Resident Video is a monthly series that provides exclusive access to films from emerging artists. This month we bring you Arde by João Queiroga. Arde merges performance and documentary in ways that defy genre.
Performance and documentary collide in much of João Queiroga’s work. That combination might stem from Queiroga’s long experience in TV and theater in Portugal, but it’s been extended most recently at Northwestern University where he’s spent more time behind the camera. Additionally a life spent traveling from Peking, China, to Aukland, New Zealand, Chicago, and Lisbon, Protugal, has fostered a worldly perspective that isn’t lost on peers.
At first, Queiroga might be considered a documentarian, there is a strong sense of actuality and capturing narratives. In particular films like Azure Flame (2016) look at experiences of trans people. The result is always a dramatic revelation, but the the varied material like dance, performance art, or projection that permeates his documentaries moves reportage toward a more experimental voice.
In Arde (2016), which Facets is proud to host as part of our ongoing Resident Video series, we can see the strongest example of Queiroga blending the worlds of documentary and performance. Often the subject of a shot is obscured while the boundaries of the frame are strongly highlighted. Below we ask Queiroga about creating hybrid documentaries like Arde and Our Skin (2017) which is currently in circulation at festivals. A teaser for Our Skin is below along with an interview about Arde.
FACETS: You’ve described some of your films as “hybrid documentary”, which is really apt. You don’t seem to rely only on primary source material like interviews or photographs alone to document an event. The secondary material in Arde isn’t necessarily a staged recreation either. Why do your documentaries benefit from a more figurative approach?
QUEIROGA: While the genesis of my work has documentary at its heart, I enjoy taking liberties in visualizing the story with non-traditional images. I love the freedom “hybrid documentary” encompasses. The word “hybrid” opens up the world of documentary media and, as a filmmaker, I free my work from a specific single form. On one hand, I love the rawness and inherent authenticity of documentary media; on the other hand, I am interested in exploring the innumerable other possibilities that cinema can bring. At the end of the day, I do not like to be restricted by language and I believe the work is stronger if I am not preoccupied on how to label it. Ultimately, my work probably reflects how I see the world and myself. In my personal life, I also have a hard time with disciplined labels or definitions.
To some extent Arde is a multimedia piece characterized by the suggestive image projected on the performer. How did you settle on conjuring this multifaceted image style?
I am a filmmaker who enjoys playing with this medium. I have a performing arts background and I think this highly influences my approach to this art. With a musical theatre upbringing, my pieces become the strange marriage of musical theatre and documentary. The challenge is to avoid being over the top and remain relatable. Documentary allows me to ground my pieces in reality, and the performing arts allow my creativity to flourish.
There’s a lot of strong contrasts here. We get a sense of intimacy with the performer, at the same time the narration is a harrowing a personal story of trauma. It’s powerful to experience as an audience, but how do you approach these different aspects of the piece as a director? As a documentarian?
There is always a story that I want to tell, but to every story there are a multiplicity of ways to tell it. The question is “how will I, João, tell this story as a filmmaker and documentarian?” The filmmaker in me enjoys the process of staging, while the documentarian in me enjoys the spontaneity that happens when the camera is on. Prepping for a shoot is of utmost importance, but my most significant decisions and discoveries often happen on set. I might have an idea of what I want. But, at the end of the day, magic happens while I am working with my team. It is the combination of the environment, lighting, cinematography and performance that creates something unique that will hopefully touch the audience. With a background in documentary media, my team is often very small, one or two people, thus, the intimacy of the production leads to a more intimate result.
Arde is short, just over two minutes, nevertheless it seems to us like much more than a proof of concept. It’s intersectional and thoughtful. Where do you want to take the ideas you put forward in this film in future projects?
Arde was a piece that I created while attending Northwestern University. As a student, I became interested in developing work that surrounded my experiences living in a Portuguese military boarding school for five years from 2000 to 2005. I created a variety of pieces that attempted to represent those years and my internal turmoil. I am now working on the development of a hybrid film that regards those experiences. Arde is the impetus to start something that is meaningful to me and, hopefully, can touch others too. I have a strong belief that documentary media and cinematic arts have the potential to advocate ideals and promote human rights, ultimately leading to social change.
Be sure to check out the rest of the Resident Video series. While the films are no longer available, the interviews remain until our servers dissolve.