Across a generation

José Francisco Peña of the 2014 Talent Press BA reports from the panel "Across a generation" given by the brasilian filmmaker Cao Guimaraes

scene from Cao Guimaraes film

Across a generation with Cao Guimaraes By José Francisco Peña Loyola

It was the third day of conferences at Talents Buenos Aires, the second conference of the day. Some of us were expecting Cao Guimaraes rather anxiously, wanting to listen to him and to exchange a few words. I had seen him the day before in one of the forums following the screening of one of his films. My knowledge of Cao’s work was not very big, but what I had seen was enough for me to want to see more of his work and to wait for his words with the excitement of a fan. Listening to Cao talk modestly and with precision about his film Acidente had made him even more charming. So I was waiting for him excited, seated inside Universidad del Cine’s auditorium. The conference was scheduled for 5pm. At around 5.15pm we were told that Cao had had a problem with his transfer from Recoleta, where he was watching films as part of the jury. We had to wait for him some more time, speculating on the hour he would arrive and asking ourselves whether that unfortunate delay would make us lose various minutes of what could be (and was) a great conference. At 5.40pm there was another announcement: Cao was stuck in a terrible traffic jam and was still being held-up. In order to gain time, Jorge La Ferla, audiovisual theorist and moderator of this conference, and professor at Universidad del Cine, would make an introduction on Guimaraes’ work. La Ferla said that Guimaraes’ delay could be part of one of his works and that perhaps he was filming us as we waited for him but he was never going to arrive. He talked about Guimaraes never going to film school, and as regards his training, he said Cao had studied photography in London –later, as I was having a beer with Cao I learned that he did not study photography but that he came from a family of photographers and that he went to London as the husband of a Brazilian government intern. There, having a lot of free time and without having to worry about making a living, he attended a few photography lessons to complement his empirical training. Afterwards, La Ferla kept on giving an overview on Guimaraes’ work as regards his installations and the museums and galleries these occupy. He compared him to Steve McQueen, because like the latter, Guimaraes, before working with documentary, had an extensive career as a visual artist, and because they both have the talent of moving from one language to the other.

La Ferla talked about many other things: about the places of exhibition of Guimaraes’ work, about the relationship of his work with Belo Horizonte, about the art market and the film market; up until around 6.10pm when Cao arrived, in a hurry and apologizing.

Cao began talking about a moment in Brazil, in the nineties, where documentary films had gathered a lot of strength. He said that it was the language of documentary filmmaking that had managed to unwrap new narrative and aesthetic forms, different to those that were being used. Cao attributed this to the fact that in Brazil reality is the greatest fiction, an idea we may extend to the whole of Latin America. In my opinion, almost every country in Latin America could fit in this idea; everything that happens, socially and politically speaking, the scenarios where things take place, it all seems to be taken from a fiction film.

Cao’s experimentations play with this idea and try to give it a twist. The bubble that bursts in Nanofania is real, as well as the ants in their Carnival party in Quarta Feira de Cinzas –two of the short films Cao showed during the conference. Reality then has infinite possibilities and can be approached from different languages. According to Cao, each one of his works decides how it is going to be produced; each idea defines its position as either a feature film, a short film or as an installation. This autonomy of the work is directly related to the way in which Cao behaves as a filmmaker, as an artist and documentary filmmaker, absolutely respectful of the space and time of his characters and objects.

During the conference, Cao made an analogy that poetically summarizes the way in which he relates to reality. Reality is for him like a lake, and there are three ways of approaching this lake. The first one is through a contemplative eye, where the lake is observed at a certain distance. The second way is like throwing a small stone inside the lake. The stone is a concept that will make the structure of the lake tremble; it is like throwing an idea that intervenes in the observed object. And the third way is through immersion, by completely immersing into the lake and relating to reality from the inside. That is how Cao understands documentary filmmaking and artistic creation; he himself relates to reality in those three ways. From a complete immersion as in Otto, to the observation in Super 8 of the fight between two children, shot from a hotel window.

Throughout the conference Cao exposed his ideas, shared his stories and took part in a dialogue with us the young generation, who are trying to build our own way of looking, a language that will allow us to somehow grasp our worlds. Cao, who already has his own language, who possess a world that he renews and defies in each of his works, shared with us his career path with a simplicity and openness that is very difficult to find in a world where the competition of egos is constant. And if all of this was not enough sign of his ease and modesty, he continued sharing his ideas and listening to some of us while seated at a bar drinking beer and talking about some technical aspects of his work and giving his opinion on Maradona, Pelé and Garrincha.

Clara Picasso – Text Translator Mariángela Martinez Restrepo – Talent press Coordinator