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Barbara Wurm: Based on the title of your film AS NOITES AINDA CHEIRAM A PÓLVORA one understands that you have a very poetic approach to language, images, films and life as well.

Inadelso Cossa: For me, poetry is the essence. It gives soul to every journey. You have to approach life with poetry, even when you are facing death. Simply speaking truth is not enough. You have to elaborate, go places. The first mirror is yourself. You have to face your fears and concerns. This project arrived when I was in the state of grief. After so many years of peace, my country is facing a new threat of war. My first memories of war are those of my grandmother trying to protect me from its reality. I wanted to go back to her village and ask her why she had turned bombings into fireworks. I feared going back there after 30 years of absence. I was concerned whether she was still the same woman. Does she remember everything? Is the village still that same place of my childhood? The landscape remained the same. The sun sets in the same place and pops into the greens as before. The magical nights are the ones I remember. How could I capture all this in a very honest way? I started my research and decided not to wait any longer, but to take my camera with me.

How could I capture the village of my childhood? How could cinema bring in the smell of gunpowder? How can we feel the absence? How to represent the absence? I worked on this film for seven years. And the most important memory I have during this period is my grandmother looking at me, after so many years. She never looked into the camera, but always addressed me. The camera became invisible. I thought, let’s make the apparatus invisible and visible at the same time. I handled cinematography, and my sound engineer was with me. I proposed to him to capture our concerns. We were talking about my vague childhood memories of war, my absence and my grandmother’s Alzheimer. In a way, I had to become part of the film, not just as the voiceover telling people where to look. I needed to show how concerned and afraid I am to encounter the village again and how difficult it is to build and become part of those nights.

Asja Makarević: Thank you for this amazing film, for the beautiful discovery. I was affected by it because I come from the former Yugoslavia, which also endured wars. I lived in Sarajevo, Bosnia, during the siege. And everything you are saying resonates well with my own childhood experience of war. The smell of gunpowder and the sound of shelling, bombing, which resembles fireworks, are deeply stored in my body. Every time I hear fireworks, I tremble because of these memories. I see your film as an attempt to capture the sensory experience of war, the memories which are fading and are fragmentary. The image of your sound operator at night stayed long with me. Also because the war for me was the scariest at night. How long were you searching for this filmic expression? It seems like your grandmother was a trigger for the project.

IC: Totally, she was my first motivation. It was not easy to decide to make the film, because I was dealing with my family. My grandfather passed away tragically. His death still resonates with my grandmother. There is an emptiness in her life. I was concerned how painful it must be for her to cope with that reality. But she is a very strong woman. I was amazed to see her try to leave, although she still waits for him to come back at night. That is why she always leaves a plate and a chair waiting for him. For me, it was interesting to see how she deals with his absence. I was not worried about how I was going to inform the audience, I wanted to make them feel that those nights exist. During the day, people go about their daily life, but at nights things change. Because the attacks used to be carried out at night. It was when my grandmother used to take me to hide and calm me down by saying they were just fireworks. And the village is not only my grandmother, it is also the people who try to move on with their lives. But the violence and reaction to violence is still present there. I did not know that a neighbour was a former perpetrator. This was a revelation during the process of getting to know people and their stories. They are not interested to talk about the war anymore. They want to forget and move on, but the past keeps coming back and they have to deal with it. Zelina is a particular example. She fell in love with this man and brought him to the village, where the rebels killed her father. And now they have a love/hate relationship. And this violence is poetic, is a film in itself. You can tell a lot with it but I did not want to exploit it.

It was important to portray beautiful memories, but also the harsh reality of war. I did not want to make an archival-driven film, but to have the archival images as a breathing space. 

AM: And the reenactment of the past violence emerges at night. During the day, the couple appears in some kind of a harmonious relationship. At night, the demons of the past resurface. The couple could be seen as an image of a wider society. Perhaps you want to elaborate on that with respect to what happened after the war. Is there a resolution after the war or there is an ongoing post-war condition?

IC: A peace treaty was signed in 1994 in Rome, the Pope was also involved. There have been the attempts to make people forget about things, but, of course, it is not that easy. There was no national reconciliation ritual. The war took people apart and is still an open wound. The government’s idea was to simply move on and not compensate. Not to open a museum or organise rituals throughout the villages where they would explain to people the importance of getting back together, having their stories around the campfire again. For me, the village is a micro example of the whole society. You do not have to go and visit many villages or cities to tell what is going on. There is also a new generation. They experience both the present and the violent past, which resonates in their vocabulary. The perpetrator, who in this case is Macuacua, represents a threat that can come anytime, especially during the night. But, yes, officially we did not have a reconciliation.

AM: I felt that this kind of closure was missing on so many levels in the film. That is why the trauma keeps resurfacing and hitting back. I had this impression also due to the use of archival footage. Could you elaborate more on the use of archival sequences? Why did you decide to include them? And what is the relation, the dialogue between them and the rest of the film?

