Luciana Mazeto and Vinícius Lopes’ Antes Do Lembrar (Stone Engravings and the Three-Colored Chickenpox Tale, 2018) opens with gently insistent questions, spoken with clarity over the sound of water as the light rises. It is the final piece in the suite of three films Ane Lopez has brought together for one dream, square metre, her curated contribution to this year’s Femspectives (Glasgow’s feminist film festival, this year running as an online weekender from 23-25 April).
At this point in the programme, our shared experience of worlding feels uncertain, ambiguous: having just watched Urpean Lurra (Land Under Water, 2019), Maddi Barber’s haunting testament to resistance, the viewer has been presented with the audacity of industrial-scale appropriation of natural resources, with a fundamental schism between those who seek to use and those who seek to care for the non-human cradle we share. And yet, our dreaming senses have also been stirred, stimulated. Lopez’s programme opens with Black Line (2017), Francesca Scalisi and Mark Olexa’s enamoured tracking of a Bengali woman who fishes in oil-saturated waters, its palette of murky-yet-luminescent greens, browns, dark blues, hints of pink and yellow igniting the programme with a kind of sensory stimulation that pulls through the three films’ reflective accounts of watery histories and presents. As Antes Do Lembrar unfolds, we are afforded something like rehabilitation as we view our present in the context of deep time, of the slow, uncanny replication of fossilisation. Responding to Femspectives’ 2021 theme, Lopez writes in her curatorial notes of dreaming as a political act, especially pivoting on its relation to time. We talked about eco-temporality, about the process of curation, about film’s capacity to think the ecological, and feminist cinema in the time of Covid-19.
RW: You write so compellingly about the politics of dreaming, its affordance of alternative imaginaries, its relationship to ecological grief. Could you talk about your title, one dream, square metre?
AL: The title is always the hardest, but most fun part. As the films are each already titled, it can feel like overwriting, but I wanted to find something that would go with the non-linearity and multiplicity of voices that I felt the films presented. So I wanted something somehow porous, that would leave room for interpretation. In fact, some years ago someone made me a haiku kit with ecology-related words, and I used that to create my title, trying to make it a mind game. I like how it contrasts between the micro and the macro: the fantastical and the unknown brought together with the awful familiarity that we are all in now. So there is a playfulness that refers to the fact that we are in enforced enclosure, but that our dreams are becoming more expansive; they are reaching all the territories they weren’t reaching before, helping us to deal with traumatic experiences, whether those are ecological or Covid-related trauma, which is kind of the same thing.
RW: I like that the title itself comes out of a kind of dreaming…
AL: It is like when you wake from a dream and write down a few words from it. Those words don’t quite make ‘sense’, but they act as a code, a quick record that triggers the dream to come back to you later. That’s how I wanted the title to work. But at the same time, I felt I was given this opportunity to have a small portion in a large archaeological site: the Femspectives festival itself. Within my little square metre, these films found me and I found them, one giving context to the other. So this is a very modest, tiny piece of a collective dream.
RW: Tell us about the process of finding and selecting the films for your programme.
AL: I took very different paths, the process wasn’t linear or a defined set of steps at all. I went around in circles and in different shapes… it was very organic! I began with a quite scientific or literal look at dreaming—viewing lots of shorts about dreaming. But I came to feel that dreaming needed to be implied in the way the film was made. So beyond the thematic, that the films themselves should have this feeling of dreaming, of time moving differently. I needed something more experiential, not just trying to understand why we dream, but what it feels like to dream and how it changes. That’s when I found Urpean Lurra, which is the core of the programme, and I began to think of dreaming as a political act. The director, Maddi Barber, had written of how removing parts of a story constitutes an act of violence, asking, ‘what happens to those memories? What happens to places that have been “replaced”?, What happens to the people who are still remembering these spaces?’. So I started thinking, okay, dreaming, and remembering those dreams through film, becomes resistance. For me it is importantly about not just dreaming, but remembering and recording them—because this is what becomes mark making, actively wanting to take control of your dreams. A resistance to collective forgetting. So Urpean Lurra became the centre of my programme and I worked out from there to frame it with sympathetic pieces.
RW: The political drama of water in this central film generates a core disquiet; it’s both moving and dismaying to witness the feelings of displacement it provokes. But it is generative rather than defeatist: the woman who dreams that the river continues to flow under the reservoir permits a beautiful sense of watery imaginaries.
AL: Yes, water connects across all the films, which makes sense in terms of how the element itself chooses where it wants to go… that’s kind of how dreams go as well, moving in a watery way.
RW: Yes, the two shorter films bring our attention to the quality of water, whether thick with oil or crisply dripping in a cave. Indeed, the programme connects across sound, colour, feel… could you talk about the mood, somehow the materiality of your programme?
AL: Yes, I am personally very drawn to materiality. I like things that are very tactile, or that you can almost even taste. As you say, Black Line shows such viscosity in the river, and then Urpean Lurra presents so many different qualities of water: the very pixilated water of the archive footage, the incredibly sharp, almost artificially coloured water of the dam. The blue is so strange and wrongly beautiful. Once you reach Antes Do Lembrar, you see how water acts, creates. The huge cave that it opens with, that is made because of the strength of water. It follows this kind of meandering path through the programme. I didn’t think ahead of time, ‘Oh, I’m going to do a programme that is very dusty or nostalgic’, but I guess because of this connecting element of lost or damaged waters, it becomes like that. I am gratified that what emerges is a nostalgic, subdued, almost filtered effect, generated by the different film types, whether archive footage, high- or low-resolution, different sized pixels. So the films feel textural, they have an almost otherworldly quality: what am I looking at? Is this real or imaginary? I think this comes from how the films give context to one another through curation, so these qualities emerge…
RW: Exactly. The work of curating is both to set things in process, and to allow selection and proximity then to reveal relationships. Please tell us more about your exciting term for these films, the ‘quasi-mythical hybrid documentary’.
