Chant and Flames

The Collective Fabulations of Adirley Queirós and Joana Pimenta


Era uma vez Brasília (Adirley Queirós, 2017)

For the last twenty years, Adirley Queirós has been making films with the inhabitants of Ceilândia, a suburb located on the outskirts of Brasilia. Each one invents itself as a prototype, putting together documentary material and fictional energies in order to invert the relationship between the inner and outer city. Real and fake archives, futurism and dystopia, local radio and urban music: a minority brings the political power of cinema back to life in order to imagine its memory, to portray its angers and its hopes for change. The formal inventiveness displayed by this self-taught filmmaker always goes hand in hand with a concern for putting the territory from which he builds into historical perspective. The major events in Brazil’s political history over the last fifty years - be they successive governments or more specific events - are approached not as a backdrop, but as real narrative tools, the driving force behind the fabulations he crafts with his community of equally self-taught actors. Back to Juscelino Kubitschek’s utopia, Dilma Roussef’s deposition, Michel Temer’s takeover and Jair Bolsonaro’s fascist government.

Having started with the foundation of the CeiCine collective with his partners from Ceilândia, Adirley Queirós’ own films, and more specifically his short ones, are fully rooted in collective and popular emancipating experiences: music, the workers' strike, football, the Landless Workers' Movement. In the stormy Rap, o canto da Ceilândia (2005), four rappers narrate the city and bear documentary witness to segregation, racism and lack of representation; their rap is spat out in long urban tracking shots tucked between on-camera interviews. In Dias de greve (2008), the director's neighbours play locksmiths on strike, rediscovering the city and how leisure can be enjoyed after years of being locked down in a factory. In Meu nome é Maninho (2014), Adirley Queirós, a former professional footballer portrays Maninho, an injured former player (who described the precariousness of his trade in Fora de campo, 2010) turned travelling salesman during the Football World Cup in Brasilia. His wanderings outside the stadium cast a tragic melancholy over the film. In MST (2017), the director captures a group of farmers from the Landless People's Movement preparing for a huge rally to be held in Brasilia. At night, by torchlight, their children imagine a future and carry on the torch of struggle with stunning emotion. That same year, Adirley Queirós invited Joana Pimenta to be the director of photography for Era uma vez Brasília. She is Portuguese and works both in Brazil and the United States, where she has participated in the Sensory Ethnography Lab and teaches in the Department of Arts, Film and Visual Studies at Harvard University. She has directed two highly acclaimed short films which, using an entirely different language - that of the experimental essay - join the Brazilian filmmaker on a common ground: (colonial) counter-history and fictionalised memory. After having co-directed the incendiary Mato seco em chamas in 2022, they keep on working side by side.

The rotary movement of the lighthouse on which As figuras gravadas na faca com a seiva das bananeiras (2014) opens seems to foreshadow the imaginary cartographies and speculative narratives that Joana Pimenta builds in her films. Firstly, between the island of Madeira and Mozambique, from where she invents a fictitious correspondence packed with mystery throughout the decade of the War of Independence. Between Cape Verde and Brazil next, in An Aviation Field (2016), where the director imagines the excavation of the city of Brasilia, found inside the Cape Verdean volcano Pico de Fogo, in a chronological puzzle. “Brasilia was built on the horizon. Fogo buried it under rocks, glass and wreckage,” says the voice-over. Using footage of the volcano captured in 16mm and shots of reconstituted models of the white city, the film creates its own unique geography and interrogates the utopian founding myth of the construction of Brasilia. A myth that the filmmaker explores in detail through a sonic and spatial archaeology that forms the basis of Adirley Queirós’s cinematographic work.

