World premiering in this year’s Rotterdam Tiger Competition, Paraguayan filmmaker Paz Encina’s fourth feature “Eami” is a mythological tale born of the Ayoreo Totobiegosode, an indigenous community from the country’s northern regions. Unique in its form, the film blends Encina’s documentarian strengths that have garnered her international recognition and her interest in a highly poetic narrative storytelling.
Produced by Silencio Cine and sold by MPM Premium, the story follows Eami, a child who embodies a bird-god and, in a trance, imagines herself wandering through the forest in constant contact with the cruel reality that surrounds her in the form of deforestation that is a very real, very tangible danger for the Ayoreo Totobiegosode.
The film features a bevy of co-producers including France’s Eaux Vives Productions, Arte France and MPM Film; Mexico’s Splendor Omnia, Barraca Producciones, Piano and Grupo LVT; Germany’s Black Forest; Argentina’s Gaman Cine; Netherlands’ Revolver Amsterdam and Fortuna Films; and Danny Glover and Joslyn Barnes’ Louverture Films and Sagax in the U.S.
Intertwined with the arresting images that Encina finds in the Ayoreos’ rich yet contracting forest surroundings is the poetry of Eami’s voiceover and comments by older Ayoreos about the pain of their forced exile from their homeland.
Encina interweaves past and future, gods and a child, pain and faith in a slow, dreamlike experience aimed at enchanting the viewer with its lyricism as it sheaths a sharp criticism of what the Ayoreo call “coñone,” which means in their language the insensitive and refers to white people.
Variety spoke with Encina on the occasion of her film’s Rotterdam premiere.
This film continues on a theme that is very present throughout your filmography, memory. A concept that emerges over and over in Latin American cinema as it handles a past that often feels lost and elusive. Could you comment about this?
I was born in Paraguay, in 1971, in the midst of a dictatorship. I was born in a family opposed to the establishment, which witnessed unfiltered what was happening. And at the same time I first learned to read music before I could read anything else, so my understanding of time was always less linear. I always felt many times could cohabit. So for me, the theme of memory is something which is structural, totally organic, and is part of my education. All my films deal with an issue of exile, of the diaspora, of loss. In a sense it is what I know, and therefore what I can talk about. It’s something I ask myself a lot, all the time. Why do I film and for whom do I film? What do I feel I have to do? What is my gaze and my place in the world of images that is ever more prolific?
Portraying an indigenous community is always hard labor, it requires work and patience as the foreign filmmaker can always fall into skewed portraits, either quick grab tourist photos or the old cliche of the wise savage. How was your experience when working with the Ayoreo community?
It was a hybrid process in a sense, because on the one hand I come from a country where I don’t have to go far to find an indigenous culture, because it is present in our daily lives. In my country, we have as an official language, the indigenous language. Guarani is part of us and we use it to say the most important things. So I was never far away. Of course we had a young community leader who would guide us and an intercultural translator. It was an amazing experience although immensely complex, especially difficult when addressing their different space time dimensions. Their language functions differently from ours, so their idea of time is different and that sank into the writing of the script. It was chaotic and eclectic for me but totally organic for them. It was a process we found together as we worked.
Structurally it gives the impression of a very loose film, yet it is made through several formal decisions such as long shots that always required the utmost precision when defining a cut. How was the process of finding the film in editing?
I had the immense luck of working with Jordana Berg, the editor of Eduardo Coutinho’s films. It was like an editing school, a dream come true. I was just blown away by her process and she helped me immensely as I had written the movie and, as often happens, you get to the editing room and it’s not that movie anymore. I had filmed faces and interviews that I thought would be central and could become the conductive thread, but it didn’t work so we had to re-write the film, quite literally. We did a lot of subtracting and re-shaping. But she made an immense spiritual contribution, being in the editing room with this woman that could see through what we had found while shooting and find the pearls. It felt like an inner journey that we walked together side by side. It was wonderful but stormy because often I felt very lost.
The text is such a vital part of the film and the language feels so rich. How was your experience when writing it? What did you learn from the Ayoreo’s language?
Early on I was surprised to see that there was barely any physical contact between parents and their kids, they never hugged, barely touched one another. Soon I realized it was because to them everything is given through words. It’s a deep relation with the world through orality, language lies at the core and it structures an entire relationship. They don’t use our verbal conventions regarding time. For example, speak all at the same time, unlike us who wait for the other to finish a sentence. It’s a different harmony altogether where the word is essential. So, the film could only follow that same logical structure where there is no future or past, it relies heavily on just their words. One of the most beautiful moments was when a woman told me: “For me this is love, what we are doing right now, the encounter with the word.”