Cecil de Fátima Discusses Life in Brazil, Jonas Mekas, and Still Photographs in Film
Interview by Nick Ramsay
It seems that it’s been a crazy couple years in Brazil, with the pandemic and the political situation. And it seems that you’ve been on the move a lot. Trying to keep tabs on you— You were with your dad in the country, training guard dogs, releasing music with your band, then living in São Paulo, and you recently moved in with your partner, the “Ana” of your film’s title. How’s life right now, in general ?
I think the last years of my life certainly were and continue to be the most insane and delicate years I've ever lived. The country is fucked up, my life has been an emotional roller coaster, but there are still dreamers scattered around and a few others prepared to seek and fight for days other than these dark times that haunt us now. It's good to see you know so many things I've been doing over the last few years. I still try to keep being as close to my dad as possible, we've been best friends since I was a kid. We wouldn't know how to do it any other way. Life in São Paulo is a food crusher. When I think I'm getting used to it, I see that I'm far from really knowing what it's like to live here. However, I like it. I've been working with my father's photographic archive, I've been filming a little bit, I'm still doing video art, I'm listening to a Moondog album a day, I've been reading a lot of Junji Ito and Virginia Woolf's diaries, and now for the first time in my life I'm living in same house as the person i love. So I'm calmly living the days I have and hoping that people will take it easy on each other.
Your film is called “Ana of the Island,” but we see Ana only very briefly, at the beginning. We mostly see the island itself. A bird. Rocks with moss on them. A small abandoned beach house. We hear the ocean.
What was on your mind as you were making this film ?
Well, I don't really have this answer exactly. My mind is not capable of making sketches of what to film, where to film, things like that.
When I got on the plane to fly to that place, where I had never been before, my mind just told me: start recording. It’s like my body telling me to archive some memories.
Ana was the reason that I decided to leave the comfort of my apartament back home, so it’s because of her that I was able to see so many beautiful places on those islands. Ana gave me that.
I’m wondering about the overlap in your practices as a filmmaker and photographer? Your use of still photographs and silence stands out in the film. It put a spell on me.
With my photographs I try to keep what I see and what I felt at the moment I saw it. With my cinema I just try to watch things as an observer. But for me it could never be one or the other. I'm too passionate about the image whether it's static, slow or fast.
A person I met many years ago told me he was worried about me because I seemed to be thinking all the time about photos, movies, scenes and moments. I was seeing myself as a body-camera. Maybe I was trying not to live the thing people call real life. And he was right. My mind is rarely not thinking about images.
My favorite moment in “Ana of the Island” is when text appears, announcing the arrival of the bird you crossed paths with. That felt like a very Jonas Mekas moment to me.
We’ve spoken in the past about our shared admiration for Jonas. Can you talk about what his work means to you, and his influence on you as a filmmaker? And more broadly, how did you come to diary filmmaking ?
Jonas has been and always will be everything to me. Jonas taught me how to see, feel and walk. He was my second father.
Everything around me changed minutes after I first watched “As i Was Moving Ahead...”
Everything is finite. Everything is a glimpse of a beauty that only a few people can really see. "Ana of the Island" its my 30th movie. I've used text or written words in 27 of those 30 movies. That’s the influence Jonas has had on me.
About becoming a moviediary filmmaker, I just remember this: In college, teachers asked us to do group work. I never did. I always asked to do it alone. Soon I was only able to film myself, my parents, the things around me.
Cecil de Fátima is a Syrian-Brazilian filmmaker, photographer, and visual artist, based in São Paulo. His new film "Ana da Ilha (Ana of the Island)" premieres Thursday, 11/4, at Spectacle.
Nick Ramsay is a filmmaker and co-founder of Film Diary NYC. His film "Flowers in Mud" will be screening Thursday, 11/11 at Film Noir Cinema.