This blog is part of the courses on film, art, literature, and media
given by Dr.
Hudson Moura, Toronto, Canada.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Space in Between - Marina Abramovic in Brazil: The Problem of Performing Spirituality

Critical Report by  Andrea Pestana 

            Screening Memory was a five week event put on by the Centre for Memory and Testimony Studies in unison with the Department of Politics and Public Administration. It explored the idea of memory paired with other themes and their depiction together on film. It was screened in a small, intimate full theatre on the third floor of the School of Image Arts building on Ryerson campus. 
             Dr. Hudson Moura began the event and introduced his colleague, and informed us of the regrettable fact that Dr. Dot Tuer, the discussant, would not able to attend due to sickness. Nevertheless, she had passed along some questions to keep in mind while watching the film: 1) Does the film assist the viewer in entering in and reflecting upon the cultural specificity of Brazilian spiritual practices through tracing Marina's performative journey, or inhibit our understanding? 2) Is Marina's journey about performance or healing? And 3) By focusing on Marina's experience, does the filmmaker evade the Othering of the ethnographic gaze? I found these thoughts to be extremely provoking both for this film and any film about spirituality. After this, the lights dimmed and the film began.

The Film
            The film entitled The Space in Between: Marina Abramovic in Brazil directed by Marco del Fiol starts out with a beautiful still shot of a cave. The colours and natural shapes are incredibly captivating, and the fact that the camera is entirely still really instills an emphasis on observation as the role of the audience, and arguably the intention of the filmmaker. From here the idea of performance and healing/ritual are introduced, a big theme throughout the film and something the director touched on later in the Q&A.
            The first chapter after the introduction focuses on John of God, a healer, and his practice which seemed to be based upon Catholic Christianity (I say this because there were many holy images, including many of Mary and Catholic prayers such as the Hail Mary), though it did not tie back to the Catholic Church in many other traditional ways. From there Marina and her crew visit a healer who uses alternative medicines made of vegetation and other things found in Brazilian forests, a woman who views her cooking as a spiritual experience, another healer who is over 100 years old, a clan who is very ritualistic in their healing process and uses hallucinogens to reach a higher state, and finally a site filled with large, natural crystals. In each of these places Marina tries to immerse herself as much as possible in the rituals and practices, though the film is often split up with very contrasting scenes of her and the crew doing things like grocery shopping and getting drunk, to editing film and photography, to a little travel tip about onions and garlic.
            The film closes with the same still shot of the cave and Marina going into it. Overall, the film was very beautiful, and though it might be a terribly strange thing to say, that is why I did not like it.

The Discussion
            The discussion with the director afterward was facilitated by a skype video call and was mediated by Dr. Hudson Moura and Dr. Colman Hogan.
            There were some questions about some filmmaking choices, but a lot of it centered around the capturing of the spirituality and its effectiveness. I was fortunate to be able to ask the director myself how much time was spent in each location, for I assumed it must not have been a lot due to budget and logistics (I assumed correctly), because I was skeptical of the idea that enough time was spent discussing and philosophising about each spiritual group. His response was that many people dedicate their lives to these, what he called, schools of mystery and never fully understand them fully. I understand his point, but I believe that it actually weakens the idea that due diligence was taken in understanding each group. How can one pretend that spending a few days with each spirituality even remotely equates to the knowledge and understanding one would have after spending years, or at least a month, immersed in it, regardless of how “open Marina was”. Another girl questioned the authenticity of the film if so much of it was based in performance. I did not think the mediator translated this question well, and so Del Fiol did not answer it. Nevertheless, I share in her skepticism. I felt that because all the shots were so beautiful and highly constructed, and that Marina was (especially at some points) so aware of the camera, that I did not believe her, her intentions, or the intentions of the filmmaker.
Professor Colman Hogan conducting the interview with director Marco Del Fiol

           Del Fiol did leave us with one thought that I thought was very provoking when he said “I think documentaries are about life, not reality.” It’s a very interesting statement, but I do not quite understand what that means practically, as nice as it sounds.

            And with that the event ended and the audience filed out.

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