countryside, as if it were the unconscious of the State. For example, there were projects that began with us listening to music like that of Rita Indiana or Ruben Blades: songs, voices, and other calls to the spirit, perhaps less cerebral at times, but full of vigour. These are the manifestations of the avant-garde for us and of the possessed bodies we recall. So we are aware that the third cinema manifestos still have many things to tell us about the misery of Latin America and indeed the globe.

We accept militancy in the same way Third Cinema did, but ours has a different nature, perhaps as a disruptive Spiritual Militancy in a post-hunger awareness. More than being faithful to set goals, our militancy continually undermines the desire for power, the patriarchy, colonialism, and racism. We insist that our territory is cinema, that is, cinema as a territory allows us to live, make, think, eat, but, at the same time, it is clearly our place of danger. We have to defend it and invite its best allies and accomplices – art, theatre, science, magic – despite the fact that these practices have often been at the service of maintaining oppressive and petty-minded societies.

The archive, the archives that we deal with, sometimes are not actually archives. They only have the intention of being so through similar processes of creation-production or research such as those that we described above. Meaning is also debatable and that is exactly the matter, opening a dialogue between fields – art, cinema, theatre, science – in the current theatre of operations. In this context, education has had a crucial role, that of being, on the one hand, a device for the political propaganda machine and, on the other, the opportunity to liberate oneself.

EFF: There seems to be a connection between the material aspects of your films and the artisanal dimension of the practices developed by the communities you research. How is that dimension translated into your work with analogue formats, as well as into your exploration of sound and image?

There is a very fluid way of sharing out with those we work with. That fluidity also arises from the possibility of dissenting and rejecting certain conventional options that conceive of the collective or the communal as something fully consistent and without issues. Analogue film turned out to be the format of the future for us, since we were born surrounded by digital, and therefore a different technology seemed more interesting to work with. It is another way of deciphering ourselves. The figures in film are arranged in a different manner, on a surface of the physical world that interests us because of its relationship with the beginning of film propaganda.

It is not a formula to be inspired by what artisans do, we have no interest in extracting artisanal knowledge. We very much accept the opportunity to exchange and the things that can happen between those two positions, ours and the artisans’, while we partake of the same experience.  However, we do not romanticise that exchange, and that’s why we feel and think it is necessary to refrain from the impulse of appropriation, so circumstances can begin to change.

The transposition occurs under very simple forms of relation with work. Our work is to make films, and we do not really think whether that is more or less artisanal than producing fabrics. And yet the two practices tell stories and agree with each other: we are workers as well, in the end. Sound and image are consequences of those communities, that is, they are part of them. Yet, they are not necessarily in sync. This is meaningful in terms of resisting exploiting image and sound. It comes up as an experimentation, an awareness of montage. We often refuse lip-sync or let it naturally be disturbed by the way a story is told or by the images that the story is connected to.

EFF: Your films relate collective stories and memories with individual ones. How do you navigate this duality and how do you relate these narratives to the place where they are located?

The voice, speech and presence of the desire of others in the films have been constant in the works of La Vulcanizadora. Even when there are moments of tension, we let ourselves be carried away by an unconscious force, something coming from behind the words. That force has a lot to do with the thinking of the territory, of “landscape” as an archive, with ways of understanding our own relationship with the territories that we have worked thoroughly. We don’t entertain any fantasy about us helping people to become better or contributing to their “progress”. Instead, we are exactly trying to get rid of the rhetoric around progress, established by transnational, global and national policies.

Place is always a key element, but by this we also mean the place of cinema. In other words, to think of the here and now in a specific cinema space, where the films are shown. That territory, which is ours as well, is the meeting place for our imagination and our projections. That place is also a landscape, and that is why we insist on fighting for these cinema spaces. We are part of this imagined community that wishes to connect with different communities too. We are not interested in embodying only narratives pertaining to extermination, obliteration, destruction of diversity. Filmmakers are a fighting community, and that is also spiritual militancy and a will for freedom. Many believe that certain struggles have been overcome and that they belong to a discussion of History. Those are precisely the stories we believe have to be decolonized because they are pillars of an economy of images that do not give respite.

