Bicycles of Nhanderú and The Spirit of the Navajo

For our 35th screening, Filipa César brings us two short films examining the power of cinema to enable indigenous communities to create their own representations of themselves and their worlds. 

The Spirit of the NavajoMary Jane and Maxine Tsosie, both Navajo, follow the healing ritual of a medicine man (their grandfather Sam Yazzie) from gathering wild herbs and roots, to "painting" sand mandalas to treating patients.

Bicycles of NhanderúAn immersion in spirituality and everyday life of the Mbyá Guaraní from the Koenju village, in southern Brazil.

Filipa César communicates her interest in these films as follows: In 1966, anthropologists Sol Worth, John Adair and Richard Chalfen traveled to Pine Springs, Arizona, to teach a group of Navajo students the techniques of cinema. The resulting films make up the series Navajos Film Themselves. In 1986 in Brazil, anthropologists and documentarists Vincent Carelli and Virgínia Valadão, initiated Video nas Aldeias, a project to promote the production of moving images by members of threatened indigenous Amazonia communities.

Both projects and their resulting films respond to the troubles convoked by visual anthropologists with the gesture of rendering the studied communities into image. Specifically, as related to non-industrialised communities, which have little access to neither the technologies nor a culture of moving images. Dennis Hopper’s exercise The Last Movie (1971) denounced cinema as a colonizing language that once met with other code system can backfire and become a cursed floating signifier. On the other hand, Elizabeth Povinelli and the Karrabing Film Collective have developed a unique cinematic language to address their condition under contemporary colonialism. Yet, in the present time of the hyper-imaging of the globalized world, what does it mean to provide indigenous peoples with the technical means with which to produce their own representations of themselves and their imaginaries? Can we use the term “one’s own image”? Can those images become evidence against threatening colonization? Who and what is empowered? Can cinema be a means of achieving justice? What opacities interfere or are destroyed? Who and what is erased within this gesture of increased visibility?

For this screening, I have selected two films, The Spirit of the Navajo, 1966 by Mary Jane and Maxine Tsosie from the series Navajo Film Themselves and Bicycles of Nhanderú, 2011, by Ariel Duarte Ortega and Patricia Ferreira created through the Video nas Aldeias Project. I invite you to this screening and look forward to your engagement in the subsequent discussion.

Thanks to: Vincent Carelli, Video nas Aldeias team, Stefanie Schulte Strathaus, Markus Ruff, Juan González, Arsenal–Institute for Film and Video Art, Pia Chakraverti-Wuerthwein and the SAVVY Contemporary team.

Filipa César is an artist and filmmaker interested in the fictional aspects of the documentary, the porous borders between cinema and its reception, and the politics and poetics inherent to moving image. Since 2011, she has been looking into the origins of the cinema of the African Liberation Movement in Guinea Bissau as a laboratory of resistance to ruling epistemologies. César premiered her first feature length essay-film Spell Reel at the Forum section of the 67. Berlinale, 2017. Selected exhibitions and screenings have taken place at: 29th São Paulo Biennial, 2010; Manifesta 8, Cartagena, 2010; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2011–15; Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2012; Khiasma, Paris, 2011–2015; Kunstwerke, Berlin, 2013; SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin 2014–15; Tensta konsthall, Spånga, 2015; Mumok, Vienna, 2016; Contour 8 Biennial, Mechelen and Gasworks, London; MoMA, New York, 2017.