Interview with Tiago Campo – Master and Divino

Adalbert_Heide_-_Foto_Ernesto_de_Carvalho

Sometimes, wonderful surprises happen when we are just about done selecting the year’s films. This year, Master and Divino was one such surprise. Tiago Campos’ film is an engrossing portrait of two filmmakers who both work, apparently at cross purposes, in the same village in Brazil’s Mato Grosso region: Adalbert Heide, an ex-missionary with a passion for Super-8, and his former student, Divino Tserewahú, now a filmmaker in his own right. Campos agreed to tell us more about his film, which explores everything from filmmaking to the history of the evangelization of the Indians.

RIDM: How did you meet Adalbert Heide and Divino Tserewahú? What inspired you to make a film about them?

Tiago Campo: In 2005 I was invited to work on Video in the Villages (a cinema project for Indians in Brazil), to teach Divino Tserewahú how to edit his own films. In 2008 Divino and I made Unnamed Xavánte Women, a film about a ceremony that isn’t held anymore, because it involved women having sexual relations with their husbands’ brothers, and they live in a Catholic mission, where sex outside of marriage is frowned upon.

It was difficult for us to make that film together. I was more interested in the reasons why the ceremony is no longer held, while Divino tried to convince the village to hold the ceremony so we could film it. At that time, Divino told me about the films of Adalbert Heide, who had filmed the festival in 1967. I was astonished to learn that there was a German living there – the very man who had come from Germany in 1957 to found the mission – who had filmed countless things in that place over the years, captured in more than 30 hours of very good, and well-preserved, Super-8 footage. I was even more astonished when I saw his images for the first time.

At first it was not easy to get access to his material, but he gave us the footage of the Xavánte women that we were interested in at the time, and then I discovered that there was much more. But what really got me excited about making this film were some images found among the footage of the ritual.

I’m not sure if it was a coincidence or if he put those images there for me to find them, but in one of the four tapes he loaned me, I saw scenes of Adalbert in 1967, dressed like an Indian, hunting with them, participating in their lives as one of them. The fact that Adalbert had made those images of himself, and the fact that Divino had not told me about Adalbert before, got me thinking. I thought about the footage from 2008 to 2012, when I started work on the project.

RIDM: How long did filming take? Did they need time to get comfortable in front of the camera?

TC: The shoot took about 37 days. I would say they had no difficulty “acting” in front of the camera. In fact, something special happened while we were shooting the film. At first, Divino had some difficulty dealing with Adalbert, for example asking him for images. Divino has been making films for a long time, and yet as far as I know they never shared their images with each other.

I guess that was partly because they were jealous of each other, but also because they did not have a true friendship – because Divino considered Adalbert an authority figure rather than a friend, and so on. Gradually they started talking more, with greater ease, while we filmed in Adalbert’s room. We filmed in his room on many occasions, with and without Divino, just as we often filmed in Divino’s house in the village, at village soccer games, and so on.

RIDM: They’re often seen challenging each other. Did they challenge you as a filmmaker as well?

TC: I had the paperwork I needed to film them, and of course I had my own power: control over my film. Because they are both familiar with filming and editing, as well as being individuals with their own self-interest, they tried to manipulate me in various ways. I can’t even remember all the times they did it overtly. What I do know is that this is one of the most interesting questions raised by the film.

I am a third character, with my own point of view that I try to reveal a little bit. I do not try to present my point of view using my voice; the role of my voice is to help tell a story – not much more than that, and maybe nothing more. But in the director’s cut I do try to share my thoughts. So, while filming I was always trying to capture moments where I would also be exposed.

A good example of such a moment is when I try to convince Divino to come with me to discuss something with Adalbert, and we see that Divino is not sure I have good intentions. But in the end, the conversation convinces him and he opens the door for us to go talk to Adalbert. In such moments, I and my crew (cameraman, soundman and editor) tried to explore the power balance in our relationship.

What I really must emphasize here is the main thing about this film: there was a story that needed to be told, and I wanted to leave things open, maybe even confusing, to leave room for viewers to come to their own conclusions about what happened in Sangradouro, and about the relationship between Adalbert and Divino. 

RIDM: How have the Indians seen Adalbert all these years? And how does he position himself among the people now that his work as a missionary is not really relevant anymore?

I think most people in Sangradouro admire Adalbert, even if he is not admired in the same way by his former colleagues in the Church. He once told me that if he could be born again, he would do it all over again the same way. He thinks it’s a shame that “others” decided that the missionaries should have less influence on the Indians. He believes people don’t understand how wonderful and important the missionaries’ work was – mainly his work. 

RIDM: Did you observe any changes in their way of thinking by the time you wrapped? Why do you think filming is so important to them? Are they still both filming? 

TC: Yes, they are still filming. For Divino, filming is about recording rituals so that future generations will know how to practice them, or at least remember them. Filming is also a way for him to show others how important and beautiful the Xavánte rituals are, which is why he has made a film of each main ritual. He also makes films for the community’s use, like Mother’s Day, the anniversary of the mission or the village, and the like. In these films he allows himself to make use of modern Xavánte music as well as digital effects like circle-fades.

For as long as I have known Divino, we have been discussing the “utility” of a film, and I always used to push him to change his point of view. For example, when we made the Unnamed Xavánte Women, an experience that eventually made me see how similar I was to a missionary. One day, while filming The Master and Divino, I talked to Adalbert about a film he was making, and Divino came into the frame and started talking about his new film, which happened to be on the same topic as Adalbert’s. And to my surprise – a bigger surprise than his entering the scene – I found out that in Divino’s new film, which he does not consider a film just for the community, he is using modern music to talk about modernity, for the Xavánte to talk about themselves.

Adalbert is too complex to describe in a few words. That’s why I decided to make the film. Listen to him, and you can have no doubt that he is not only proud of his work, but proud of himself and what he does, to the point that he has filmed himself since the 1960s. His particular spiritual and artistic influences led him to make the films he made. Adalbert gives himself credit for having recorded old things that don’t happen anymore and that no one else ever filmed. Even though there are now lots of Indians with cameras filming the same things as him, he believes he is filming in his special way. For example, he re-edited my film and sent me a DVD that I will watch this week to see what he didn’t like, what he changed, and what he liked.

But they have one very significant thing in common in their approach to filmmaking: they both believe it is very important to record their own story. Both of them leave a very personal mark on their films. Divino is trying to record his culture’s strength, and his films are made with the participation of the elders, but he also likes to put himself in front of the camera when he asks people questions. Adalbert, for his part, created an imaginary character by dressing like a Xavánte Indian in the 1960s, and also recorded his efforts to preserve the traditional Xavánte culture – just as he recorded the Catholic conversion process.

In the end, we are three characters telling stories about the same place. We have many things in common but also many, many differences.

Master and Divino will be playing November 14 at 6:15 p.m. and November 21 at 3 p.m.  at Cinema Excentris.

For more info about the programming, visit RIDM’s website.