Eliza with a women's group in the Omo River Valley, southern Ethiopia, in 2010. Photo: Personal archive
Eliza with a women's group in the Omo River Valley, southern Ethiopia, in 2010. Photo: Personal archive

Eliza Capai is a wanderer. With the equipment inside a backpack, the filmmaker often sets off alone to distant places, such as the deserts of Mali or the Ethiopian countryside. In these paths, she goes in search of different realities from her own. However, these cultural differences do not translate into estrangement or opposition to the other. Like an upside-down explorer, Eliza goes to great lengths to think about her surroundings. “What moves me is this process of understanding myself, not only to me Eliza, but to us, to this Brazilian and South American culture that cuts us off”, says the director.

With two feature films, 15 short films, reports and series in her luggage, the 37-year-old director moves between the fields of journalism and cinema. Her works, most of which are available on the internet, deal with different topics, such as the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, multiculturalism and the Bolsa Família program. In common, the politicized tone prevails. “I understand the world in an engaged way, I don't know how to be different”, she comments.

Born in 1979 in Rio de Janeiro, the filmmaker moved as a child to Vitória (ES), where she lived until she was 18 years old. In an interview with CULTURE! Brazilians, Eliza says that she always felt like a “fish out of water” in the city of Espírito Santo. After finishing school, she joined the Journalism course at USP. Coming to São Paulo was a break: “I was totally blown away by the anonymity of the metropolis. It was there that I realized that Vitória was the capital of femicide. The level of violence against women was frightening. In São Paulo, I realized that I could do much more than I imagined”.

Initially, Eliza aspired to work in print media. However, throughout college, she moved away from the text: “I really liked telling stories, but there was always the question of lead, of having to stick to the facts. This slowed me down a bit. And suddenly, when the video lessons started, I freaked out, I really fell in love. I was also lucky that in my final year of college, they got the PD 150, a small camera, and the digital island. With these changes, it became much easier to produce alone.”

Since then, the camera has become an inseparable instrument for Eliza on her travels. Days after graduating, the filmmaker left for Bolivia, starting a series of trips through Latin America, where she produced materials that she would trade on her way back. In 2008, she sold a series on female immigration to Central America to Magazine Fórum.

This trip is considered a watershed by the artist. For nine months, she traveled the distance from Panama to New York. In this project, she dealt with the female perspective, a theme that became recurrent in her work, especially in the film So far away is here, which he produced a year later in Africa.

eliza in the reflex_cabo verde
Photo taken in Cape Verde, in 2010. Photo: Personal archive

a white

The other side of the Atlantic always attracted Eliza, who wanted to understand a little more about Brazil's roots. Taking advantage of the World Cup in South Africa, the director wrote several travel projects to the continent. One of them was purchased by the GNT channel. Once again, the filmmaker embarked on a long journey alone: ​​“In January 2010, I went to Africa with a project guided by diversity. The painting I went to do for TV called African. The name was a joke because the women who appeared didn't look alike at all. I chose countries that have totally different languages, religions and customs. I started in Morocco, then went to Cape Verde, Mali, Ethiopia and ended the trip in South Africa”.

The journey, which could have taken eight weeks, took seven months. “My wish was to live that experience intensely, without having a goal. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to do something more authorial than the TV frame, so I recorded my daily life.” It was these recordings that gave rise to So Far Is Here, Eliza's first feature film, released in 2013.

The film shows the filmmaker's encounter with these African women from different cultures. Eliza films the daily lives of these characters as she reflects on the complexities of being a woman in the world. In these dialogues, the filmmaker tries not to use the lens of judgment. In their speeches, the interviewees themselves also break the stereotypes that Western society imposes on them.

The young Moroccan Assia, for example, says that she divorced her husband, whom she had married in a union arranged by her parents. “It's been three years since I broke up. Since then, I've never had a boyfriend because it was something that left a mark on me. My marriage was like a rape”, says the girl, in one of the many impactful scenes in the feature film.

In another strong sequence, Malian sociologist Awa Meite reflects on polygamy and female genital mutilation, habits present in some African tribes. “It is appropriate for each society to make its own analysis. Situations are different and I think the time has come for women to speak up for themselves. We cannot emancipate women for them. Just as we cannot want the development of Africa without the participation of Africans”, says the interviewee.

These lines alone would be enough to reveal the power of the film. However, Eliza adds another layer of meaning: self-criticism. The filmmaker says that during filming, she made several “very cruel” discoveries about herself. “For everyone who identifies with leftist thinking, it is very difficult to recognize themselves as a colonizer. It is hard to understand that our ancestors were slavers and that, somehow, they were responsible for the most horrible scenes in the country's history”.