AL: I made up this term to capture how everything is related to mythology or story-telling. Experiences can become more real through story and myths have this amazing and magical ability to give answer to timeless questions. They become a kind of compass for the generations. I couldn’t place the films in an existent category as such, but they each move between a compulsion to record what is happening and to be imaginatively generative about what that record means: constructed reality meets pure documentary. It’s the fact that the films were so alive, starting for me with Urpean Lurra. That film is not resolved in a way that maybe films often look for resolution. It leaves room. So that film led me to look for the idea of a living archive, traces, record making. Barber was looking at the dam project by investigating inherited dream experiences, inherited trauma, filling out gaps. Antes Do Lembrar was looking at deep time, pre-history, where there are even more gaps, beyond memory. Black Line is looking at something that is coming more into the future, happening now.
It is important to me that the films allow you to see so many elements, different interpretations of landscape through different temporalities. Because it is multiple. Hybrid genres allow multiplicity and shaded versions of the same story, differently manifested across technologies, a mix of camera, super-8 mixed with digital. This allows for a more textural feeling of the same story. The camera itself becomes an archive, the person becomes an archive, because of residues, everything you accumulate and everything you leave behind. By revealing the mechanisms—showing film development, camera hold, and so on—the work of mark making emerges: living traces, remembering as an active way of engaging with the materiality of a space, seeking to be more active than passive towards the future.
RW: Yes, archive is about determining a future. Do you see that in ecological terms?
AL: Yes! This ‘active archiving’, which is importantly textural, sensory, appeals to different parts of your brain. These films are looking beyond landscape as a prop and background for a film—they are looking in a super-active way. That’s how this kind of cinematic experience is more ecological. Film can pull you into perspectives that are beyond the human—because the way the camera works, it can reach and look from viewpoints that humans simply cannot reach. You can see things from the more-than-human eye. This creates attunement, a shift of concentration. We go beyond the linear human gaze (the camera can be placed anywhere); that’s how I see film in a more ecological way.
RW: What do you think about how this ‘ecological cinema’ is reaching people in a time of Covid-19 restrictions?
AL: There is definitely an unease there. Recently working on the submissions team for the Glasgow Short Film Festival 2021, I was viewing thousands of films on my own, thinking of people viewing them on their own, and that has to impact curatorial decisions. It can open up possibilities, it’s true: viewing is now a more intimate experience, the screen within the very personal space, so you can have more films designed to be watched closer to your body, not so alienated in from a huge screen. but it also means thinking about where the films leave you, because, you know, we are already so damaged. That’s why it’s so important that festivals like Femspectives also have these conversational events, giving spaces and platforms for people just to talk. So people can now have a closer relationship to those—the makers, the curators, the actors—who have been so physically involved with these films. It is gains and losses. But all festivals are having to think twice about what films you are showing to people who likely won’t be able to turn around and speak to someone afterwards. I purposely looked to films that touch on the ecological, but aren’t too traumatic or painful to watch. They have some playfulness there.
RW: Yes, I felt that the programme was leading me to feel my way into life.
AL: I wanted the closing film to bring us a perspective. All these catastrophes have happened, but there has always been life after that. The non-human is not ahistorical and immutable; it relates to human history too. The dam in UL was built, but in the face of years of resistance. A dam is a show of strength, but the resistance shows that the project was precarious; it wasn’t inevitable. They didn’t stop the dam, but they did something else, and they are still there and are remembered. I wanted to draw out this hope because their activism is the same as the activism I am very close to now, through Extinction Rebellion, for example. They use the same techniques. It perpetuates. It’s really beautiful to see something from the 80s and 90s still happening now: it is still something that works, and brings people together.
RW: In terms of activism, change, can you reflect on how your programme relates to the Femspectives festival overall?
AL: For me, the dreaming and the ecology came first, but as with the textural connections across the pieces, so with their feminism: this emerges. Antes Do Lembrar most explicitly, but it’s there from the opening tracking focus on the woman wading in a sari. This radiates out from how Urpean Lurra records a very feminine way of doing activism. We see the very masculine presence of those who are actually fighting the dam—there is a physical strength—but Barber puts them into relation with very delicate images of people dreaming, and with images of the activists taking the trees out of the water, tending and nurturing the non-human.
RW: Yes, the gaze on dreaming takes us to the need for care in the activist community. The space where you go to unpack, to be held.
AL: This links to Femspectives’s commitment to making a safe space for storytelling. I hope this is present in the overall feel of the programme. Because the different ways of making evidence, from making a sound record to making a film, are non-linear, open ways, ultimately, of taking control over time, of your own space. Of wanting to act towards the future. And that is what I see as feminist.
Ane Lopez is a co-founder of A+E, an art and ecology collective that envisions a post-oil, radical and diverse culture that addresses the current climate crisis through experimental, ethical and accessible approaches.
Her programme, one dream, square metre, is available on demand, along with all the other films in the Femspectives festival, from 19 April: femspectives.com
Rhian Williams is a writer and homemaker based in Glasgow. She writes regularly at Spamzine.co.uk, and recently co-edited the weird folds: everyday poems from the anthropocene (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2020) with Maria Sledmere.