Interview by Raquel Morais for Essay Film Festival, March 2022

The Land We Call Home: Tea Lukač’s Roots by Mina Radović

Tea Lukač’s documentary Roots (Koreni, Serbia, 2021) is a lyrical and rich portrait dedicated to the people of her hometown, Dvor in Banija, central Croatia. Sitting in the back of a moving car, different passengers present themselves to the camera, a variety of local people, young and old, talking about their lives as they are driven along the edge of a vast forest. We witness a range of stories that invite us into a dialogue with the people who open up their hearts and endow our quiet journey with a sweet-smelling fragrance. It is one of the rare examples of cinema where aesthetic abstraction is combined with emotional depth but, perhaps even more strikingly, a film which through material representation points towards spiritual heritage.

The film opens with a conversation of children dressed up in costumes on their way to a carnival retreat. They speak about playing games, comment on each other’s costumes, and share the excitement about the new year, reflecting their experiences with grandparents and everyday life in their town. As the car drives on, the camera moves to the forest where the river Una gushes down the coloured landscape permeated by ravines and age-old trees. Through suggestive use of image and sound, situating the town within the forest, the film begins to reveal the organic connection between the people and the land which they call home. One particularly powerful image of an old tree amidst the river is depicted in this scene and will become a symbol for the journey on which the director invites us.

The car continues on its course and this time round we are introduced to a man who awaits his destination and does not speak. We simply sit with him in silence. Then the camera entrenches us once again within the landscape but within another part of it, the high grass and the wheat, and we behold an old power plant in the far mist. Back in the car a conversation follows between two older ladies who speak – with great calm but equal urgency – about the nuclear waste that threatens to destroy Dvor and their local activism to protect their environment. We are already sympathetic to their cause as we have witnessed the beauty and diversity of a landscape brimming with life and now share in the horror of its potential destruction. In an unexpected turn, the film opens up the question of environmental protection in the heart of the continent and the beautiful landscape in danger of becoming a nuclear landfill of Europe.

The dramaturgy of the film is dynamic and spontaneous. It continuously changes yet preserves a strong sense of direction. It points out little details yet remains observant of the bigger picture. It asks questions and is keen to find the answers. And what is most refreshing about the film is that its dynamism comes from its poetic logic, moving from the most ordinary and minute to the most critical, and likewise from the vocal and linguistic to the acoustic and aesthetic. A beautiful sequence where these different aspects meet is the song of Banija sung by the folklore troupe of ladies clothed in traditional dress. The rhythm of life – conveyed up to this point quietly through dramaturgy and aesthetics – is shown in all its musicality and joy, revealing the specific sensibility and culture of the people of Banija.

Banija forms the central region of modern-day Croatia populated primarily by Serbs who settled there over four centuries ago on the invitation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Despite occupation and the systematic genocide and ethnic cleansing inflicted upon the people during the twentieth century, the Serbs of Banija constantly returned to live on their land and preserve their way of life, always hoping to live in peaceful cohabitation with their neighbours. Their specific heritage makes the director’s hometown of Dvor a unique blend of cultures, habits, and stories.

The story of the grandfather and the hornet nest is a highlight of the film and perhaps best testifies to the spirit of the people the director aims to share with us. A grandfather sitting in the back of the moving car tells us his childhood experience of being stung by 23 hornets (a doctor later told him that it takes 9 to kill a horse) and the unbelievable process of recovery which resulted in him developing a super immunity and never falling ill again in his life. He is a wonderful example of a real-life hero and reminds us of the real heroes of life, our grandparents, fathers, and mothers, whom we often take for granted but who with their love sustain us and show us every day how the ordinary becomes extraordinary. In her own way Tea Lukač makes the ordinary extraordinary through her film and invites us into an intimate encounter with the people whose roots – like the old tree from the beginning of the film – run deep. In her director’s statement she adds: ‘Our roots may be buried deep down but they are always with us, and even if cut they will outlive us.’

