Making films from the inside: interview with Alex Campos García April 04, 2016

Liina Rajaveer* made an interview with the director of Singing to the Depths of the Earth, which was screened at World Film Festival on Tuesday. Alex talks about travelling and connecting to one’s roots, his (very anthropological) approach to documentary film-making and the way he is connecting different realities.

How have you been enjoying World Film Festival and Tartu so far?

The fact that I’m in Estonia has only started to sink in now, because I came straight to the festival. It has been very intense, but I’m loving it! I've been to other festivals and I think this one is very unique, as it’s very intimate. It's a very special team, the guests are very special and the communication is humble and respectful.

Photo by Paula Rõuk

Tell us about your path to becoming a film-maker.

I studied in two little schools in Lisbon: one was a performative arts and the other a visual arts school. I think I went through a curious process, because I learned the technique of photography and video, but I also learned about the importance of the presence. For me, to film, and to make documentaries, is to be present in a situation. And then, I had a lot of practice. I am more of a practitioner. I have made seven feature films and most of them are travelling films, films about indigenous communities or political films.

What was your background before making films and workshops?

Actually, before that I was in Madrid, partaking in the squatting movement, so my interest is more in the communities and changing the world, the different movements on a global scale. As I was a little bit disappointed in Europe, I wanted to get to know other realities and the indigenous reality is very important for me. That we connect to our own indigenous self. This is why I'm currently living in the nature and I love to travel into the nature and be with the people that live in the nature and learn from them. And I hope they will also learn from me. Then I can connect that reality to Tartu reality or cinema reality or to other realities. Through these workshops I hold, I also try to connect the different communities. For example, by showing the film that a group of prostitutes made in Lisbon to a community in Burma. I'm very much interested in what is left out from the mainstream media, and in living with the people, making films from the inside.

That is a very anthropological approach.

In this way, I feel a little bit indigenous. I think that is what connects me to the indigenous wisdom, which is not so much about studying or reading, but much more about the wisdom of experience.

You are a traveller, an adventurer. But also, I understand that you have started a permaculture farm in Spain, so how does all this work out for you?

I'm experimenting right now (laughing). The (film workshops - L.R.) project I have from 8 years ago, is called Nomad Eyes, and the project I started, a permaculture and arts centre, is called Nomad Roots. So it's an evolution of my passion to travel and meet other realities. Of course, if you plant pumpkins, you have to give them water and take care of them. Actually, it's the first festival I have visited after starting with this project, so it's very nice. Four days ago I was planting trees, and now I'm here.

How do you find the stories that get your attention and give you the feeling of making a film about it? Or make a project with Nomad Eyes for example?

I think there's a part of intention, my own interest, and then there is a big part of improvisation. For example, there's an intention to do Nomad Eyes in Asia. So I plan my trip, it will start in Tokyo. Then I buy the ticket from Madrid to Tokyo. And then from New Delhi to Madrid. And it's 8 months. After this, everything is much more flexible.

How did you come to be in Mexico? And how did this project come to life, to be a medium for the Wixárika community?

I became interested in this community about 15 years ago, because I read a book called Plants of Power and there is a description of different plants in the world and how they're used in rituals. So my dream was to travel to these communities. And after becoming a film-maker, my dream was to make films about them. I was interested in the Wixárika people, and in the Zapatistas, so I went to Mexico to meet them. My relation with this community is mostly through one person, who is a marakame, the shaman.

Please describe the political situation that they are in now.

This is one of the best preserved indigenous communities in Mexico, but this film introduces the threat they are facing now, namely the mining companies, who want to create mines for gold and silver (in the Wirikuta desert - L.R.). And for them, this is one of the most sacred places in their cosmology, it’s considered to be the belly button of the world. So they gather there for a ceremony in protest over this situation. They are mostly talking to the government, as for now, the companies have still not entered. They are fighting for this place to become a UNESCO reserve.

What was your main goal for making this film?

The first intention was to give voice to the people, because I think there are so many realities that are being marginalized. And for me, it was a unique demonstration. I have seen other social movements and demonstrations, but this was unique, because they are not going to the government and saying, "Hey, we don’t want this!". They go to their sacred place and organise a ceremony to protect their land both physically and spiritually. So this fight touched me very much, because it is a very peaceful, yet a very powerful fight, spiritually speaking.

Is there anything that the Mexican state also does for these people?

There are negotiations. My personal point of view, and also what the Mexican government has proved, for example with the Zapatista revolution in 1994, is that they arrive at agreements, but then they don't respect the agreements. Especially when the mining companies put a lot of pressure on the government.

Could you comment on the language of your film, the way you are in the film and with the film?

I tend to say that I make films from inside. You can propose a very conceptual idea, or you can go inside a reality even without understanding it, but being a peaceful and respectful observer, being part of it, feeling what you have in common with them and then going along with what is happening; observing also with the camera, the camera being a communicative channel, which can be used by them too. So in that way, I'm capturing the encounter, not capturing a vision that I have of them.

But with these touchy or political topics, how do you see your role as a film-maker with regards to the community? Is it just giving them the voice or you are willing to intervene in some other way?

Well, giving them the voice and being there, making the film and then sharing the film, is one big work. And I think I also contribute in my daily life, like inviting one person from this community to share their culture. Not only me going there, but also welcoming them here. I showed this film with the shaman in Madrid and this was very important too, because the people from the community are present and they also have the right to come here. It's more difficult for them, but if we are together, then we are together there and we are together here.

*Some questions were asked by Eva Toulouze