The filmmaker interacts with children in northern Ethiopia while filming her first feature film, So Far Is Here, released in 2013
The filmmaker interacts with children in northern Ethiopia while filming her first feature film, So Far Is Here, released in 2013. Photo: Mathieu Verge

Eliza says that, in some moments of the trip, this identification with the colonizer was evident. “When I visited some villages, where there was no electricity, radios or even travelers, people who saw me thought I was from European countries, like France and Italy. And I said: 'No, I'm Brazilian, I come from a colonized country like yours'. And people would look at my face and laugh and say that we were not the same.”

In one of the strongest scenes in the film, Eliza asks a woman from a Dogon tribe in Mali: “What is the difference between us?”. With an ironic smile, the girl replies: “The difference is that I am black and you are white”. The answer, simple and no less devastating, haunts Eliza throughout the film. “I saw an abyss there, that specific woman took hours to get the water and find the food she would cook. I go to the supermarket, buy something made, heat it in my oven and have running water.” Until then, Eliza had never stayed so long in such poor places. She says that, in these moments, it is very easy to feel angry: “The revolt I had at poverty, at the submission of those women to super-macho systems, I often addressed themselves. At that moment, I had a very big crisis, I saw myself as racist, I saw myself as prejudiced, the opposite of what I would like to be. I came across that, it was impossible not to come across it,” she says.

The filmmaker wanted to expose this feeling, showing her weaknesses. To achieve this, she opted for a first-person narrative that kept an intimate tone. The film is addressed to a fictional daughter of the director, to whom she expresses her fears, doubts and prejudices.

“My main concern was not being the white woman who goes to Africa to talk about how things are going. He feared falling into the place of cultural arrogance, creating a documentary full of truths. At the same time, I had a very real experience in those places, but real first person singular. The question was how to talk about these findings without adopting a universalizing tone. That's where the film came from, from this desire to share all these learnings I had about being a woman, a Brazilian from the encounter with these other women, who sometimes resembled me, sometimes were totally opposites, making me reach even deeper truths.”

Record made in the Talatona neighborhood, in Luanda, Angola, during the investigative series for Agência Pública, in 2015. Photo: Personal archive
Record made in the Talatona neighborhood, in Luanda, Angola, during the investigative series for Agência Pública, in 2015. Photo: Personal archive

other truths

In 2015, Eliza returned to Africa in a project funded by the Public Agency for Investigative Journalism. Together with journalist Natalia Viana, the director went to Angola to carry out a series of reports. The initial project was to address the interests of Odebrecht, the first Brazilian company to enter Angola and, at the time of filming, the nation's largest private employer. However, upon arriving in the country, the duo learned of the 15 political prisoners who had been incarcerated for more than a month, accused of conspiracy against power.

The project was changed and the two decided to talk about political repression in the country, which, since 1979, had been ruled by José Eduardo dos Santos. During the investigations, the two began to be pursued by government agents, who followed their cars, recorded their actions, arrested the cameras, among other coercive actions that led them to leave the country under the protection of the Brazilian embassy. as in So Far Is Here, in this series of videos Eliza adopts the first person, without, however, the use of fiction.

The filmmaker says that her experience in Angola made her reflect on the role of the press. “I have always avoided being the journalist who enters a country and interprets more than she is entitled to. However, reporting in Angola was a turning point in my professional experience.” Eliza says that the climate of paranoia in Angola is reminiscent of a military dictatorship: “We decided to make a first-person documentary with a single objective: to validate what our interviewees claimed. Because their reality was so absurd that I myself, when I first heard the reports, thought they were paranoid. And I only really understood what they were alleging when we started being persecuted,” she says.

Soon after publishing the material, the two received several messages from Angolans thanking them for the video. Some people claimed they would use the video as evidence of political persecution to seek asylum in other countries. The filmmaker reinforces that this experience showed her the strength of committed journalism. “I realized the power of looking from the outside. In Angola, if someone from there makes a documentary like this, they will be persecuted. And not me, I returned to Brazil and my life returned to normal.”

As a comparison, she cites the foreign press coverage during Dilma Rousseff's impeachment process: “It was the international media that drew attention to the seriousness of our political situation. With their reporting of denunciation, the outside press forced the national mainstream media to report the reality from other, less simplistic points of view”.

Eliza photographs Julian Assange in England, in 2011. Photo: Personal archive
Eliza photographs Julian Assange in England, in 2011. Photo: Lino Bocchini


Another fact that impacted his way of seeing journalism was the meeting he had, in 2011, with the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. Initially, Eliza was invited to participate in a project by Agência Pública in partnership with WikiLeaks, which consisted of facilitating access by several countries to documents held by US embassies in their territories. Eliza would develop a series about this process. For that, she went to the house where Assange was exiled, in the north of England, along with a team of professionals willing to divulge the information.

