JARDIM 2007, PT, 70 min

a film by João Vladimiro

Yes, I know that trees don't have eyes, that water doesn't have a mouth, and stones don't have ears. Still, we communicate. In this garden in particular, long silent conversations take place, like two old acquaintances who, by their mere presence, speak of calmness, comfort, sadness. Here, I watched the first steps of a child, the arrival of a mute duck, the fall of leaves from a white poplar tree.

Text by João Vladimiro, 2007

This film is the result of a commission made by Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian to direct a documentary film about the Landscape Architect Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles and the Gulbenkian garden. As soon as I started thinking about the film, the idea of the year’s seasons and their variation in this microcosm took the center stage in the project. From then on, the attempt to capture the ripple of time was the film’s fundamental idea. I then drew a fairly free shooting plan where I tried to register the peaks of each season and their transition into the next. The idea of approaching Prof. Ribeiro Telles through an interview and/or biographical documentary frightened me.

When I accepted the invitation to make this film, I also had to present a suggestion for the crew and a budget. During the shooting process, the closest person to me was the sound engineer, for he accompanied my doubts, my mistakes, my problems. That’s why I chose the person with whom I had worked in my previous film (Pé na Terra), for his involvement and qualities when it came to discussing ideas. I felt that this was one of the most important decision for the course of the film - this way I made sure there was someone who wouldn’t let me fall into mental laziness, easygoingness - or the defeatism that opposes it - into which we so easily fall when we are alone.

It was, for example, after a shooting day on our first month, that Tiago (sound eng.) asked me to explain through words “what were we doing there”. I went home and the day after, I handed him the text from which the synopsis for the film came.

“I know that the trees don’t have eyes, that the water doesn’t have a mouth, and that stones don’t have ears. Still, we communicate. In this particular garden, long mute talks take place, like the two elders that, through their sheer presence, talk to each other about calmness, confort and sadness. Here, I witnessed the first steps of a child, the arrival of a mute duck and the falling leaves of the white poplar…”

Now going back in time.

Before getting the camera out, I did some fieldwork - not as much as I should have as I fell into the mistake of thinking that I knew the Garden well because I had spent a great amount of my time there in the 5 previous months - where, besides attempting to be attentive to everything (which can be a mistake in an absence of a point of view), I also tried to get to know the species of flore, fauna and the people that dwelt in the Garden. I collected many leaves and flowers in my notebook, indicating their names and seasonality.

I traced a map with the pin points where there was animal activity: the nests, the ponds, the lovers’ nooks, the place where the youngest would play, the place where the babies would give their first steps, which curiously is nearby the place where the elderly rest, surely rejoicing in the joviality that surrounds them. On this map, I also drew the most interesting pinpoints to capture the relationship between the Garden and the buildings.

Which windows, vanishing points and reflections fascinated me. Without realizing, I discovered possible relationships between these pinpoints and certain works of art in the Museum. Tapestries, folding screens, paintings or sculptures. These relationships interested me in the sense of bringing together the fruition that one has with the Garden and the works of art inside a museum.

I gradually introduced myself to the gardeners because I quickly realized they were a strong bond of human connection in this garden, besides the surprise of an invisible world to the eyes of the occasional passerby. I was fascinated by the human side of certain characters - we can, if carefully observed, notice that these men and women have a different way of dealing with the world that surrounds them, in part because they take care of the garden’s life, often fragile, and also for their particular life paths.

I grew acquainted with the garden’s regulars: the widow who would spent the afternoon sitting and chatting with the others who, like her, no longer have anyone close to talk to; the man who had a thrombosis and would come to look at the card game between the retired; the man who would come to do crosswords by the stream with a bottle of beer, because it reminded him of his hometown where he would play in the meadows by the streams; the old misunderstood wiseman who recited poetry by heart; the “indigent” who would stroll around in the middle of everyone dressed up for the outdoor concerts with a cigarette butt in the corner of his mouth and walkman on his ears. Well, a wide range of people frequent this garden (I didn’t mention the economically higher class because they don’t interest me so much at the outset, but obviously the garden is full of people like us) and who can tell us something through their gestures, experiences, customs and oddities.

I also took note of the activities that would take place in the garden - concerts, shows, visits, etc. I filmed some of these like the concerts of Jazz in August, or the classical music concerts in the amphitheater but there was always the problem of not being able to get close to people in order to develop a small narrative that could serve the film. For this reason, I developed a special interest in the activities that the educational sector of the C.A.M. (Center of Modern Art) organizes in spring and summer. I was especially curious about how these activities were integrated in the Garden and its perspective through them. The fact that I was able to be close to those in charge of these activities allowed us to program these activities towards the film’s direction (I started filming in summer and programmed this shooting for spring). Besides, these activities had a temporal duration that allowed some development and involvement with and from people.

Another curiosity of mine regarding this space was its nocturnal behavior. When the doors are closed to the public, their inhabitants remain. How does this space behave and what kind of qualities takes a hold of it in the silence of the night?

