INTERVIEW – SWEAT
You are an artist and an architect. What guided you through this exploration of the Mississippi Delta, in Louisiana, for Sweat?
It was by chance, ten years ago, that I came to Louisiana for the first time. At that time, I was studying architecture and landscape. The encounter was striking and intense, I’ve kept strong connections there, returning regularly for long periods. After the first stay, I got interested in the eminently political history of this geography: the Delta’s forms and material retrace the history of its successive domination, all development initiatives meet the same logic, making the river sedentary in order to make its exploitation easier. Two years ago, I suggested to some friends of mine that we make a film together. Over three distinct periods, the shooting turned out to be four months of constant complicity with the sites, guided by all participants while remaining attached, so to speak, to my initial research and narration hypotheses I had in mind for the film’s direction.
The first part of this film follows one mysterious, century old cartographer chanting figures. What does this character represent?
This first character draws inspiration from Guillaume de l’Isle, a cartographer for the king of France, among the first to accurately draw a map of the Mississippi Delta in 1718. I envisioned him, since the project’s genesis, like a figure moving across centuries: his persistence, from the beginning of the eighteenth century until today, draws a line of causality since the premises of colonization up to the capitalist infrastructures in charge of the Delta. Both spatial and temporal, his crossing reaches an end in the face of the large spillway opened at the time of the historical 2019 Mississippi floods: it’s there, side by side with tourists, it’s a shock in front of the petrol and chemical view, a shock in the shape of a dead end. Then the film ends up following different directions.
Cartography takes on much significance here all through Sweat’s different maps. How did you conceive its relationship to the land?
All through my research on the history of Mississippi Delta cartography, I noticed that every technique had to negotiate, in its own way, with the impossibility of tracing a clear line of demarcation between water and soil in this geography in motion. Dotted lines, blurred thickness, approximations. Within such liminal space, the land resists all willingness to gain control and the maps end up being quite uncertain. What this film does is dive into this fluctuating, uncertain but also insubordinate, part of the land.
We’re going to run into different people living by the Delta. Who are they and how did you choose them?
It was ten years ago that I met the people guiding us through this film. What they have in common is to cultivate a unique relationship to the spaces we filmed, especially water. The film’s final sequence, for instance, is shot on the Telltales Sailing Collective’s boat, a queer group in New Orleans shaped around independent, horizontal and inclusive practice of navigation.
As the film follows its course, the main actors blend in with the landscape as it turns into the central character: we only hear bits of the stories. What is the structure of Sweat?
In his Faulkner, Mississippi, Édouard Glissant underlines the difference between an exposed landscape – a painter’s motif – and William Faulkner’s novelistic landscapes, both diffuse in the text and strongly tied to beings. But if the film sometimes subscribes to the former, at least in its introduction, it slips into and towards the latter in a movement of dissolution: the image dissolves into the night, the frames into motion, distance into intimacy, figures towards other narrations, from the lonely cartographer towards a common and unstable material with bodies intertwining among themselves and with their surroundings. Our work with sound around the emerging voices, the atmosphere’s fluidity and Méryll Ampe’s music is all part of the film’s escape towards this landscape’s obscure thickness.
Interviewed by Olivier Pierre