The series ended up not getting off the ground, but the filmmaker was able to learn a little more about the organization's work, in addition to Assange himself, with whom he made a video. Entitled What Does It Cost To Change The Wordld? (How Much Does It Cost to Change the World?), the work is a parody of Mastercard commercials. In the video, Assange's voice-over cites all of his expenses to support WikiLeaks, from legal processes to maintaining servers in 40 countries. At the end, he appears in front of the cameras smiling and says: “Watching the world change as a result of your work? Priceless".

After meeting Assange, the filmmaker agrees that there is indeed a persecution of the Australian. “He has been surrounded for a long time inside the embassy, ​​it is very clear that, with his arrest, the authorities want to send the message that one should not try to bring out other truths. At the same time, I was very impressed to see how a small group of people can make a difference and spread essential information.”

For the filmmaker, it is precisely this commitment to the facts that is weakened in the Brazilian press. “Currently, the left-wing media reproduces what the right-wing vehicles have been doing: judging more than offering information to readers.” Eliza also defends that alternative media should speak to a wider audience: “We need to enter other bubbles and dialogue with the different. I have a desire to speak to the unconverted and this is obviously a challenge, particularly in terms of language. We have to empathize with people we totally disagree with”, says the director. 

Severina_3107_self portrait_254
Self-portrait made in 2013, during the filming of the short severinas, in Guaribas, in the hinterland of Piau

the end of slavery

One of Eliza's best-known works is the short severinas, filmed in the city of Guaribas, in the hinterland of Piauí. She produced the work in 2013, shortly after reading the book Voices of Bolsa Família, by Walquiria Rego and Alessandro Pinzani. The authors studied the mechanism that favors the delivery of cash benefits to women. In the works, the two find that the measure generated great changes in the family nuclei, since the women started to control part of the income of the house.

The filmmaker was very impressed with the book: “I found the premise charming, I wanted to go to these places and see what I would find. Once again I got a grant from Agência Pública and traveled to Guaribas, the pilot city of the Zero Hunger program, where I spent two weeks”.

In a delicate way, Eliza entered the house of these women to understand their daily life in one of the poorest cities in the country: “One of the most impressive aspects of the trip was hearing women my age saying that they had lived through slavery. And that impressed me a lot because they weren't centenarians who actually witnessed the end of the slave regime. They were 30-year-old women,” she says.

Another prominent scene is the interview with one of the local leaders, the town's teacher. “Everyone told me I should talk to him, who is considered the most cultured man in the region. I thought that in the interview he could give me an overview of the changes that different generations of women were experiencing. However, to my surprise, when I asked this question, he said that there was none of that and that everyone should put themselves in his place, since women had inferior qualities to men.”

Hearing the teacher's words, the filmmaker was stunned. “It was very surprising to realize that in that society this was verbalized by a cultured man. And the ironic thing is, I'm sure a lot of my cool friends, somewhere in them, think so too. But, in the bubble where I circulate, if this is verbalized, it will get very bad and everyone will fall on top of it. And in that place it was the truth, it was right to speak that way. And that made me understand even better those women my age who lived there,” she says.

However, while talking to the girls in town, Eliza was pleasantly surprised. Unlike the mothers who associated success with having a good husband, they presented a different discourse. “All of them, without exception, replied that they did not want to get married or have children, but to work to ensure their own livelihood. I get goosebumps every time I remember it, because there I saw the transformation. It is fantastic that a program has managed to change so profoundly the way these girls live and think about their own world”, emphasizes the filmmaker.

Faced with the changes in national policy, Eliza feels distressed with the direction of Bolsa Família. “Recently, the film was re-screened and all I could think about was that these policies of inclusion are threatened. I left the session with the awareness that a policy that takes years to build can be erased very quickly. At the same time, I refuse to believe that the transformations will regress. I try to think of it as an irreversible process.”

The female presence, by the way, is a common feature of most of the filmmaker's productions. She points out that, in the XNUMXst century, women still have less space in the media and in cinema in particular: “I have a great desire to amplify these voices. I think finding these women, giving them that space of image and speech is, in a way, doing the little justice that I have. It gives me enormous professional pleasure,” she says.

On the trips she takes alone, the filmmaker herself has to deal with machismo, feeling vulnerable in many situations. But she guarantees that this situation of apparent fragility can also help her to get closer to people.

“Generally, as a woman, I'm not seen as a threat. On the contrary, people feel more comfortable talking about their lives. And maybe because I accept to enter their house alone, putting myself in situations that could be risky, empathy is created between us and a surrender on the part of the interviewee.”

