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Janaína Nagata

Janaína Nagata
Janaína Nagata, brazilian film director, buys a 16mm film reel on the internet without knowing its contents: she discovers an Afrikaner family film shot in South Africa in the 1960s. These seemingly innocent images of wild animals, meals, and free time serve as the basis for a masterful enterprise in decolonial deconstruction. An absorbing “desktop documentary”, Private Footage, the director’s first film, goes back to the hints left behind in these images to unveil their underlying meaning. Over the course of a meticulous inquiry entirely led over the web, the whole history of the Apartheid is unwound from a simple amateur film reel.(Claire Lasolle)

Interview with Janaína Nagata

Private Footage is developed from the material of an amateur film in 16 mm that you acquired on the internet. How did the film come about? What was your initial approach in acquiring this film?

I came across this amateur film quite by accident in 2018 while I was actually looking for a reel to fix an old 16mm film projector. I bought an item on the internet, coming from Rio de Janeiro, which was advertised as « Reel + Private footage». I graduated in Fine Arts and the idea of trying manual intervention in motion picture films was a long-held ambition, though I had never planned to make a movie, let alone a feature film. When I first watched the 16mm film that came with the reel, I got overwhelmed. It seemed like a home movie, a register of a white family travelling around Africa, apparently innocent. But the images were really disturbing. There was something uncanny in the way it was shot. It suggested a violent gaze, most often implicit but sometimes slightly explicit – particularly in the way Black people were represented.
On the one hand, the film seemed distant from my own context. On the other hand, it seemed familiar, as it reminded me of the reality of my own country, at least in certain points. For many reasons, but mainly because of the strange nature of the footage itself, I soon realised I’d rather abandon my initial purpose of manual intervention on the film to find another approach. By that time, I didn’t know anything about this Private Footage except for what I could deduce from my own impressions, based on intuition. But where was it exactly shot? And when? Who was that family? They seemed to be rich and powerful, but who were they really? How did that film end up in Brazil before reaching my hands?
I got obsessed and I started to research it on the internet: it was naturally my first approach to the material, because of the distance and the facilities of the virtuality. First, I analysed it frame by frame in search of any signs which could situate the images on time and space. Then the research led me to other places and discoveries. In the middle of this process, I realised that something, in this very movement of researching on the internet, interested me. In a way, it was possible to create a narrative just with what I found. Indeed, what at first seemed an ordinary amateur home movie turned out to be a document with historical personalities of South Africa – personalities directly related to the system of institutionalised racial oppression of Apartheid. But it was also possible to re-signify the implicitly violent images presented in this amateur film by contrasting it with a heterogeneous archive found online. So, I decided to convert this procedure of virtual investigation into part of the film itself.

You analyse the content of the film on the basis of research carried out on the internet. Does the film faithfully reflect your research? How did you think about the writing?

The research performed on Private Footage at once reflects and does not reflect my own findings during the development of the project. The process of researching on the internet was carried out over a long period of time, and was followed by an intense historical investigation that is not presented in the film. The desktop’s long take performed on Private Footage is an illusion guaranteed by the editing process and it is guided by the narrative script created by Clara Bastos and me. It was conceived to conduct the attention of the spectator, to drive him or her to focus on certain details of the images. At the same time, this long sequence works alongside with a dispersive structure created to produce simultaneity, with the bipartite screen which entails contrast and comparison, geared to reframe the found footage itself. But even after obsessive research, there is much unresolved mystery and gaps we could not fill. It was our concern to interpose certain barriers between the spectator and the film: the noisy soundtrack, Google voice, trash advertisement, translation problems, slow movements.
The script was conceived both to explore the potentiality of re-signification and to expose the limits of the supposedly available content of the virtual world. By performing research in the first person without using my own voice, I intended to create an atmosphere of remoteness and proximity, virtuality and materiality. It was a way of exploring the possibilities of comparison and of careful scrutiny and also to reveal the limits of these same procedures. Afterall, the research retains something of a distant regard, of a foreign gaze that constantly attempts to reach a more profound layer of the images without surpassing the superficiality of the virtual world. I used Google voice instead of my personal voice in order to set these limits out: this mechanical voice reading historical information could be read as cynical, although in my opinion it is no less than an equalising tool which yields an uneasy feeling of hollowness – at least to a Portuguese speaker.

How did you work on the soundtrack? What was at stake for you?

The soundtrack is probably the most pronounced intervention in the whole film. In order to create a kind of pact with the spectator, I tried to announce all of my own gestures and actions beforehand, as I actually do when I remark that it is an added soundtrack. It was an experimental improvisation by Mariana Carvalho, created on the basis of a real-time screening of the 16mm found footage. It is worth mentioning it was recorded at the beginning of the process, when the film was supposed to be a short-film.
The idea was to create an uncanny atmosphere for the spectator watching the amateur film for the first time – something indicating that the images are not exactly innocent. It was a way of producing a disturbing or annoying experience, I didn’t want the spectator to get comfortable in the narrative. When we recorded the improvisation, I was pretty much into the films of Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, specially From the Pole to the Equator, a film which presents a footage showing « exotic » people (from the perspective of a colonial officer) overlapped with an unsettling and nauseous soundtrack. This was an interesting effect, and I preferred it rather than the cliché piano song that usually follows archive films. Besides that, as Private Footage is mostly developed in a virtual environment, it has many moments of mute silence, which is not fulfilled with background noise. I was aware of that, and still I wanted the moments of silence to be significant, and not only the absence of sound. In the second part of the film, the soundtrack also works to stress the movements of the « narrator » (a kind of fictitious character I created) who is conducting the desktop research.

Interview by Claire Lasolle

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Technical sheet

Brazil / 2022 / Colour / 91’

Original version : portuguese, english
Subtitles : english
Script : Janaína Nagata, Clara Bastos
Photography : Bruno Risas
Editing : Clara Bastos
Music : Mariana Carvalho
Sound : Gustavo Veluttini
Production : Julia Alves (Sancho&Punta), André Manfrim (Filmes de Taipa).