In order to approach his cinema, one needs to look back at the origins of the place from which he produces it: Ceilândia. This satellite city of Brasilia was founded in 1971, eleven years after the inauguration of Brazil's new federal capital, resulting from a government-led operation. The Campanha de Erradicação de Invasões (Invasion Eradication Campaign) involved the relocation of around 80,000 people, mainly those who had originally built Brasilia and ended up in its peripheral slums. The acronym CEI and the suffix “lândia” - the ground, the place - give their name to the new city, a symbol for exclusion and segregation, where Brasilia was that of pure modernism. After Rap, o canto da Ceilândia, Adirley Queirós returns in earnest to this satellite city's history, describing it as Brasilia’s “shattered mirror” in A cidade é uma só? [Is the city one?]. He also lays the foundations of his cinema through a number of means: testimonies, the use and construction of audio and visual archives, and fantasy, which he asserts and will continue to do so as the basis of his aesthetic relationship with history. Made in 2012 as a response to a documentary on Brasilia’s 50th anniversary, A cidade é uma só? presents a counter-narrative from the point of view of the residents of Ceilândia in a documentary that turns out to be fake as the story unfolds. It revolves around three characters: Zé Antonio, a makeshift real estate agent who speculates illegally on plots; Dildu, a cleaner working in Brasilia involved in politics to become a member of parliament for his district; and Nancy Araujo, who was relocated when Ceilândia was established and used to be part of the children's choir that once sang the town's jingle. Adirley Queirós gives an alternative view of Brasilia’s modernist utopia, in particular through the construction of a soundscape, with Nancy and Dildu's musical performances - by (re)making jingles -, thus embodying the reclaiming of a history, both past and in the making.

While in A cidade é uma só? the characters still attempt to reach institutional power via the electoral route, this is no longer the case or of any use in Branco sai, preto fica (2014), where the gap between Brasilia and its outskirts is such that the residents need a passport to get in. The film's narrative is tied to a tragic event, a sign of the ongoing racial segregation in the city’s outskirts: the brutal police raid in 1986 at Quarentão, a legendary nightclub and meeting place for the hip-hop culture of the 80s and Baile Black. The actor who played Dildu portrays Dimas Cravalanças, a detective coming from the future. He finds the cyborg-man Sartana, an amputee wounded during the police assault, and Marquim (do Tropa, one of the rappers from Rap, o canto da Ceilândia, who also produced Dildu’s jingle in A cidade é uma só?), a pirate radio broadcaster left paraplegic in the wake of the same event. He recalls hearing the police yell “Blacks in, Whites out” (Branco sai, Preto fica). Adirley Queirós creates a fiction of characters broken by racist violence, whose only way to take revenge is to destroy everything. Set in a landscape of ruins, landfill sites and maze-like lairs with futuristic mechanisms built from metal sheets and bars, Branco sai, preto fica combines a documentary approach - with archives from Quarentão and personal accounts incorporated into fictional sequences - and elements of science fiction that have a tremendous emancipating power (an ingenious musical bomb is carefully crafted from the sounds of the outskirts to blow up Brasilia). They pave the way for a more radical take on the dystopian regime in the next film, Era uma vez Brasília (2017).

In this film, Adirley Queirós imagines an intergalactic agent character called WA4 (Wellington Abreu, who played a melancholic worker on strike in Dias de greve, 2009), coming from the year 1959 and sent on Earth on a mission to kill President Juscelino Kubitschek on the day of Brasilia's inauguration. His ship having been lost in time, he lands in Ceilândia in 2016 on the eve of Dilma Rousseff’s deposition, where he joins an army of intergalactic fighters calling for insurrection. Era uma vez Brasília takes us into the darkness of a political night, when all hope for change seems to have been extinguished after the Left's failure and Vice President Michel Temer's takeover. The film's dark tone conveys the political stagnation and stasis to come through tight, horizonless shots of distrustful, quiet, melancholic characters shouting a death song that mingles - in the darkness of the closing credits - with the sounds of an urban uprising; the outcome of which we will never know.

