Many Lives of a Shield – with Dr Luciana Martins

In 2016 the Derek Jarman Lab had the pleasure of collaborating with Dr Luciana Martins, from the Department of Cultures and Languages at Birkbeck, on her British Council Insitutional Links funded project ‘Mobilising the value of biocultural collections in Brazil, led by the Instituto de Pesquisas Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro (JBRJ), in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), the Federação das Organizações Indígenas do Rio Negro (FOIRN) and the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi (MPEG).

The project aimed to build capacity among Brazilian research institutes to research, catalogue and mobilise data from important collections, and to develop these unique resources for improved understanding of the useful and cultural properties of plants. As part of her research, Dr Martins attended a tailored film production course at the Derek Jarman lab, and hired equipment to film and document her workshops with indigenous communities in the Rio Negro region of Brazil. On her return, she produced a short film with expertise from the Derek Jarman Lab, The Many Lives of a Shield (also available with Portuguese subtitles).

This is Dr Martins’ summary of the project, and her collaboration with the Derek Jarman Lab:

I was about to take part on a 10-day workshop with indigenous peoples in the Amazon on the Richard Spruce biocultural collections at Kew Gardens, so I thought it would be a good idea to make a short film. The purpose of filming was twofold. First I wanted to explore the potential of film to elicit memories and stories of the indigenous peoples participating in the workshop about specific artefacts of Kew’s collection. The second was to tell the story of one of these artefacts in a way that I could convey cinematically the contrasting environments of the object’s life.

Without any previous experience of filming, I contacted the Derek Jarman Lab for advice. They convinced me that my idea wasn’t completely mad, and that I would be able to produce something watchable if I had some basic instructions on filmmaking. Lily Ford promptly helped me with the budget for an application for funding, and I enrolled on the DJL two-weekend filming workshop with Bartek Dziadosz and Bea Moyes. The workshop – with very friendly, hands-on tuition and relaxed atmosphere – demystified the process of filmmaking, giving me confidence to go ahead with my project. Luckily I got the funding and a week after the end of the course I had Bea with me filming at Kew the materials I wanted to take with me to Brazil. She swiftly edited the clips and off I went.

It took me a while to get used to carrying the equipment around – the camera and sound recorder were neatly packed in a rucksack –, but the ‘lightweight’ tripod (of 5kg) was bulkier. I was glad that there was always a friendly hand around, not just to help me carry the tripod, but also to do the occasional sound recording and filming – doing it all yourself is a tall order!

São Gabriel da Cachoeira was a glad surprise – it couldn’t be more scenic. With a broad idea of the script I wanted to follow, there were specific features I would like to shoot, but the enthusiasm of the indigenous peoples during the sessions captured my attention, so I ended up filming almost every workshop session! Showing the clips taken at Kew brought the artefacts closer to the participants, prompting animated exchanges.

Back to London with more than 8 hours of footage, it was very exciting to see the film taking shape, the images being carefully woven together, flowing with the narrative. Bea suggested having a music specially composed by Tim Maryon for the film, which worked very well. After a series of exchanges, Bea then produced the final version of the film, which I’m very happy with. And now I’m working on a very short film just to document the workshop activities, a kind of visual report.

Overall, this was a fascinating experience. It opened-up a new way of working, seeing and thinking, which I’m still getting to terms with. And I’m truly grateful for Bea, Bartek and Lily for making this possible.

Luciana Martins

19 December 2016

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