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Island (Ilha, 2018), Ary Rosa & Glenda Nicácio

Originally published as part of a weekly quarantine column at Cinema Tropical in June 2020.

The production company Rosza Filmes has made their feature films available for free on their YouTube channel until July 2. Created by filmmakers Ary Rosa and Glenda Nicácio in 2011, in the city of São Félix, Bahia, Rosza Filmes has produced three very interesting and remarkably singular feature films since 2017, which are all worth watching: Coffee with Cinnamon (Café com Canela, 2017)—which played in Visions of Resistance earlier this year, a program curated by Ela Bittencourt at the Museum of the Moving Image, in New York—the just-premiered To the End (Até o Fim, 2020), and my personal favorite, Island (Ilha, 2018), which had its U.S. premiere at Veredas: A Generation of Brazilian Filmmakers (and, while we’re at it, check out this brief interview Leonard Cortana did with Nicácio for Cinema Tropical at the time). All the films have been co-directed by Rosa and Nicácio, and are available on nice 1080p copies with English subtitles (two of them are also available with Spanish subtitles). 

Rosza Filmes is a great example of how Brazilian cinema has been deeply transformed by circumstances created by a well-planned set of public policies that are now in jeopardy under the Bolsonaro administration. Born in different cities in the state of Minas Gerais, Ary Rosa and Glenda Nicácio met at the undergraduate program of Cinema and Audiovisual at the Federal University of the Recôncavo of Bahia (UFRB). Founded in 2005 and located in the city of Cachoeira, Bahia, the program was part of the expansion of the grid of public and completely free universities promoted by the Lula and Roussef administrations between 2002 and 2014. I had the opportunity to visit UFRB for a screening of Paula Gaitán’s The Volcano Exiles (Exilados do Vulcão, 2013) as part of the great festival Panorama Internacional Coisa de Cinema, and it was one of the most memorable festival experiences I have ever had. The film screened at a beautiful auditorium at the university at night and the vibrancy and solidity of the cinematic culture they have created in a relatively short period of time could be felt in the air. 

Rosa and Nicácio’s films very much reflect the immersion in a critical and collaborative environment that great educational programs are able to foster. Their films have a remarkable range in tone – embracing everything from popular comedy to self-reflexive essayism – and their mise-en-scène is shaped by a creative flexibility that becomes even more refreshing in a context where visual rigor often borders asepticism. While Brazilian cinema has generated a large number of interesting filmmakers in the past two decades, few have created a body of work as original as Rosa and Nicácio: their films open new possibilities without neglecting the history that paves the way to the future.

What is especially powerful about Island is that this phenomenological eclecticism works in tandem with an acute critique of the cloudy relations between the politics of cinema and affirmative action in Brazil. Assembled as a provocative mise-en-abyme that recalls Robert Frank’s Me and My Brother (1969), Walter Lima Jr.’s The Lyre of Delight (A Lira do Delírio, 1978), and William Greaves’ Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968), the film explores the ties between affects and responsibilities without ever feeling judgmental, and delves into an intricate web of causes and consequences with a tactile intelligence that constantly reaffirms that the brain is also made of flesh.

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