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É na terra não é na lua

É na terra não é na lua

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Gonçalo Tocha’s first film, Balaou (2007), saw him voyaging on a small boat from the mid-Atlantic Azores to Portugal as an homage to his late mother, and getting seasick in the process. For the director, islands are like boats, isolated entities stopped in the middle of the ocean.

And it doesn’t get more isolated than the volcanic Portuguese island of Corvo, at 4km long the smallest island in the Azores, up until the early 20th century a self-dependent agricultural community. Its history, however, remains mostly unwritten: it is a place of mystery, of old superstitions and fantastic natural scenery.

Over three periods in 2007 and 2008, Tocha (sound man in tow) set out as Corvo’s contemporary social historian, filming examples of labour, local craftsmanship (hat and cheese-making), customs and religious rituals, the glorious terra and the fauna, the café, party and even the political life. He also interviewed some of its oldest residents, gleaning stories about the island’s colourful past.

In three hours and 14 chapters, Tocha reveals the process by which he endeared himself to the community, and constructs a mosaic of Corvo’s inhabitants, which numbers only about 440, plus a fluctuating number of cows and pigs.

He’s has made just about the warmest film you’ll ever see, with a love for the place, the people and, yes, the animals. The documentary earns every second of its running time, and, if anything, is too short: I’m sure he missed a couple of pigs.

Mark Peranson
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