Working in diverse fields from film to video art, Tea Lukač has directed short fiction films, documentaries, music videos and showcased her work at art exhibitions. Her mid-length documentary film Belonging (Pripadnost, Serbia, 2020), which premiered at the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival, explores the voices, memory and culture of ethnic Germans who have lived in the Serbian province of Vojvodina since the late seventeenth century. Tea’s feature debut film Roots, produced by Andrijana Sofranić Šućur at Nana 143 in co-production with Set Sail Films and which opened at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2021, is a masterful achievement and an excellent example of how documentary cinema can convey authentic human experience. In Roots she shows us a people whose sobriety is a wake-up call to the indifferent, whose love is a restorative bridge to the embittered, and whose patient resilience and strength breeds hope and reminds us that anything is possible, even, and perhaps especially, in the most hopeless of circumstances. Thus, Tea Lukač is a bold new voice whose cinema deserves your undivided attention.

Mina Radović

EFLUX: Orphans of politics: A conversation with Lea Melandri by Christina Chalmers

EFF 2022: The Work We Share Programme showcases 10 newly digitised films from the Cinenova collection between 19 and 20 March 2022 at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. The final programme features the Adriana Monti’s documentary film School Without End (Scuola senza fine) dealing with working class women’s experiences in Italy during the 1970s.

“A group of women following the worker-union-sponsored “150 hours” course to complete their secondary school education are mentored by feminist, activist, and writer Lea Melandri. Adriana Monti follows the women as they reconsider their role as housewives and the effects of this type of political education on their self-narration.”

Discover more about the film School Without End: Read Orphans of politics: A conversation with Lea Melandri on dependency, autonomy, love by Christina Chalmers at e-flux Video & Film:

Scuola senza fine (School Without End) – Video & Film – e-flux

Screen Slate: On Prisms and Portraits: The Films of Rosine Mbakam by Yasmina Price

The Essay Film Festival presents the first UK retrospective of the work of Rosine Mbakam between 19 and 23 April 2022 at the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Birkbeck Cinema in London. The screenings of Prism and Two Faces of A Bamiléké Woman will be followed by conversations with Rosine Mbakam.

”Critiques of the racism in the film industry often pass over the camera itself as a complicit agent. Never neutral, visual technologies are clearly marked and shaped by ideological forces. Photography developed over the course of the nineteenth century, meaning the camera emerged during one of the peaks of Western colonialism and imperialism. Not only did photographic technologies coincide with these projects of domination, they facilitated the categorization and regulation of oppressed populations…The false premise of the objectivity of visual technologies is the starting point for Prism (2021), a collaborative documentary between Cameroonian Rosine Mbakam, Burkinabé Eléonore Yameogo, and Belgian An van. Dienderen. The film is stylistically variable, assembled from interview clips, behind the scenes footage, recorded Skype conversations, and a few more abstract and theatrical sequences. Prism was conceived as a “chain letter,” a visual relay between the filmmakers.”

To read the article On Prisms and Portraits: The Films of Rosine Mbakam by Yasmina Price, visit Screen Slate (NYC):

On Prisms and Portraits: The Films of Rosine Mbakam | Screen Slate

WFTHN: Becoming Sheffield Film Co-Op, A Brief History by Angela Martin

The Essay Film Festival presents A Question of Choice (Sheffield Film Co-Op, UK, 1982) as part of our EFF 2022 The Work We Share Programme 3 taking place at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London (20 March, 6.30pm).

”Sheffield Film Co-op did not begin its life fully formed as a filmmaking group. It grew out of the new/second women’s liberation movement of the early 70s, which was variously engaging in raising consciousness about issues women faced in their domestic and/or work lives. This engagement produced differing analyses, ideas and practical approaches and soon highlighted the need to disseminate feminist ideas about the issues to a wider audience than those women already attending meetings.” (Angela Martin)

To read about the history of the Co-Op, read the full article by Angela Martin at:

Becoming Sheffield Film Co-op – Women’s Film and Television History Network – UK/Ireland