By Jessica McGoff

A river runs through Ana Vaz’s latest work in the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s Ammodo Tiger Short Competition. Apiyemiyekî? was commissioned as part of a project designed to act as a space of reflection on the Brazilian military dictatorship that spanned 1964-1985. Vaz’s previous work has been interested in the process of excavation, uncovering a collective memory and engaging with the ghosts of colonialism. Apiyemiyekî begins with a similar task. The short opens with several sustained shots of traveling on a road, calling attention to the construction of highways between Brasilia and Amazonas.

At the end of this road, Vaz puts us in contact with an extraordinary archive from Brazilian educator and indigenous rights activist, Egydio Schwade. His archive is comprised of over 3000 drawings collected during a literacy project with the Waimiri-Atroari, a people native to the Brazilian Amazon. The drawings started as a form of knowledge exchange, a way for the participants of the project to document and educate on local flora and fauna. The drawings soon took on another purpose, building an iconography of the “civilized man”. The first of these drawings that Vaz reveals to us depicts a knife.

The archive functions as graphic evidence of colonial violence. Vaz’s method of filming these documents is arresting – the drawings appear scanned and superimposed onto other images as if they have sprung from the page. This technique is used most effectively over the many shots of the river that runs through Amazonas, and we see the drawn figures navigate the river in constructed rafts. The drawings intervene in the landscape of the present. This landscape is one of juxtaposition – Vaz contrasts the river directly with the road. Whilst the highway took us to these drawings, the project of its construction led to much of the violence depicted in them. The road is a physical extension of colonizers’ invasion of the landscape, and we hear the buzz of the road throughout the film like an unwelcome aural apparition.

Vaz’s process of excavation is one led by investigation and interrogation. The short takes on a foreboding and ominous tone, Vaz does not allow the revelation of this archive to be a straightforwardly celebratory discovery, rather, a call for interrogation. Analysis of the violence captured in these drawings is essential, acting as a tool for resisting nostalgia for the dictatorship era. The primary instinct behind these drawings was not one of documentation without query. The Waimiri-Atroari people captured events that seemed to have no reason, drawing the colonizers as a way to investigate their actions, perhaps to find a reasonable cause or motive for the unreasonable violence. Apiyemiyekî translates as “why?”. By excavating this archive, and breathing life into this collective memory, Vaz brings the past into this present, using it to interrogate and unsettle the paved structures of history. As the image of the river returns like a vengeful presence onto the road, this collective memory demonstrates the existence of a fluid and fluctuating understanding of history – one that reckons with the question, “why?”.

Ammodo Tiger Short Competition
Director: Ana Vaz