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Exclusive Interview with Paulo Mendel | Hygieia

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Synopsis
"Hygieia" is an abstract healing process that takes place in the unconscious mind of the deity. Inspired by an ancient incubation treatment, known as Enkoimeses, the sci-fi queer film portrays Hygieia.

1 – Firstly, congratulations on this achievement. Internalizing the experimental piece,
we see how the text and its different ways of integrating it with the image play an
important role in expressing sensations and communicating concepts, how was the
process of thinking the text within the video?

EMILIANNO ZAPATA: Studying Greek mythical texts during the Covid-19 pandemic,
Hygieia caught my attention as a character I would like to play. I have been learning more
about her, realizing that Goddess of health, Hygieia, was likely represented as a
supporting character to her father, Asclepius, the God of medicine. I seek her the spotlight
on that moment we are experiencing, in a reinterpretation with a subversive and queer
aesthetic, breaking with the existing Greek imagination.


PAULO MENDEL: Once this is about a mythology which inspired artists since antiquity,
that problematization of representation was led to the scene. In the film, we build a main
character from descriptive text, as an information from a statue in a museum. But Hygieia
is far major than that. The text does not handle the character’s complexity, which initiates
an interaction between the filmed performance and the overlaid lettering. The word is an
element of the performance, a part of the scenario. A limiting and binary classification that
is literally erased in the protagonist’s self-knowledge process.

2 – How was the process in terms of scenery, costumes, and makeup to bring this
play to life and express the notion of healing?

EMILIANNO ZAPATA: The first image I saw of Hygieia was in Gustav Klimt’s painting.
She is wrapped around the serpent and full of gold. Even though my vision didn’t exactly
match the picture, it inspired me. I figured her with another physical form and thought that
she shouldn’t have her body covered with a cloak. I wanted to deconstruct that image, and
then a healing process began for both: me and my queer body, and for the character as
well. We created my costume with elements associated with healing, such as quartz-like
stones, applied in a BDSM-style fetish look, but in a white and aseptic version.


PAULO MENDEL: We based ourselves on an ancient treatment through dreams called
Enkoimeses (incubation), and we were inspired by the architecture of the Tholos of
Epidaurus, in the sanctuary of healing, to create a dreamlike and sci-fi atmosphere. We
start in a kind of space capsule-cocoon, referring to an artificial product, to cause a
suffocating sensation around a being that needs to expand, like a snake that sheds its
skin. It’s a metaphor for coming out, a conflict common to LGBTQIA+ bodies. The water
mirror scenario is an evolution of that. It reflects the fluidity of Hygieia’s essence,
symbolizing the transformation of poison into antidote.

3 – What is it that led you as an artist to go into the experimental genre and what do
you like most about it?

PAULO MENDEL: One of the impressions that most interests me in queer culture is the
subversion of the potential “failure”, and this also moves me to carry out experimental work. I
see experimental cinema as a hybrid genre free from standardization, which has in its very
concept the condition of reinventing itself. I think it goes through a process of exciting
discoveries and mistakes as well. I like to create with a certain risk, with chance. Maybe that
is why I also enjoy making documentaries so much or applying documentary strategies to
direct fiction.


EMILIANNO ZAPATA: The experimental genre has this effect of taking professionals and
artists out of any ready-made model of making films and telling narratives. For me, there is
some sort of audiovisual shamanic magic happening on set, which only when you indulge in
a new kind of ritual, without being sure of the outcome, is it possible, perceptible, and
transformative.

4 – There is some very interesting sound work throughout the video. How do you think
sound plays an important role when working on experimental pieces?

PAULO MENDEL: Actually, sound is super important in any genre of film, but in the
experimental context the composition of music and sound design is one of the fundamental
elements for a more abstract narrative, mostly in a film with no dialogues as “Hygieia”. I’ve
been lucky enough to work for years with a composer who decodes my ideas into sound, as
Luciano Oliveira. He felt we must have a closer synergy between the score and the sound,
therefore he settled to use, for example, the sound signature of water as a basis for tribal
modulations in certain sections. I do believe that resulted into something larger than the sum
of its parts.

EMILIANNO ZAPATA: The sound for me is an escape from reality. When I am creating a
new performance, I am involved in creating a new perspective, full of scents, warmth,
densities, and other invisible characteristics. Being the sonority, the main one since it
enhances the sensorial totality within a fractal new reality. Music is something that feeds me
in many ways, hence it was a very nice surprise to be nominated for “Hygieia” as Best
Soundtrack at BUEIFF, in addition to Best Experimental Short.

