The Bijagós Adventure

Estreia_apres_2.jpgFor the last 18 months, Luis and I have been working on this Bijagós project round the clock, trying to shape the wealth of material and stories around the Bijagós. Luis did the first filming trip on his own and returned with fascinating material. We then did a second research and development trip last March to film characters and their stories.

We returned with enough material to translate for three months! Then we began to realise the diversity of potential stories and how one documentary will not be enough to tell it all. We also had to produce one episode to be part of the Gulbenkian cultural season Next Future in September. Patricia and Luis started pulling scenes with different characters, but when we looked at the rough cut, the power of the different moments seem to cancel each other. The main character was Banca, an old sculptor of spirits transmitting his knowledge to his son Carlos, while making his last sculpture. We had footage of the whole process – from selecting the tree to transforming a piece of wood into a sculpture to be the recipient of a spirit. But also many other moments linked to rituals and dances when performers communicate with spirits.

Anyway, after 5 weeks of editing we had to rethink the core of the film – and ask ourselves what really the film is about.

After many discussions it finally dawned on us that we had to re-structure the film around the fact that any woman in Bijagós society has the power to embody spirits, while only a few selected men can communicate with them through sculptures. In order to link that material together we needed a voice-over. We wanted a native storyteller for this, and managed to find a Bijagó woman with the right voice to read it. We did a first recording but on return to the editing room we realised that she had not stuck to the text and it no longer facilitated the transitions. We were a bit cross with our translator for not alerting us to that fact and wondered why. The reason was very Bijagó… she was older than him and therefore he could not correct her!

We had to do it all over again…


The deadline for the premiere in Lisbon got pushed by a few days, that was good news for us, and from an outdoor screening we had to shift to the Gulbenkian indoor cinema, which was bad news as the cinema is a 1200 seater and a very large screen. On the day we tested the film, at least the quality of projection was OK but the size of the cinema horrified us. It was a very wet Monday evening and both Luis and I were very nervous. We only had a chance to test the film on four people previously...

Anyway, to everyone's surprise, people came and somehow Gulbenkian run of tickets to sell, and before we knew it we were presenting the film to a full house. We took the liberty to run an improvised Q&A at the end. Many audience members were intrigued by the Bijagós and wanted to know a lot more…

It seems that we have an audience for our next episode!


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