Vídeo nas Aldeias: Frontiers

Curator's Note

Vídeo nas Aldeias ("Video in the Villages", "VNA") is a school of indigenous filmmakers in Brazil. I say "of" and not "for indigenous filmmakers", because it is a school as in "a group of people sharing the same or similar ideas, methods, or style" (O.E.D.). As an instructor of video, and editor in this school, I have learned a lot from it. One of the most interesting aspects of the group of indigenous filmmakers and other dedicated people that constitute the VNA School is that many of the works coming out of it are frontier productions. The filmmakers, such as Zezinho Yube, Takumã Kuikuro, Paturi Panará, Divino Tserewahu , both them and their works, stand in between worlds.


These Vídeo nas Aldeias filmmakers (and this means doing workshops inside the project, and feeling part of the collective that it is) come from many different backgrounds and indigenous communities. They are Kuikuro, Panará, Ikpeng, Xavante, Ashaninka, Hunikui, Mbya-Guarani, among others. If the project initially began when video-pioneer and indigenist Vincent Carelli put his camera and his effort at the disposal of indigenous communities, later it progressed into a formation center, in which indigenous peoples started using the camera, editing and making their own films. All these indigenous video-makers, working mostly with DV and HDV now, share the same striking characteristic of handling a medium that is seen as coming from the "white people's world", but at the same time being intensely connected with the cultural/economic/daily dynamics of their own communities. This is what I mean by frontier. In my view, what is mostly happening in Brazil is that these filmmakers are not coalescing these two sides of their existence, but are rather being able to shift between them, generating an internal, subjective dialogue. And this does not come without a great deal of anxiety, both for many of them, as debates about it spring in their communities, but also from audiences in the "national society" (the non-Indian world), who often cannot understand why and how an Indian may be holding a camera. This particular reaction has a long history in Brazil, it's the famous "oh, but they’re wearing clothes" effect. The critique of this essentialist, unmistakably violent, and a-historical gaze is one of the many themes that the Vídeo nas Aldeias indigenous filmmakers struggle to incorporate somehow in their works.


The expectation that indigenous peoples may inhabit a fixed identity in Brazil has recently seen a new moment, and indigenous communities are on frontiers in more than one sense.


An intense land conflict in the extreme north of Brazil, at the Raposa Serra do Sol (“Fox/Sun Hills”) reserve occupied center-stage in Brazilian media over the last several months and ended up in a strange resolution. The area borders Venezuela and the English Guiana, and I have been there myself two years ago giving a workshop with a fellow VNA member. The Macuxi, Patamona, Wapixana and Taurepang Indians in the region were constructed in the media as a risk for National Security, as their allegiances were supposedly not clear: “they are controlled by gringos intent on the internationalization of the Amazon”, people will say. As non-indian rice-planters agro-businessmen refused to leave the demarcated territory, the matter climbed up to the Supreme Court. In the end, the Indians kept their land, but they are not allowed to explore it in any way, only the surface belonging to them, the army and any other agency of the State may go in at any time, and furthermore, no other demarcated indigenous territory in Brazil may come into revision from now on.


I mention this in a discussion about Indigenous Media not only because it is timely and has recently affected the lives of every indigenous community in Brazil, but because this image of the untrustworthy frontier Indians, living on the borders with other nations, with other interests, or living on the borders with other technologies than those seen as their own are the same subjects that now find ways to respond, to answer back, and begin to unravel the stereotyped image drawn by colonialism and genocide.


1. Beginning of "Handling the Camera"
by Takumã Kuikuro et al
Part of the "Indigenous Filmmakers: Kuikuro" DVD

2. Excerpt from "Mokoi Tekoá, Petei Jeguatá"
(Two Villages, One Path)
by Ariel Ortega et al

3. A typical moment in Brazilian mainstream media, with the "much land for few indians" trope (Concerning the demarcation of Raposa Serra do Sol).

SECOND CLIP: "For our Grand-Children"
A "making of" of the Panará work with Video.
by Vincent Carelli and Mari Correa.
Part of the "Indigenous Filmmakers: Panará" DVD

Both posted at the Vídeo nas Aldeias Youtube channel, where people can find other works as well. I've added to the channel "Kuikuro present themselves" in its entirety. It's also part of the Kuikuro DVD and it's by Takumã Kuikuro and the Kuikuro Cinema Collective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4r6atkWylk


Vídeo nas Aldeias has a bilingual (new!) website:

And because it has been recently showcased by the Smithsonian Institute, there are also many resources at www.nativenetworks.si.edu

(I thank Carlos Henrique Romão de Siqueira for fruitful conversations leading up to this post.)


Thanks Ernesto for such a clear overview of the fantastic work of Video nas Aldeias -- a group that rivals Igloolik Isuma (first post this week) for its longevity, creativity, and rootedness in local concerns and aesthetics as the works of  Zezinho Yube, Takumã Kuikuro, Paturi Panará, Divino Tserewahu demonstrate.

Thanks as well for reminding us what the stakes are for these folks, as well as for all the media work discussed this week.

