Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Tremor Iê directors Lívia de Paiva and Elena Meirelles at this year’s FIDMarseille.
Set in dystopian Brazil, it follows Janaína as she escapes imprisonment and meets her friend Cassia in the context of an ongoing coup d’etat. Their reunion brings along their drums and attempts to defy the imposed silence over black lesbian bodies.
Q: ‘Tremor Iê’ opens with rap lyrics that say: “get politicised, get organised, don’t get paralysed”. Does that speak to your mindset heading into this film?
A: Political engagement is the base of the stories told by our film. It was what led to violent experiences with the Brazilian police. Part of the stories we tell are of the women that played drums during the popular demonstrations of 2013 and were beaten and arrested because of their activism and the police’s structural racism. Then the film came as a way to find out how to act, denounce and organise angers and fears, to strengthen ourselves and to tell the version of the story that was being silenced. So it is itself a way of political activism.
When we first listened to this rap, Rima Dela, written by the three rappers Anarka, Bia D’oxum and Brisa Flow (together with others, whose part isn’t in the film), it put into words lots of things that crossed our process and desires. This first rap has a special importance because it is directed to the sisters of struggle, the connected ones that can need encouraging words. We also prioritise this dialogue through our film.
Q: I’ve spoken to a number of Brazilian filmmakers in recent months about the troubling time the nation is going through. Why did you want to set the film in a dystopian future rather than the present?
A: We actually talk about many moments including the present, even with the narrative staged in this futuristic non-specified time. Science-fiction has this ability to reflect symptoms that cross time. It is not from now that Brazil goes through a difficult period. It began when Europeans declared to have discovered it. This failure is the base of a racist colonial system that structures our society. Since then we live a continuous state of conflict.
The country never seized to violate, kill and imprison black, indigenous and lgbt people. To set our storytelling in a non-specific time in a near future was to put the past and present in perspective. We didn’t want to fall into the impression that, the urgency comes from now, but to reflect in how the past and present violences are totally connected and have to be faced as structural problems.
Q: I understand machismo and violence are prominent themes of the film. What is the landscape of this dystopia and how does it reflect the forces in modern Brazil?
A: A omnipresent government controls the functioning of a divided city. A cleansing white supremacy policy, keeps the black, poor and lgbtq+ community in the corner of the periphery and under steady control. The central part, rich, with emptied streets, cameras all over and a monument in its heart, in remembrance of the first president of the military dictatorship from 1964, receives messages of speakers celebrating the advances of the neo-liberal project, while the people in the periphery are called to keep working hard in order to fight for a bright national future. Difficult to say what part of this is fiction.
Q: Can you tell us about Janaína, the journey she goes on and what she represents?
A: Janaína is imprisoned at a demonstration because of a racist and misogynist institution. The violence of her isolation penetrates her life even after she manages to escape. There is no safe space for her. This is more about the context she is inserted.
With her escape, the isolation doesn’t evaporate, also because her story is still connected to those of other women kept in illegal imprisonment. But she makes her music, invents forms of liberty, of getting in touch with her worried sisters, the breeze outside. Her path in the film is the multiplicity of existence, the connections maintained through intuition, dreams and imagination.
In the film these instances of existence are as palpable and constant as the rational narrative of imprisonment, escape and rebellion.
Q: I’ve seen a still from the film of someone who looks like they are dressed in a fencing outfit – it reminded me of ‘A Clockwork Orange’. How did you approach constructing this dystopia (in terms of the settings, costuming etc)?
A: We didn’t need to go far to construct the face of our fictional context. We filmed in real scenarios that compose the landscape of the city of Fortaleza. For example, the place where the assault happens is in fact a mausoleum, a monument in reverence to the first president of Brazilians military dictatorship. His grave is guarded there by the military and it’s building is part of the “Palace of Abolition”, headquarters of the government.
