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Dominique Santana • Regista di A colônia luxemburguesa

"Alla ricerca delle mie radici brasiliane, mi sono imbattuta in questa curiosa storia secolare di migrazioni forgiata dall'acciaio"


- Con il suo nuovo progetto, la lussemburghese ci ricorda che confrontarsi con la Storia responsabilizza le persone ed è necessario per creare un futuro migliore

Dominique Santana • Regista di A colônia luxemburguesa

Questo articolo è disponibile in inglese.

Revealed to the general public during festivities on the occasion of Esch 2022 – European Capital of Culture and during the Luxembourg City Film Festival, the unusual transmedia initiative A colônia luxemburguesa allowed historian Dominique Santana to speak of the unknown past of Monlevade, a small former colony of the Grand Duchy located in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais (read our review). Her approach, composed of several parts and of various formats, provides viewers and other curious folk with an unprecedented opportunity to compare tales forged over time and contrast the descendants of the founders of this surprising place. This process has given rise to a documentary which is available online and which sees internet users somehow becoming editors themselves, depending on their own interests: the interviews filmed by Santana and her team on location are accessible in piecemeal form, arranged according to theme and not necessarily chronologically. The historian has availed herself of extracts from newsreels shot at the beginning of the last century. She has also leafed through dozens of family archive collections and offers up a fascinating journey introducing us to the Ensch, Moyen, Demuth, Scharlé, Forster, Hayum, Hein and Bian families, to name just a few.

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Cineuropa: You describe A colônia luxemburguesa as "an interactive voyage of discovery". What do you mean by that?
Dominique Santana: The transmedia documentary A Colônia Luxemburguesa highlights the multivocal and multiperspective nature of history. The audience sets off into this transmedia universe, a voyage of discovery through various interconnected digital ( and physical (kiosques [L]aço) platforms. As they navigate the 7 chapters of the interactive documentary on, we slowly unveil the different sides of this fascinating story of migration. The film’s interactive structure, which is built around questions, invites us to question and investigate often divergent stories which paint a curious picture of this Luxembourg colony on the red soil of Brazil. The film is directly linked to an interactive map and a multimedia table of characters. It’s a co-creative process of constructing a shared heritage which is constantly evolving. People can also take part by sharing their testimonies online or in the [L]aço kiosques in Luxembourg and Brazil.

Why and when did you become interested in the town of João Monlevade? 
While retracing my own Brazilian roots, I stumbled across this curious century-old story about migrations brought about by steel. My first trip to João Monlevade in November 2016 really left a mark on me. Very few Luxembourg people stayed in João Monlevade, but it’s crazy how keenly you can feel their presence in the town’s urban space and in the local people’s living memory… This incredible discovery of a miniature, tropical Luxembourg, an enclave built in the tropical rainforest on the immense red land of Minas Gerais intrigued me to such an extent that I spent four years researching this transmedia project, which tells one hundred years of intersecting stories between Luxembourg and Brazil. (Today, João Monlevade is an industrial town with roughly 86,000 inhabitants, but without any cinemas. Santana’s chosen format will mean that these inhabitants can discover their history but also take part in it.)

Of the many testimonies you gathered on location, you draw a parallel between the characters of Louis Ensch and Jean de Monlevade. What is it that fascinates you about these two historical figures, and why?
These two European industrialists, two settlers buried side by side in the slave cemetery, are celebrated today as the great pioneers and forefathers of João Monlevade. Despite being born one century apart, their trajectories are strikingly similar. Jean de Monlevade moved to the region at the beginning of the 19th century, married a Brazilian woman and exploited the iron ore deposits with a hundred or so slaves under his command. Roughly one hundred years later, Louis Ensch moved there with various other European industrialists, married a Brazilian woman and transformed the former Fazenda into an industrial town which was wholly under his control, with the descendants of those slaves now transformed into workers… The omnipresence of the town’s colonial heritage is built around the legendary figures of these two settlers: Jean de Monlevade and Louis Ensch.

Tell us about your experience of filming in Brazil. How long did it take and what were the main challenges you faced there?
We filmed in Brazil in November-December of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. In the space of two weeks, we visited eight towns in six different states as part of a jam-packed agenda. Given the huge distances involved, we often travelled by air. The restrictions on account of the pandemic impacted the logistical side of things heavily and obviously I had to adapt the script and film the interviews separately, given that the events we’d planned didn’t take place in the end. We respected all the health and safety measures to the letter, and we mostly shot in external or well-aired areas, which aren’t always ideal for capturing sound.

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