The oil context preceding the Petrobras affair, which led to the impeachment of Dilma Roussef, provides the impetus for the next film by Adirley Queirós and Joana Pimenta. What if oil were no longer owned by large corporations but by the poor? Mato seco em chamas (2022) brings the fiercest answer, featuring a gang of women running a clandestine refinery in Sol Nascente, a suburb of Ceilândia, in a two-and-a-half hour dystopian western. They sell their oil to another gang, lumpen-bikers hidden behind helmets, who also serve as escorts for their campaign. Their names are Léa, Chitara and Andreia, women of black or mixed race, lesbians and mothers. They are former prisoners, pirate leaders and party leaders. The party in question is the Prisoners’ Peoples’ Party (PPP), which was made up, but has real demands. They chain-smoke cigarettes, use weapons and look downright determined. Their activism and their survival consist of very concrete counter-labour, which involves seizing the means of production from the ruling class. Over a period of three years, Adirley Queirós and Joana Pimenta invented fictional characters through them, composing a futuristic political tale using a method they call “fictional ethnography”. In other words, they created fictional characters and “settings” with the men and women who live on the outskirts, in the space and reality of contemporary political narratives, and shot them “as if they were shooting a documentary”. This means constructing imaginary worlds, from which possible futures can emerge by claiming a right to fiction; reinventing a historiography of the outskirts and re-signifying a collective memory in an increasingly obstinate, radical, deeply-rooted and unheard-of way. And what could be better than a giant antenna and a DIY radio station to capture and relate these new tales of rebellion yet to come? This is the core subject of one of Queirós and Pimenta's upcoming films, Rádio Coração. We can’t wait to hear the flames of resistance and the chants of the future vibrate.

Louise Martin Papasian 
Member of the selection committee of FIDMarseille

Image from Era uma vez Brasília (Adirley Queirós, 2017)

In Passage, Sabzian invites film critics, authors, filmmakers and spectators to send a text or fragment on cinema that left a lasting impression.
Pour Passage, Sabzian demande à des critiques de cinéma, auteurs, cinéastes et spectateurs un texte ou un fragment qui les a marqués.
In Passage vraagt Sabzian filmcritici, auteurs, filmmakers en toeschouwers naar een tekst of een fragment dat ooit een blijvende indruk op hen achterliet.
The Prisma section is a series of short reflections on cinema. A Prisma always has the same length – exactly 2000 characters – and is accompanied by one image. It is a short-distance exercise, a miniature text in which one detail or element is refracted into the spectrum of a larger idea or observation.
La rubrique Prisma est une série de courtes réflexions sur le cinéma. Tous les Prisma ont la même longueur – exactement 2000 caractères – et sont accompagnés d'une seule image. Exercices à courte distance, les Prisma consistent en un texte miniature dans lequel un détail ou élément se détache du spectre d'une penséée ou observation plus large.
De Prisma-rubriek is een reeks korte reflecties over cinema. Een Prisma heeft altijd dezelfde lengte – precies 2000 tekens – en wordt begeleid door één beeld. Een Prisma is een oefening op de korte afstand, een miniatuurtekst waarin één detail of element in het spectrum van een grotere gedachte of observatie breekt.
Jacques Tati once said, “I want the film to start the moment you leave the cinema.” A film fixes itself in your movements and your way of looking at things. After a Chaplin film, you catch yourself doing clumsy jumps, after a Rohmer it’s always summer, and the ghost of Akerman undeniably haunts the kitchen. In this feature, a Sabzian editor takes a film outside and discovers cross-connections between cinema and life.
Jacques Tati once said, “I want the film to start the moment you leave the cinema.” A film fixes itself in your movements and your way of looking at things. After a Chaplin film, you catch yourself doing clumsy jumps, after a Rohmer it’s always summer, and the ghost of Akerman undeniably haunts the kitchen. In this feature, a Sabzian editor takes a film outside and discovers cross-connections between cinema and life.
Jacques Tati zei ooit: “Ik wil dat de film begint op het moment dat je de cinemazaal verlaat.” Een film zet zich vast in je bewegingen en je manier van kijken. Na een film van Chaplin betrap je jezelf op klungelige sprongen, na een Rohmer is het altijd zomer en de geest van Chantal Akerman waart onomstotelijk rond in de keuken. In deze rubriek neemt een Sabzian-redactielid een film mee naar buiten en ontwaart kruisverbindingen tussen cinema en leven.