Anchoring us in the recent dispute and troubling outcome concerning  the Raposa Serra do Sol reserve in the north reminds us that media representations for indigenous media makers are on a continuum with struggles for political representation and recognition, and part of what makes this work so compelling both on and off -screen.





Faye Ginsburg Director, Center for Media, Culture & History, NYU

Thank you, Ernesto! What a terrific group of clips. And my favorite quote is from For the Grandchidren:


"White men make movies about their cultures. They tell stories of war and parties. And then I thought, we also have stories to make movies about. Movies remain forever for us to watch them. The old ones only had their voice to tell their stories."


I am sorry that you removed the first clip you had earlier posted, the Kuikuro introducing themselves, since even in Portuguese it was fascinating to see the way that the biculturality of the Kuikuro was presented--the trip to the grocery store, the landing of the airplane in the village and return to village life. It was reminiscent of Turner's "The Kayapo" showing the contrast between "doing business in the city" (in Western clothing) and "at home in the village" (in traditional dress), and the tension/shifting between the two modes of self-presentation. The uneasy, but productive, integration of the two cultural worlds is clearly what fascinates my students when they have watched VNA films on IsumaTV, and the Kuikuro clips spotlights that the most clearly--it's interesting that this integration is also what they deem worthy of filming.


I've also been intrigued by the clear vision of these villagers as they've negotiated the value of controlling the camera (and the projector) to turn their gaze not only upon themselves (and neighboring tribes) but also, as you remark, to critique the colonial gaze of earlier cameras and those behind them. Watching them watch films, projected on a sheet, from earlier in the century made by explorers or anthropologists, was fascinating and troubling and aroused all kinds of emotions as I wanted to hear their critiques and comments.


Also troubling, of course, was the very recent mainstream news clip of the hearing about the Raposa Serra do Sol reserve with the white legislator voicing the dominant ideology about why people who travel on foot would need hundreds of miles of land between villages.


In this week's international news comes word of severe flooding in Brazil affecting hundred of thousands of Amazonian residents. I hope that all of you at VNA and in your communities are safe.


Hi Pam, thank you for your comments. Since you mention it, I've posted a link up there for "Kuikuro Introduce Themselves" again, by Takumã Kuikuro et al, but now with english subtitles (had some troubles with that). I'll copy the link here as well: www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4r6atkWylk. It is a remarkable work, I particularly love the opening shot in the supermarket. And as Faye has pointed out recently, there is in fact a strong turn to revisiting archive material as a source for retelling this colonial past.

I wanted to include the situation in Raposa Serra do Sol here because it is a hallmark in the history of indigenous rights in Brazil, as it is re-shaping (for the worst, I fear) indigenous sovereignty. It is a violent instance of contemporary internal colonialism.


Thank you Ernesto for your post and the connection you established between the image the national society has of Brazilian Indians and the one the indigenous filmmakers are rebuilding themselves. The indigenous stereotype of strange people capable of unexpected behaviors and reactions, and at the same time with ingenuous minds  that can fooled by anyone, is widely shared, including of course, politicians and the head of the Supreme Court. Have the army officers and politicians, that are accusing the Indians living at border of Brazil of being potential betrayers of  the nation, forgotten that it was them that helped the army to demarcated the national territory? Every time the indigenous people react with force to any  injustice, a white guy has to be found guilty. “They could not have had this initiative by themselves”. So the question of rebuilding the image of indigenous people is a key question with deep implications in political issues.

Great post, Ernesto, and wonderful work that deserves to be shared.  

I really enjoyed the clips, and think that the frontier parallax, to paraphrase Faye and Thierry Saignes, is a great way to problematize and illuminate any facile understandings of the nature of this kind of cultural work, which puts at play so many of the core assumptions and preconditions for the indigenous slot.  


Thank you, Ernesto, for the amazing clips and great post!  Thanks, too, to all posters for the wonderful follow up discussion.  I appreciate that you included information about Raposa Serra do Sol its implications of what you call "contemporary internal colonialism." 

What I found really fascinating about the first part of the first clip is how the speaker/storyteller engages what Gerald Vizenor and Jeanne Rosier Smith term the "trickster aesthetic" by invoking female sexual agency, the "cuckolded" polygamous husband, and by teasing the filmmaker with his reference to the Alligator trickster figure.  By referencing the trickster figure, the filmmakers and speaking subjects seem to point to the ways we, as spectators, are also being tricked or teased through our potential misapprehension of the films, the way the storytelling act is staged (as seen in the clip with stage directions and the camera itself), etc.

 Thank you, Ernesto, for these wonderful clips and your thoughtful post. For me, the language of "frontier" and "borderlands" is a powerful one for re-conceptualizing indigenous media in ways that balance negotiation and fluidity with limits and boundaries. I wonder, too, how this language could be extended more broadly into conceptualizing the relationships between art and society in settler postcolonialism, since, for me, it captures something about the tensions of what Audra Simpson has referred to as the problem of indigenous peoples being enframed by the state. 


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