“It’s dark in America”: in Brasilia, the real animal kingdom in a western version according to filmmaker Ana Vaz

We could see It’s Night in America , by the Brazilian Ana Vaz, as an experimental version of Animal Kingdom (2023), by Thomas Cailley, as this nugget, shot in American night, offers a very particular visual spectacle (an owl look which fills the entire screen), nourished by a deep reflection on the era. While the two stories are certainly not identical, they are run through by the same idea of animal mutation, and difficulty finding refuge in nature.

Another difference, there are no special effects in the film, although magnetic by the filmmaker born in 1986: reality was there before her eyes, and was sufficient in itself. It was by discovering animals wandering in Brasilia, on the edge of an animal park, in 2020, or sometimes just their corpses on the side of the roads, that Ana Vaz sought to understand what was happening. This was not only due to confinement, and the consequent withdrawal of human presence in public space.

The presence of monkeys, anteaters and maned wolves was also linked to the extension of urban planning and soy monoculture in Brazil, with the animals gradually finding themselves driven out of their habitat. These animals wandered before being collected by zoo veterinarians. They are the subject of care, the other side of the coin being that they become assisted by humans, thus losing their autonomy, at the risk of no longer being able to live in their natural environment.

Animals are like “refugees” , explains a caregiver, one of the rare human people who appear – furtively – on the screen. They are also conquerors, in search of space, like in a western, taking their revenge on the men and women who have never stopped wanting to dominate nature. Here, summarized, is the political framework of this anticipation essay: discovered in Locarno, in August 2022, in the Filmmakers of the Present section, It’s Night in America was selected a few months later in competition at the Entrevues de Belfort festival, before to receive the Janine Bazin Grand Prix.

Twilight atmosphere

The strength of the film is to bring the story to life through images, sensations and editing, by exploring the complexity of phenomena. In order to obtain a twilight atmosphere, Ana Vaz opted for expired films, which could modify the grain as well as the texture of the colors. The result went beyond his expectations, the shots taking on unexpected colors, with magenta skies, anthracite vehicles blending into the ribbons of bitumen. For the filmmaker, shooting rhymes with taking risks, and in the same way this image hunter watched for the appearance of animals around the zoo, sometimes in vain.

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