In the photo, with journalist Bruno Wies, during the filming of O Jabuti e a Anta. Photo: Carol Quintanilha
In the photo, with journalist Bruno Wies, during the filming of The tortoise and the tapir. Photo: Carol Quintanilha


Wild capitalism

In one of her latest projects, Eliza deals with disputes over the Amazon. The idea came about in 2014, when the filmmaker was hired by Greenpeace to make the series. Lines, about the different energy models. She says that, as soon as the film crew came across Belo Monte, the impact was immediate: “None of us had experienced a catastrophe as wide-open as the one that was happening and is happening in Belo Monte,” she says.

After this experience, Eliza decided to make the feature film The tortoise and the tapir, already shown at festivals in 2016. The film, which is narrated by actress Letícia Sabatella and co-produced by Greenpeace, deals with the impacts of the energy generation model based on the use of hydroelectric plants. The filmmaker says that, throughout the filming, she felt “a deep love for the Xingu River and an anguish of knowing that all that had an expiration date”.

In the documentary, the director interviews people from riverside communities who had their way of life totally changed by the construction of hydroelectric dams. In one of the most emblematic sequences, one of the residents is revolted by the situation: “I have a lot of affection for this land where I live. And now, all of a sudden, because of the dams, I'm going to have to get out of here. Yesterday I had a house, today I don't. This hurts a lot. Wow, we are nothing, to the point that you have to give what is yours to other people”.

Based on strong testimonies like this, the feature film deals with the advances of capitalism and resistance movements on the part of communities. At one point in the film, the narrator comments: “The first feeling is that money here tried to buy everything, even lifestyles, even lives. Indians with speedboats, riverside dwellers with apartments, it all seemed wrong”.

The first-person narrative, by the way, was the director's choice to reveal the dilemmas of those who are fully inserted in the consumption system. “It is very easy to join the campaign against Belo Monte, to put pressure on the case of Mariana to be investigated. The hard part is not buying a cell phone or, in my case, not changing equipment when a better camera comes out. It seems that they are different things, but the trip showed that they were all the same. As long as we do not relate these large companies that promote genocide and environmental disasters to our own lifestyles, Belos Montes will continue to be built, mining companies will continue to operate and large industries will continue to manufacture things with slave labor, while we consume.”

Photo: Carol Quintanilha
Eliza enjoying the river in the Amazon. Photo: Carol Quintanilha

Unlike most of his productions, The tortoise and the tapir will be displayed on the commercial circuit. The filmmaker says that she is in the negotiation phase with a distributor, which she has not yet been able to reveal. Eliza opted for this strategy to reach a greater number of people: “At the present moment, with the amount of audiovisual productions that enter the network, it is not enough just to make them available on the Internet, it is necessary to make the public know that the film is there” , says.

The director points out the contradictions of launching the feature film on the market: “The tortoise and the tapir is a critical work to the capitalist system, mainly the energy models. Inserting this film into a market logic seems a little complicated to me. At the same time, it is important to reach a wider audience. So I hope the film has a good career in theaters, arrives on Netflix and is watched a lot. But it should also be displayed in school occupations and be available to any community that wants to strengthen its self-esteem”, he says.

Eliza is part of a new generation of filmmakers who don't necessarily rely on public incentives to produce their work. The films that the director has released so far are independent, having relied on crowdfunding or the support of institutions such as Greenpeace and the Agência Pública de Jornalismo.

The filmmaker says that the amount of good Brazilian productions that are released per year is impressive. she quotes It was the Cambridge Hotel, by Eliane Caffe, and Martyrdom, by Vincent Carelli, as recent productions that touched her a lot. “These are very powerful films that could only be made using alternative financing models. In parallel, we have a technological transformation that greatly impacted the audiovisual sector. It's been a while since my entire production house fits inside my backpack. This mobility, without a doubt, generated an ease of production that was not previously available.”

Credit: Paulo Pereira
Filming in Baixada Fluminense (RJ), in 2012. Photo: Paulo Pereira


Always interested in political issues, Eliza spent the last year producing the film Resistance. The feature film, which still does not have a release date, is set against the backdrop of the months of Michel Temer's interim government. Once again using the first-person narrative, the documentary reflects on national politics from the experiences of the occupations. The director went to some occupied buildings, such as the Legislative Assembly of the State of São Paulo and the Ministry of Culture in Rio, to talk to the people who were there.

“I wanted to film these ordinary individuals who were in the resistance, understanding the importance of the collective and the form of occupation as a method of drawing attention to their agendas. All the occupations that I entered had very strong discussions about the issue of gender, racism, the periphery, it sewed them all together.”

Like Eliza, many other filmmakers produce documentaries that discuss, in different ways, the current political crisis in the country. Anna Muylaert, Petra Costa and Adirley Queirós are some of them. For the journalist, these different perspectives are essential: “We have no idea what the direction of our policy will be, but we know that history is written by the winners. If the winners continue to be these people who seized power, we have a big problem. In this sense, we filmmakers are building other points of view that will certainly help to reconstruct the narrative of this historic moment.”

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