This wonderful stop-motion movie, entitled “Òrun Àiyé”, is dedicated to the memory of the Afro-Brazilian historian Ubiratan Castro de Araújo, affectionately called Bira (1948-2013). It was produced by Estandarte Produções, a young film company from Salvador da Bahia. In the narration, equipped with the rich symbolism of Afro-Brazilian culture, the elderly Bira is telling his granddaughter Luna about the creation of the earth through Orixá Oxalá (Yor. Òrìṣà Òòṣàálá). As we know, the Òrìṣà was facing some difficulties on this quest and other deities, like Èṣù or Ọrúnmìlà, make an appearance. It is a fascinating piece of art, that highlights the heritage of the Yorùbá diaspora in Brazil.
For the directors, Jamile Coelho and Cintia Maria, “Òrun Àiyé” is an instrument of education, to fight racism and religious intolerance among children and the youth. I was fascinated by the wonderful images and the detailed artwork, when I saw in their Vimeo Channel a “making of”. So many people were involved in this project, visual artists, sculptors, painters, drummers, singers, technicians - 45 people worked together for 455 days and made 25.000 photos! The historical background is also the history of Afro-Brazilian culture, told through the Yorùbá mythology, as remembered by the local historian Bira. The project was supported by Olórìṣà from Bahia`s Candomblé temples and many well-known artists, researchers and politicians who promote Afro-Brazilian culture. It is a statement for the passion and love many Brazilians share for the African cultural heritage. We are very happy that we had the chance to interview both of the directors. Read, what Jamile Coelho and Cintia Maria tell us about their movie “Òrun Àiye”, the current situation of Afro-Brazilians and Yorùbá culture in the diaspora!
Moussa: Estandarte Produções is an independent production company for animation, located in Salvador da Bahia, that supports many cultural and educational projects. Can you tell us about this commitment, which is quite rare for a commercial company?
Jamile Coelho: Estandarte was born out of a personal dream of overcoming. Although I attended Cinema and Audiovisual studies in a public and free University, the Federal University of Bahia, I always knew about the difficulty of entering this job market. I also had to choose between my studies and work, and often I had to prioritize work over studies. This is the reality of thousands of young people in Brazil. So when Cintia Maria and I founded the company Estandarte together in 2011, I was still in college and dreaming of an audiovisual production company that cared about the formation of young people, especially the black youth from the periphery, offering them possibilities beyond the social determinism that we are conditioned to - when we are born in the Brazilian favelas.
Who had the idea for this movie about the Yorùbá creation myth?
Cintia Maria: It happened in an unpretentious and natural way. Jamile Coelho, director of the film, and Thyago Bezerra, writer, met in college and were interested in knowing more about the artistic universe of each other. She was into cinema and he made sculptures of Orixás. When Jamile saw Thyago's work, she told him that she wanted to make a film with those sculptures. Later, Thyago sent a proposal of a story to her, in which he described the oral narratives of Yá Mukumbi Vilma Santos on the creation of the world.
We had the idea to pay homage to the professor and historian Ubiratan Castro in this film, after his early departure to “Òrun”. Bira, as he was called, dedicated his life to promoting racial equality and fighting religious intolerance. Besides being a great intellectual, he also was an excellent storyteller. He had the gift to fascinate his listeners and all the people around, who had the pleasure to work with him. I had the opportunity to learn a lot from Professor Bira, after winning a contest and working at the Pedro Calmon Foundation. In addition to learning about the historical events that shaped Brazil and Bahia, I learned that joy, generosity and love for one’s work go hand in hand with the power of transformation and realization.
You are Brazilian, speak Portuguese, and publish a movie with a title in Yorùbá language, so I guess your audience understands the words. What does "Òrun Àiyé" mean to you?
Jamile Coelho: We are Brazilians from the African diaspora, Salvador is the city with the largest black population outside of Africa and our main traditions are of African origin. Cooking, clothes and even some words from Yoruba language are incorporated into our everyday life. While we were realizing the project “Òrun Àiyé”, we were reconnecting with our ancestry. It is as if we made a trip back to Africa without the slave ship, fully accepting and re-appropriating our origins. African culture was invisible and disrespected for a long time in Brazil. This is happening even today, racism is very cruel here and comes in a hidden form, legitimized by the mainstream media. We are a country of mixed origins, with a stereotype of beauty that follows European models. I am from a generation that fortunately had access to the university through the public policies of a center-left government that was in power for thirteen years and recently suffered a parliamentary coup.
Do the universities play a role for the Black consciousness in Brazil?
