The Oil is Ours: Filmmaker Joana Pimenta on portraying national narratives [Video]

Joana Pimenta and Adirley Queirós’ visionary hybrid of documentary and science-fiction, Dry Ground Burning (2022) envisions an alternate present, in which a daring group of outlaw women pirates, refines and distributes petrol in the working-class neighborhoods of Bolsonaro’s Brazil. Between run-ins with inept security forces and tense negotiations with motorcycle-riding couriers, gang leader Chitara (Joana Darc Futado) and her recently paroled sister Léa (Léa Alves da Silva) reconnects and bond over the shared hardships of their upbringing, desires and bold exploits. Filmed with non-professional actors whose real lives sometimes interrupt the fictions onscreen, the film dares to imagine an alternative to state-facilitated systems of extraction, exploitation and mass incarceration.  

Dry Ground Burning is unlike any film I’ve ever seen,” said Michael Metzger, The Block Museum’s Pick-Laudati Curator of Media Arts. “It’s simultaneously an epic narrative about outlaws in a repressive state building an underground economy of oil, a documentary portrait of women’s personal and political lives in a marginalized community in Brazil, and a record of a much larger collaborative project between the filmmakers and those women.” 

Dry Ground Burning screened February 24 as part of Block Cinema’s series Crude Aesthetics: Oil on Film. Filmmaker Joana Pimenta joined Block Cinema attendees for a virtual Q&A after the film. Pimenta is a filmmaker and writer from Portugal whose work has screened at international film festivals including the Locarno Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Rotterdam and more. She studied film and critical media practice at Harvard, where she currently teaches film.  

“The insight and context that Pimenta was able to share with us totally transformed my understanding and appreciation of the film’s richness,” Metzger said of Pimenta’s Q&A. “It’s exactly the kind of conversation we hope to have with filmmakers at Block Cinema.” 

Watch the Interview

“So, the film starts as an adventure of us thinking, “Okay, so we’re already discussing all of this, so what if we made this film where the people in this periphery found oil and we played with the formative narrative for Brazil, which is the oil is ours,” which is this phrase that is very well known, that people have said for the last 150 years.

And so, that’s where we start. Then, the coup happens, Dilma gets overthrown, this law gets canceled. And then, with the Temer, but especially with the Bolsonaro governments, the oil reserves start being sold very, very cheaply to multinational companies. So, when we start filming, between the moment of writing, getting the funding, and starting to shoot, the film already starts kind of like as an anachronism, right? Because it can no longer be an adventure. Now, it needs to be a form of, like, a war with the state. Instead of finding oil, they need to steal oil.”
– filmmaker Joana Pimenta  

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