Hygieia Fragment

5 – We see that the editing has a very laborious job in the film. We would like to ask you
how this process was and how you built it?

PAULO MENDEL: The assembling idea was to merge the boundaries of inside and outside
of the body, as well as imagination and biology. Is that a fantasy or reality? Perhaps,
however with the possibility of coexisting different interpretations on which part that would
be. Since post-production began, we have already manipulated the image, each shot
individually. The editing took place in parallel with some stages of motion graphics. As the
sequences emerged, new interferences were added up. Then we went back to editing.
Following the same flow, we headed with the animation, VFX, and the soundtrack. Each
process, mutating the others until we reached the final cut.


EMILIANNO ZAPATA: In reality, it was something fluid. It was like putting together a mosaic
of various artists and designers, although with many synchronicities between them. The
result was beyond we planned, and that was a goal we set ourselves from the beginning.
Supposing we have established the final film image, we would not have achieved such
result.

6 – Would you like to highlight or tell us about the realization of this piece, any
anecdote that has been left out of the material?

EMILIANNO ZAPATA: Unfortunately, we live in the most violent country for LGBTQIA+
bodies and I grew up watching gay men on TV who were beaten on Paulista Avenue, which
is the most famous and hectic avenue in São Paulo. When prejudice joins the others, such
as machismo against lesbian women and transphobia on trans bodies, that is further
aggressive. I didn’t have references on my childhood, of queer people who were powerful
and feared. I just saw people like me being beaten and killed. So, I believe this powerful
queer imagery is necessary within cultural works around the world. It moves me to develop
this film series, regards Greek myths, in which “Hygieia” is the first result.


PAULO MENDEL: At the same time, we see religion in Brazil being co-opted by a far right
movement that encourages even more intolerance against our LGBTQIA+ bodies. In the last
years we had to fight for not to succumb to necropolitics and a fundamentalist threat around
here. Bringing back mythology that predates Christianity is not a trip to the past, but a future
glance. We’re looking further to understand ourselves as humankind and thinking about the
world beyond today. It is important to mention that this short was also conceived during the
covid pandemic, before the vaccination in Brazil, and this short is a tribute to this Goddess.
Since by taking care of our health was the most likely way to protect us in that moment.

7- Do you have more audiovisual projects in mind for the future?

EMILIANNO ZAPATA: From this film series, we are finishing the second short, “The Silence
of Kore”, about the myth of Demeter and Persephone. It’s a story about love and choices,
but from Persephone’s perspective, which was usually forgotten. There are many ways to
tell the myth, and sometimes people over-romanticize a tragic story. The mother, Demeter, is
played by the singer Larissa Luz, who did a wonderful job. In my opinion, we totally broke
with the white Greek imagery, in a darker experimental short with super-powered characters.
Next year, we will be filming the third short, “Delphi”, which takes place in a very famous
oracle in ancient times and was composed by a group of women, who guided emperors and
pharaohs. In our version, we’re going to bring women and queer people giving the answers
to straight cis people.


PAULO MENDEL: I direct these shorts of the Emilianno series, but I’m also directing a
documentary feature in development and the second season of the non-fiction series
“Smiling Eyes”, about people living with long-term facial paralysis, whose first season was
part of the official selection of the BUEIFF webseries festival.

8- From what place do you think you got your passion for art and the combination of it
in different formats?

PAULO MENDEL: I think art is a form of political and poetic action. The more diverse, more
democratic, and at the same time subjective, it becomes better. The audiovisual is very
broad, and I do not manifest myself only in the cinema. Depending on the idea, I develop
transmedia projects, video installations, webdocs, and explore new possibilities. It’s a little bit
of what we understand as expanded cinema, but it’s much more about discovering my own
complexities as a creator.


EMILIANNO ZAPATA: My passion for art came from the need to flirt with mystical universes.
I have always related to spiritual issues and indigenous and African-based practices. I went
through rituals where I gave myself to the experience and didn’t know exactly the results. I
experienced some rites of passage as an artist until I understood that my body could be art,
being a fluid, non-binary body that disputes political and social places. Art entwined all these
rites and connected me with the experimental formats in which I live and believe.

Hygieia
Short Film Experimental
Year completed: April 5, 2022 Runtime: 6 minutes 2 seconds Country: Brazil Director: Paulo Mendel

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