IC: For me, the archival footage, particularly the coloured one, represents my happy childhood, when the summers were beautiful and the birds were singing. My intention was to incorporate the images in a way that they become this happy memory of a child, who lived in a village which was once harmonious. But the circumstances of history made the reality become something else. The archival material belonged to Rodriguez Gonzalez, a Chilean filmmaker, who filmed in Mozambique during the war. Seven years ago, he came back and showed the footage at the festival in Maputo. I was amazed as I had never seen the images from the 1980s, the beginning of the 1990s, when the war was at its peak. I was amazed to see the black and white ones. I had watched them before I started making my film and, I think, they fuelled my will to do so. I thought, how could we have never had access to this archive? In Mozambique, there is mainly the archival footage about Kuxa kanema, freedom fighters, from the 1970s. But there is no documentation about the atrocities of civil war. A few existing images are controlled by a few people. And I was responding to that fact. The film is a response to the archival footage. It would be unfair not to bring it back to the community, not to give it a new life and purpose through this film. By tradition, Mozambique is a country of cinema. After the colonial period, people were educated through moving images. Filmmakers were going to villages and screening films about ordinary people, and people were seeing themselves on the screen. That is how the country was building the new man, as they say. But we never had a chance to see the images of the civil war, we missed that period.

AM: You mentioned that the archival footage triggered something in you. Could it be that your response to the archive was prompted by your false memories of the war? Memories, which were fading, or were false due to your grandmother’s attempts to protect you.

IC: Yes, of course, I was responding to that as well. The colourful images are the ones in which people are protected. Children are seen playing, women working in the field, there is this vivid ambience. With the black and white footage I felt it was important to know what my intention with the film was. If it hadn’t been clear, I could have damaged the film. It was important to portray beautiful memories, but also the harsh reality of war. I did not want to make an archival-driven film, but to have the archival images as a breathing space. This film is a manifesto of sorts. Why has this part of history been hidden from us? Is this not going to cost us more possible wars in the future? Do not we have the right to revisit the images of the past to move on? What are we waiting for? We need to make peace with ourselves, because this issue has not been solved yet.

AM: Finding a proper image can aid the closure. At least, we can hope for that. Regarding this observation, I am interested in your next project.

IC: I have the feeling that I will not be leaving this village any time soon. I think my next project will revisit the same place, as there are still characters who need to tell their stories in a different way. After the war there were people who were cast out from the village and are slowly being reintegrated. People who collaborated with the rebels were set aside, and ended up making their own separate community. They isolated themselves in a way. And this is one of the things that intrigued me. I feel the urgency to go to that place and reflect upon that. AS NOITES AINDA CHEIRAM A PÓLVORA is the film I want to share with the audience right now. But for sure, more projects, more films will come out soon.

For me, cinema is a church, synagogue, mosque – the space abounds with rules, but where each believer can bring in their own experience. I think every film is an opportunity to explore, challenge and celebrate the language of cinema. 

BW: I was wondering if and for how long were you away from Mozambique?

IC: I have been living away from the country for the past two years. And before that I lived in the city. So, for me, a city and a village are two different countries. I grew up, studied and made my life in the city. That village became the space where we used to spend our summer holidays. And as we grow up, we forget about the summer holidays, our grandmother's meals, and we lose ourselves in a city. But then I felt, okay, I need to go back and see my grandmother. She was amazed because people my age do not go back and engage with the elders. There is the distance and, of course, economic reasons. In a big city, people try to study, make money and move on with their lives. This was an opportunity for me to go back, learn my native language Shanghan again and be around. This is the place where my father used to live. And the encounter with the family was positive in that sense.

BW: Now, when you were talking, I found it interesting that you can always look at it from the perspective where it makes sense as a cautious kind of consequences. So, there is the archive triggering the film and the film triggering your revisit. And then the grandmother comes back – so does the family. I think that this kind of intertwining, the exchange of motivation with consequence is very well entangled in your film. It is a collage, which uses different techniques of representation, and at the same time, a whole, which deepens with every new attempt. The last question is technical. We all know about the necessity of coproduction, and going through all those pitches. There are several funds – you were a Berlinale Talent and your project was backed by the World Cinema Fund. Finally, the finished product is here in the Forum and everybody reminds ourselves, “We put our effort in him.” But at the same time, you kept it crystal clear – not just visually, but also personally. How did you achieve this calm approach to all the aspects that were part of the film’s production? And at what point you felt it, technically speaking? Was it during the shooting or editing that this wholeness came about?

IC: That is a profound question. I remember everything, from writing, seeing the pictures of my family related to the location, to deciding to bring the apparatus to the village. I had hoped I went in the right direction when I decided to use this lens, that camera, to frame the subjects, my emotions, to add the sound, which became very important since we were questioning the sensorial. It was about becoming part of the journey without the fear of falling. Because so many things were happening in my head. Documentary is the beautiful form where one can open up and explore possibilities. I am not sure I would have been as lucky with a different format. I do not like labels, but I was willing to cross boundaries when I was told otherwise. The story needed it. I thought, let’s invoke free jazz here. But of course with caution, because I really respect cinema. For me, cinema is a church, synagogue, mosque – the space abounds with rules, but where each believer can bring in their own experience. I think every film is an opportunity to explore, challenge and celebrate the language of cinema. It was important for me to do a personal film and think outside the box. In my previous films, I was trying to fit in. But with this one, I was more worried about my grandmother, her and my memories, and that grand scale of the village. I believe that became the fuel for making the film with such a rhythm and motion. When we moved onto editing, at some point we started doubting everything. But then I was lucky to find the adventurous people, who understood my vision. They respected my creative push. From the producers to the sound designer and the editor. And the film was edited in between café breaks. We were talking and talking, and the next day I would see the results in the edit.

BW: What you are saying is amazing. You have the church image, the free jazz inside the church, and then you move from the editing room to the café. I think it all started with poetry and throughout the conversation, your answers were full of it. I am very grateful, Inadelso, thank you!


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