Olhe Bem (Look Closely): The Cinema of Ana Vaz
Tue 12 Nov 2019, 20:00
BOZAR, Brussels
  • In the presence of Ana Vaz

Ana Vaz examines history and territory in her native Brazil calling attention to the interdependent relationships between colonialism, modernism and the Anthropocene. Her work consisting of filmmaking and performance is a reaction to the human exploitation and swallowing up of land and peoples that have been foundational to the existence of the country through a profusion of portraits of territories, animals, and people. Using speculative and intuitive models, Vaz attempts to bring in perspectives that have been absent from history, learning from the struggles of rural workers and landless laborers in Brazil. (Kadist)

Olhe bem as montanhas
Look Closely at the Mountains

“‘Look closely at the mountains!’: the phrase was coined by artist Manfredo de Souzanetto during Brazil’s years of dictatorship. Mining activities were destroying the environment in the state of Minas Gerais in the south west of the country. Through editing, Ana Vaz draws parallels between this region and the very distant Nord-Pas-de-Calais in northern France, also marked by over three centuries of mining. On one side, eroded mountains plague its inhabitants with deadly landslides. Hollow and gutted, these mountains become the receptacles of a ghostly memory. On the other side, in France, mining waste stacks become mountains and reservoirs of biodiversity, where the frontier between nature and technology is now indiscernible. The filmmaker surprises us with each shot. Poetry takes precedence over any activist or environmental discourse — as in the sequence showing scientists measuring bats in the moonlight. Here, ‘look closely’ steers the film towards details, towards visual and sound elements. Yet, these are never disconnected from the political: a shot of the sky taken from the bottom of a ravine is enough to conjure up the ghosts of eradicated indigenous peoples, whose cave nonetheless paintings continue.

Charlotte Garson, Cinéma du Réel


Atomic Garden

Fields of newborn flowers, small gatherings of surviving bees, resistant plant species and new types of eggs lay upon our shore, engaging us to dig and search for the meaning of such unexpected life...


“We could say that a firework is not different from a tree, or from a big artificial flower that grows, develops, flowers and dies in a few seconds. Withered, finally, it soon disappears in unrecognizable fragments. Well, let’s take this firework and make it last for a month, and we will have a flower with all the characteristics of other flowers. Or so, inverting the order of factors, may we imagine that the seed of a plant can explode like a bomb.”

Bruno Munari

Ha terra!
There Is Land!

Há terra! is an encounter, a hunt, a diachronic tale of looking and becoming. As in a game, as in a chase, the film errs between character and land, land and character, predator and prey.


“Há Terra! (There Is Land!), 2016 is a short film that returns to the young protagonist Ivonete dos Santos Moraes, who first appeared Vaz’s earlier film A Idade da Pedra (The Age of Stone), a voyage that leads the audience into the far west of Brazil to encounter a petrified monument of modernist Brasilia in the middle of nowhere. The film Há Terra! picks up on the journey again, but this time Vaz builds a narrative concerned directly with Ivonete, who hails from the region of Quilombos, what was once settlements of runaway slaves and has joined the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil’s Sertão. Sertão means ‘backcountry’ or ‘backlands,’ and when the Portuguese colonized Brazil, they clung to the coast rather than penetrating the vast and unknown interior. It was due to a mixture of fear and disdain that they stayed coastal, an attitude that still forms part of the Brazilian perspective. When outsiders look at the Sertão, they generally see a unique ecosystem and culture, but when many Brazilians look, they see poverty, drought and everything they are trying to escape. Viewed as somewhere to flee from, not return to in the case of Ivonete. For the first eight minutes of the film, Ivonete has the total control of the camera and microphone. Darting camera movements appear to chase her through the high grass of the hinterland, as if in a game of cat and mouse. Ana Vaz intends to destabilize the power dynamic in ethnographic filmmaking, subverting the filmmaker’s gaze and relationship to the ‘other’ by situating within the film the narrative and perspective of the territory. As a result, the chase or the hunt seems to represent untameable violence acted upon the land. Meanwhile the recurring sound loop of a man shouting ‘há terra!’ (‘there is land’) conjures up the assertion that there is no reason for the landless. As a result, the film oscillates from multiple tension points, between the encounter and the chase, between the land and the landless.”


A idade da pedra
The Age of Stone

A voyage into the far west of Brazil leads us to a monumental structure - petrified at the centre of the savannah. Inspired by the epic construction of the city of Brasília, the film uses this history to imagine it otherwise. Through the geological traces that lead us to this monument, the film unearths a history of exploration, prophecy and myth.


A Idade da Pedra is a journey to the past and to the future. And in the same time, we are in front of a reinterpretation of the landscape and history. The artist Ana Vaz rethinks the birth of the city of Brasilia showing the Brazilian central plateau, a huge and arid territory known as sertão. We observe its geological foundations, the light of the sunrise, the shadows and color specters on the stone. We also observe an unexpected apparition. Something inexplicable and definitive. The artist makes use of the history to imagine it in another way and enlighten a story of exploration, prophecy and myth. The territory is scanned with the camera: its spaces, presences, living beings. In that moment is when the architecture becomes present in the landscape, when the time disappears, when the History is rewritten in the screen. As spectators, we don’t know if everything is happening from the distant future or from the primitive past. A Idade da Pedra is a hypothesis. An artefact that puts the ideals and believes of the Modernism in doubt.”



“Ana Vaz’s A Idade da Pedra departs from a vision so steady that only the sound of singing birds attests the passing of time. It consists of the image of the sun rising in a prairie, its light gradually dissipating the shadows of dawn and slowly bathing all that the eyes can see in a rich spectrum of colours. The film takes place in the central plateau of Brazil, the sertão, an arid and vast plain dotted with scrub. Its Portuguese meaning is untranslatable, not only because the sertão stands for an endemic landscape that is a space as physical as mental, but also because the term sertão sounds as ser-tão [be-much], containing in itself all the superlative possibilities of being: ser-tão, to be much, to exceed the inherent ontology of the self. The naturecultural characteristics of this territory are scanned in a profusion of detailed and intense portraits of spaces, animals and people that reveal Vaz’s unique exploratory gaze. This landscape and its dwellers are the set for the artist to rethink the birth of the city of Brasília and its geological foundations, opening itself to a journey that becomes an intense moment of discovery of a hypothetical future as well as an occasion to reflect about the ideals and beliefs of modernism.”

Filipa Ramos1


  • 1. Filipa Ramos, “Extended Programme Notes For The Screening Programme: A Idade da Pedra (Ana Vaz, 2013) / La Région Centrale (Michael Snow, 1971), Birkbeck Cinema, 14 November 2015,” (Originally published in Lux, 16 November, 2015).