THE ISLAND 2022. PT. 37 min

a film by Mónica de Miranda.

After 500 years of African presence in Portugal, Black people find refuge in the utopian creation of The Island. A place residing in the space inbetween fiction and reality, where the potentialities to re-write histories and think futures are brought together through the characters and their journeys. The woman, who escapes the memories of the past by confronting her executioners. The archeologist who investigates the memory in order to understand the present and so that similar mistakes will not be repeated on The Island. The capitalist man who, in his eternal dissatisfaction, reflects on how he has become the oppressor, the settler. The children, who with their pure and vital force energize all the other characters through their fantasy and dreams.

NOVOCINE: This film is very architectural in its form and framings, although it takes place, for the most part, in Nature, among stones and water, as if creating a city of rocks. Was this idea present while planning the film?

Mónica de Miranda: Both The Island as many of my previous works have a very strong connection with architecture. This Island is a utopian space, where landscape creates the architecture itself.

In my artistic work, I consider rocks, soil, water and other elementary materials, as organic repositories of geological time and embodied memories, where ancestral and ecological traumas linked to colonialism continue to unfold.

In this work, the beach becomes a place where the tides come and go, as a space between dry land and the liquid states of the world: the many rivers and waters that surround us. Here, these two elements communicate, with water being an element through which all the flows of commerce and slavery occurred, as well as the flows of organic and emotional matter.

In my work, I develop the notion of ecologies of care in several aspects. I deal with landscapes and the idea of regeneration - in the sense of establishing a relationship between the human body and the natural body, through which the stories are perceived.

For example, in the Panorama (2017) series, I explored Angola’s colonial architectural landscapes and how they were reclaimed by the lush natural territories. Another side of genocide in colonial history is epistemicide, in which the ecology of knowledge that the various lands of Earth hold within it was suppressed through a monoculture of Eurocentric scientific knowledge. My practice is rooted in this notion of recovery and care, with lost stories and memories, which are still materially present through bodies and landscapes.

NC: The film establishes an analogy between macro and micro, between the large boulder that this Island is and the small rocks that fill it. What can you tell us about this connection between the different rock formations?

MM: The Island appears in my work as a metaphor to question limited Eurocentric notions of reality and truth. As a place to imagine alternative paths. Islands are points of intersection and transit of various cultures, and they have been present in the collective imagination since antiquity as places of projection, of rebirth, linked to the cosmogony of origin and the ideal image of the cosmos. We can see this in Gilles Deleuze’s conceptualization of the island and the surrounding water as a material condition for new beginnings, a kind of nucleus for the second birth after a catastrophe. However, the Island is also an ambiguous and intermediate space, where we can unveil the diasporas experience of constant migration and where our imagination is freed from hegemonic narrativas, to build new paths for the future. At the same time, this metaphorical island is also historically rooted in the presence of the real historical communities that settled there. It is from this place of intersection between these different spatiotemporal scales - between past, present and future - that the Island emerges as a place of refuge and regenerative imagination.

NC: What can you tell us about working with the actors? Were they involved in writing the script?

MM: The script was developed through the landscape. On the first day we shot, there had been very few pre-rehearsals and it was a spontaneous connection with the place where we were. Some shooting decisions were pre-planned, but we were mainly responding to the location - the script was a guide and the crew played a key role in shaping the final narrative, which I think also contributed to the intimacy and emotional and sensorial aspects. Letting each actor bring their own connection to the text, their own life experiences to the performance, created deep connections which contributed to the themes and issues raised by the narrative. There was spontaneous way of directing the cast, without rehearsals, allowing a flow in which the crew adjusted to each situation. This, I think, shaped a more intimate and embodied way of filmmaking, which I also employ in other cinematic works such as Path to the Stars (2022) and Red Horizon (2018). In relation to the characters formation and development, there is a complex process of individualization that I refer to through my work, from a black feminist and diasporas point of view, hence the slow, contemplative but fragmented cinematic perspective.

Isabel Zuaa is the main character and the center of the film. She is an acclaimed actress, multidisciplinary artist and performer. She is Portuguese, with multiple geographic origins - her mother is Angolan and her father is Guinean. Zuaa is a woman of multiple dimensions, she is a mother, a fundamental creator, representing a multiplicity of roles, from feminine to masculine, from knight to lover. She holds many stories, times and places within herself, and retains the complexity of belonging to different places, while understanding the relationship between memory, the “now” and the time to come. Zuaa was a fundamental inspiration for the making of this film: she not only acts, but also lives through the stories she tells and enacts.

NC: The soundtrack lasts in a hypnotic tone that, during the characters’ wanderings, progressively manifests itself in an intense and increasingly cavernous way until its eventual resolution - what can you tell us about the film’s sound design?

MM: Sound has always played a very important role in my work. I frequently explore the relationship between moving image and sound. This has been an essential element in my practice for building layers when telling stories. I often combine text, sound and movement to create a more ethereal space. The sounds of nature are part of the sound design of this film - the water, the birds, the wind. All sounds contribute to the creation of this idyllic place.

NC: This Island is a fictitious space, built through a collective memory or is it based on a concrete idea of a real space?

MM: In historical terms, while conceptualizing the project, I was researching the black presence in Portugal and read about an Afro-diasporic community that was formed on the bank of the Sado river, in the Alentejo region, where between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century, many Africans were sent to work in the salt mines, where they later settled. This forgotten community was pejoratively called “Pretos do Sado” and their village was known as “Ilha dos Negros”. It was a combination of these factors that led me to create this body of work - from my personal experience to the sociological research in which I was immersed at the time. I created an imaginary island - a place where the ghosts of this community and their stories intersect with the geological sense of time, establishing a parallel between human domination over themselves and the predatory extractivism of nature. Hence the idea of the Island as a utopian place where we can escape to, a space that contains recurring symbolisms of rebirth and renewal, where new futures can be designed.