The conception of the Soldiers of the Good came after Lila M. Salú, who plays Janaína and is one of the screenwriters, proposed a reflection in one of our scriptwriting meetings: How would things be if the police was abolished? We agreed to think that it would be substituted by some other institution with another aspect and discourse, but the same ideology and structure behind it. A white uniform, words of peace and order, patriarchal posture, a false respect through soft (but violent) communication.
And there is the speaker’s voice omnipresent in all the cities quarters, but with a different approach in each of it. Its text mounted with words said by Bolsonaro during the election process.
Q: I’ve heard the film has action-movie techniques and dark humour. What tone did you want to want to strike in this genre crossing film?
A: Our artifacts are simple and direct. We didn’t have much money but also believed that we didn’t need much to evocate some things. We are very used to watch movies that help us to immerse. In Tremor Iê you enter the narrative, believe in it, or you see only the surface.
Personally I find it difficult to laugh at the characters, even the more grotesque ones, as the bureaucrat and the soldiers. The part of action and rebellion should be exciting for us to watch. A moment to vibrate with the characters, join their rage.
Q: As you alluded to with Lila, your crew took on a number of different roles during the film – working behind and in front of the camera. How was the shoot and how important was this versatility?
A: We are a group of people coming from very different contexts. Versatility was essential to make us work on exchanging our different perspectives, and work on making the film a collective place of desires and creation.
Q: What is your background together? And what was the dynamic between yourselves while working on this project?
A: Everything started as a neighbourhood in 2015. Our house “Zelva”, where we lived together as a group of students of cinema was right next to the feminist house “Casa Feminista Nazaré Flor”, where different collectives of black lesbian and bisexual feminists had their meeting and working place.
Lila M. Salú and Deyse Mara are part of most of these groups and were always around. So we became friends and together we started dreaming of making this film, make a hole in the wall between our houses.
First the four of us: Lila, Deyse, Lívia and Elena. We went through stories that were screaming to be told. Studying what we wanted to tell and how. Little by little the process expanded. The others joined the creation and the sewing got more complex. The music, that always had its leading role in the narrative, was another writing process, where many of the actresses stepped into another creative role. Flávia Soledade, guiding role in their music activism outside the film, directed this construction and made the percussion arrangements. Ricardo, a capoeira master in Rio de Janeiro, composed the Berimbau watching the scenes. Lila put lyrics written by her. Micinete Lima and Deyse joined as main voices, together with her. And others of us joined the chorus.
Q: The film closes with a dedication to Marylucia Mesquita Palmeira, Marielle Franco and Luana Barbosa. Was it important to bring the audience back to reality and the pressing issues of current day with this note?
A: I think we never left reality. But it is indeed a remembrance how the stories of these women are connected to those in Tremor Iê. All were black lesbian women that came to death through violence of the state – through its absence to take responsibility over black lgbt people, through the corrupt police that couldn’t dare to have their genocide in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro exposed and confronted, and through its main arm, the police, that is free to kill peripheric population, all the more if they are black lesbian challenging frontiers of gender.
Q: You were both part of the FIDLab 2018. How special does it feel to return to the Marseille FID with ‘Tremor Lê’?
A: It’s special to see that the interest and recognition continued after they watched the finished work. Last year it had been a exciting and challenging experience to present the film’s ideas to a public from another context. And in this aspect, the sensibility with which we were received, was surprising and nice.
To go back with the finished work and as a big group means a beautiful continuity in our process and may lead to other opportunities. Unfortunately, the recognition of an important European festival is still a big step to open doors inside our own very colonized country.
Q: What is next for you? Any ambitions or plans to share with us?
A: In relation to the film, we are still beginning to share it. As well as we wish to distribute it through the big structures of cinemas and festivals, we want to go through independent places of resistance, small screening places, collectives and schools. Places the film can be a trigger for exchanges of experiences and empowering conversations.
Besides we organised ourselves as a collective throughout the process. So as it was concluded, we decided to give name to this group, expand it and continue our work together. We call it “Molhadas Coletiva”.