Jamile Coelho: Within the universities a movement was formed to legitimize our Afro-Brazilian culture. Not long ago, we had more knowledge about the stories of the North American and South African racial struggles, like Nelson Mandela’s, than about the Brazilian ones. The writing of history erased our heroes and failed to recognize many people, by transforming their stories into mythology. This quest for our ancestry led us to produce the series “Òrun Àiyé”.
Do all the people understand the terms “Òrun Àiyé" in Brazil?
Jamile Coelho: “Òrun Àiyé" literally means “Heaven and Earth”. In Yoruba culture the “Òrun” is a sacred place where the Orixás live, and the people who have already left the “Aiyé”. All of us here on earth are currently in “Àiyé”, and one day we will leave for “Òrun”. These two words though are not part of the general linguistic appropriation we have made of the Yoruba language in Brazil. They are generally only recognized in the Candomblé terreiros or temples, where the nations of Yoruba origin speak the language in the daily life of the sacred space. For most people in Brazil we always have to explain the meaning of the expression “Òrun Àiyé”.
Stop-motion movies are work-intense. 45 professionals made 25.000 photos in 455 days and composed the film into a length of 12 minutes – your “Making Of” clip (see below) is impressive!
Jamile Coelho: There is a filmmaker named Jorge Furtado who says that making movies in Brazil is like trying to be an astronaut in Cyprus. I always paraphrase this, saying that Brazil is a country that is too tropical to want you to do animation in stop motion. Who with a clear mind does not want to go to the beach on a beautiful sunny day and instead will spend more than eighteen hours in a hermetically closed studio, not knowing if it's day or night, just to celebrate at the end of the work day the production of five seconds more of animation? Yeah, we're those crazy ones. In the United States, the film industry is well-established. The world's premier animation studios are American and, as it seems to me, this facilitates the market entry for young animators. I am self-taught, I remember the first time I wanted to do animation. I was ten years old and was watching "Chicken Run", I looked at the TV and said "that's what I want to do". My training took place mainly through studying the “Making Of” clips of various films produced by Laika. I watched the videos repeatedly, I would say frame by frame, to understand the mechanics of things and, at the same time, to make accessible adaptations to our Brazilian reality.
One can see that the Yorùbá stories and Òrìṣà are an important part of the Bahian identity.
Jamile Coelho: About the team, two words define the people who were working on our side: dedication and love. I can see these feelings when I look into their eyes. And I believe we have received a great help from the spiritual side while we were running this project.
Many Brazilian artists, intellectuals and Olórìṣà contributed with a statement on your website. João Jorge, president of the famous percussion troupe Olodum, mentions the enormous contribution of the film to the "Lei 10.639". Can you tell our readers about this law?
Jamile Coelho: “Law 10.639”, which deals with the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian history and culture in public and private schools, came about in 2003, when we began discussing the need for social reparation policies in Brazil. A gap was created between blacks and whites throughout the process of enslavement, that ended 127 years ago. Many of us have great-grandparents who were enslaved and who, after the abolition of slavery, were marginalized through underemployment, who were raising children without access to schools, they grew up illiterate or semi-illiterate. So we are the first of four generations to join a university. And from there, we started the process of legitimizing our history.
How does the application of the “Law 10.639” look like, practically?
Jamile Coelho: The historical legacy of racism makes it difficult to implement this law in classrooms. The difficulty in its legitimation and practice is connected to those teachers, who make use of the Brazilian constitution in this process. It affirms the country's secularity. However, we believe it is possible to discuss Afro-Brazilian and African culture beyond the religious sphere.
I have seen you will be participating in various festivals with the movie right now. It will be translated into English, French, Spanish, Yorùbá and Brazilian sign language. When or how can our readers outside of Brazil see the movie?
Cintia Maria: Currently we are searching for ways to make the distribution of the film possible on the medium of a DVD. The public can already watch it since last year at various movie festivals and film shows in Brazil and abroad. In addition to having it translated into five languages, the short film has already been shown in several countries, such as the United States, Switzerland, Colombia and Cuba. In April, for example, we had an official screening in New York at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
What are Estandarte Produções’ plans for the future?
Jamile Coelho: Our great plan in relation to this project is to continue with stories of Yorùbá culture in a serial format. At that moment, we are working on the scripts of the first season of the series “Òrun Àiyé”, with the idea of always honoring important figures of Brazilian black culture. The second episode still depends on the funding to be finalized. There are already thoughts to include international storytellers that interact with our main protagonist Luna. We believe that the connection with Africa needs to be presented in the series, perhaps, we can promote a “meeting with Mandela”. We need to get closer to our people in the world, "ubuntu - I am because we are". Brazilian children and all children around the world need to know who are Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nina Simone, Angela Davis and other people so important for our culture and our history.
Thank you for the interview, boa sorte e Axé!