João Vieira Torres
An enthusiast of performance art and multidisciplinary experimental cinema, João Vieira Torres has produced a collaborative, hybrid full-length feature film, Babado (2020). In this project supported by the Institut Français, the Brazilian film-maker looks at the queer community, while at the same time investigating the permeability of worlds and the concept of identity in face of artistic and societal stereotypes. A look back at his career, a mix of documentary creations and artistic films.
In your artistic practice, how do you combine cinema, photo and art?
It's true that I use cinema, but many things start from writing, photography and above all my personal history. My work seeks to make a space for writing, art, cinema and performance to come into contact with each other. I'm interested in the place where these borders cross. I advocate transdisciplinarity, or even indisciplinarity.
You grew up in Brazil, have lived in the United States and now reside in France. To what extent have these different cultures inspired your creations?
More than culture, what inspires me is travel and movement. I had to leave Brazil because I felt I was different from what society expected of me. This departure was like an exile and any exile implies a vital need, an instinct to survive. The fact that I left turned me into someone who goes against the world, who has to adapt, change perspective, exist and co-exist. In these circumstances, we have to transform ourselves, camouflage ourselves, take what we need from others, forget ourselves, then return to ourselves. My work reflects my journey; it is like a map. In my eyes, everything that is related to art (films, writing, sculpture, etc.) is the translation of pieces of the world, changes in perspective, situations, subjects that we want to talk about.
How did the Babado project come about, which you’re working on now and for which you had a residence in the Amazon for a few months?
Babado is a collective project I'm creating with the anthropologist José Miguel Olivar, the film director Camila Freitas and the producers Marina Meliande and Pedro Duarte. Starting from research by José Miguel Olivar – which he has been conducting for over a decade – we examined the continual night time excesses of a network of young gay and transgender people in a small town on the Brazilian coast, at the triple border of Brazil, Peru and Colombia, in the heart of the Amazon forest. It’s a project about the bodies that transit across and in spite of the blurred borders: sexual borders, national borders, borders between the world of the spirits and the world of the living.
Thanks to the Institut Français, we initiated a process of collective writing through workshops dedicated to narrating the participants’ personal experiences, weaving an authentic script to report on the “world within a world” that they inhabit. The residence in the Amazon also helped us immerse ourselves in the political context that has become more hostile than ever towards these people on the margins of society.
Through this film, you defend the queer LGBTQ+ community. Why was it important to highlight these minorities in this context?
Today, in Brazil, the LGBTQ+ population is increasingly the target of a conservative society and a government that wants to eradicate it. Brazil is one of the countries where, every year, the most homophobic crimes are committed in the world and where the life expectancy of a transsexual woman is 35. However, Brazil is a flourishing country, with a large LGBTQ+ community. This intolerance stems from the perpetuation of stereotypical images that depict these people as deviant and non-human. Promoting biased images of these communities contributes to their disappearance. So we made this film in order to combat this process of disappearance. Although Babado represents a crossroads where three types of marginalised existence meet – umbanda, the Afro-Brazilian religion, queer sexualities and prostitution – it is intended to immerse the viewer in the daily lives of this group of young people and involve the viewer in the continual reinvention of their own space for protection, healing, affection and resistance.
Where would you situate your work, between documentaries or artistic films?
I started to take an interest in art when I was a teenager: firstly through theatre, then painting. When I arrived in Paris, I took theoretical courses on photography at university, then I enrolled in the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs where I taught myself how to make videos. I made lots of films and performances before joining Le Fresnoy, a key centre for experimental cinema, where I practised more varied forms of narration. I continued my research with a PhD in “Document and contemporary art”, in which I examined the functions of art that go beyond simple aesthetics. I would say that art is also document, mapping, translation, and a way of making connections between different perspectives on the world, almost like a shamanic work.
Are you currently working on any other projects?
For some years, I've been working on a hybrid feature-length film, which I will begin shooting early next year. This is also about the dead coming back to the living, but also about the relationship to our ancestors, in a context of the patriarchal and colonial violence and religious excesses that we are currently experiencing in Brazil. The project arose from a dream I had about my grandmother, a midwife and healer in the Sertão. I became aware of the macho violence that has been perpetrated against the women in my family, through the generations, for nearly a century.
Having received a Custom Residency, João Vieira Torres stayed in Amazonia to work on his project Babado.
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