I took a guided tour of the building at night where I accessed magnificent glass panes over suspended gardens, the moon reflected on the lakes. Terraces where I could see the treetops that silenced the symphony of toads and frogs with the wind, statues acquiring a hidden life, sleepy and sad. I had the freedom, time and tranquility for a different dialogue of what was practiced during the day, where the city’s bustle is felt with another intensity. From the visit came another question. How do the gardeners work in these balconies and terraces? What relationship do they have with the workers in the offices? The réperage for this moment was extremely interesting. I picked a day when the gardeners would be working on the balconies and I followed them from office to office looking for situations of confrontation, of extremes, of similarities or just plain indifference between interior and exterior, between working with computers and working with plants.

I collected a series of moments and tried to fit them into a specific season (i.e. the gardeners’ work on the balconies at the end of Autumn, the educational sector’s activities in Spring, the garden’s human life in summer and the building throughout the four seasons…).

Now I had to focus on the camera’s point of view. What is it doing in the middle of all of this? I must say this was the biggest struggle in the whole process of making the film and I never fixed a single point of view. I was a ghost, I was a duck, I was a spectator, I was a frog, a bug, a statue, a tree, a flower. Anyway, I was everything which is alive by nature or imagination. An example of this process:

I started the shooting, filming Jazz in August from Mr. Gulbenkian’s ghost point of view and that of a duck. In the case of Mr. Gulbenkian’s ghost, I behaved like a human to go unnoticed, shooting within the vegetation, walking through forbidden areas to the general public, etc. In the case of the duck, it was a little more complicated. One afternoon, we tried to film through the duck’s point of view, placing the camera on an improvised raft made of cans of water and styrofoam, which would capture the duck’s gaze, slowly floating through the lake until it would suddenly come across an amphitheater full of lights, people and a strange sonority. We shot this while they were sound testing the stage and soon realized that if people saw two guys in the middle of a lake, at night, during the concert, with a strange object floating by them, would be a mess. After all, we kept the shot captured in the afternoon in the film, which makes a lot sense, because despite it being a preposterous idea, it was shot with a very clear intention. To look at the garden through a new perspective. That’s how I learned that ideas, no matter how stupid they may seem, are meant to be experimented and not just stuck in your head, building webs of assumptions.

If things were going well with the fieldwork in the garden, the same could not be said about the approaches to Prof. Ribeiro Telles., who had a very strong character and insisted on running away from the “sympathies” of this project. I began to realize that it would be impossible to get his necessary trust to film him at ease in a situation other than at work. If at first this idea disconcerted me, as I was doing some parallel research, I noticed that in previous interviews that he had given, the conversation was always completely controlled by him because no interviewer could be at his level regarding the subjects he discussed. Better yet, I thought. I will film him actively working, which was something that hadn’t been seen in any interview up until then. I remembered that in certain documentaries about interesting personalities, one of the strongest ways to access the character was to see him in his activity, whether it was intellectual or manual (or the combination of both). I went with this. With the collaboration of landscape architect João Mateus, who was assisting him in the reformulation work on the garden, I found out where the Prof. Ribeiro Telles would appear next - in the garden, at the studio, on a guided tour, on a meeting… I would appear without a warning so as not to allow shields or dodges. I integrated myself as one more worker (although I wasn’t of good use for much) in the garden, being able to circulate at my own will through the works that were being carried out. There were a series of pre-conceived ideas to film or situations to trigger but I left a lot of space in my head to be filled with exterior elements outside of cinema, of the garden, of the film I sought to build, in order to create imaginaries that were able to support it.

Here, I took refuge in books. Specifically in poetry, short stories and Haikus. These readings greatly allowed me to see the Garden with my body and through it reach the mind, the eyes and the hands that hold the camera.

Twentieth Second Chant

When in Autumn
The trees were bare
One afternoon the cloud of birds
Landed on the branches.
The leaves seemed to have returned
Swaying the wind.

Tonino Guerra in “O Mel”


On an incredibly clear day,
The kind when you wish you'd done lots of work
So that you wouldn't have to work that day,
I saw – as if spotting a road through the trees –
What may well be the Great Secret,
That Great Mystery the false poets speak of.

I saw that there is no Nature,
That Nature doesn't exist,
That there are hills, valleys and plains,
That there are trees, flowers and grass,
That there are rivers and stones,
But that there is no whole to which all this belongs,
That a true and real ensemble
Is a disease of our own ideas.

Nature is parts without a whole.
This is perhaps the mystery they speak of.

This is what, without thinking or pausing,
I realized must be the truth
That everyone tries to find but doesn't find
And that I alone found, because I didn’t try to find it.

Alberto Caeeiro in “The Keeper of Sheep”

The End is right now, the beggining of a new life

Hôgen Yamahata in “Falling leaves, a shooting sprout”

directing, image and production JOÃO VLADIMIRO sound TIAGO HESPANHA editing MIGUEL COELHO with the collaboration CLAUDIO MARTINEZ, DOMINIQUE PÂRIS, ATELIERS VARAN sound edit and mix NUNO MOURÃO color LIGHTBOX translation ANA CARVALHOSA graphic design JOÃO VLADIMIRO