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LOCARNO 2019 Competition

Maya Da-Rin • Director of The Fever

“Cinema has the propensity to exoticize indigenous peoples”


- Brazilian director Maya Da-Rin tells us about her debut feature, The Fever, selected in competition in Locarno

Maya Da-Rin • Director of The Fever

The Fever [+see also:
film review
interview: Maya Da-Rin
film profile
, the feature debut from Brazilian director Maya Da-Rin, precisely and evocatively depicts the condition of an indigenous community in Amazonia forced to emigrate to big urban centres. The director talks to us on the occasion of the film’s premiere in competition in Locarno.

Cineuropa: Is the story of The Fever inspired by real events?
Maya Da-Rin: The original idea came to me while shooting two documentary films in Amazonia where I met some indigenous families who had left their forest villages to live in the city. I wound up getting close to one of these families and our relation is what sparked the project. So, in a way, my starting point is based on true stories. But they interest me most of all because they were stories of people I might have met as I went about my daily activities. We are all aware of how cinema has the propensity to exoticize indigenous peoples and tends to see them through a romantic and positivistic prism, as remnants of that which western cultures were in the past and not as contemporary complex societies. But the project’s initial argument was much different from what it turned out to be. It took six years of work and innumerous trips to Manaus before we were able to begin shooting.

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What does the mysterious animal of the film represent?
I’m not sure, maybe something different to every spectator. But while developing the project, I wondered a lot about how I could film the animal. Justino is pursued by this invisible creature and I had to find a way to incarnate it. At a certain point, I understood that the animal would always be out of our field of view and I could only shoot the way its presence affected Justino. On the other hand, it was clear to me that I couldn’t reveal more than what the actual character knew about himself. And Justino is going through a very confusing moment in his life. His wife has died, his daughter is about to leave home and, suddenly, he sees himself having to face feelings that had lain dormant up until then. It was important that this kind of perturbation and feelings of emptiness be felt by spectators.

The atmosphere plays an important role in this sense, as it can often translate the character’s soul. The Fever is a nocturnal movie, shot with low lights and dense blackness. The choice of locations had an important role as well, with the deserted industrial cityscapes that haunt our leading character.

It is above all sound that creates the atmosphere of the film. What kind of work have you done on this aspect?
Sound is a very important element for me and I try to begin hearing the film as I write the screenplay. But it is usually while looking for locations that sonorous ideas begin to take shape. While doing sound research, sound director Felippe Mussel noticed the similarity between the forest’s high pitched insects and certain machinery used in the port area. We consequently became more attentive to ambience sounds and, while editing the sound, we endeavored to create compositions using the sounds coming from the port and forest up until the moment we were unable to identify their origin. They are repetitive sounds that lead to a hypnotic state of mind resulting in the film’s feverish dimension.

The film oscillates between reality and dream, city and forest, work among containers (carefully filmed in their geometries) and indigenous life. How did you work on these two sides?
I was interested in working with the relations of proximity and contrast between the different spaces in which Justino walks by. In the forest, for example, Justino can be seen always at the same level of the vegetation, surrounded and camouflaged by it. A place in which the distinction between figure and backdrop is very tenuous. But then, at the port, we have immense concrete patios filled with containers. Besides the difference in scale between people and machines, there is a clear and distinct separation between the figures and the backdrop, between the people and their environment. It is a naked space, bare, where Justino seems to be much more vulnerable.

On the other hand, the corridors between the piles of containers allude to the labyrinthine sensations we experience when walking through the forest. And Justino’s movements as he does his rounds as guard often make me think of those of a hunter prowling about in the forest. I strove to use these relations in the images, mise-en-scene and editing. Despite being subtle associations, they accumulate throughout the film and are important in constructing the character.

The project was developed in Turin at the 2015 Script Lab and the 2016 Feature Lab, and was awarded a TFL production grant of €50,000 through the TFL Co-Production Fund. How important was this step for the film?
As the project wound up participating in two workshops, TFL accompanied a good portion of its development. I am in great debt to Matthieu Darras, artistic director at the time and Anita Voorham, story editor, for their innumerous contributions, as wells as all the other filmmakers participating in the workshop. I think that one of the best things about TFL is how they keep abreast of the evolution of the projects over long periods of time through collective immersion periods with lots of exchange, offset by other periods in which we get back and concentrate on our individual work. This kind of alternation creates a very fertile and stimulating work dynamic. The award we received was also fundamental to supplementing our resources for the project and be able to finalize the film.

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