Upon Reflection

The very nature of the Transmitting Musical Heritage project invites constant reflection.
The films I’ve made with the researchers began as a record of their thoughts, doubts and hopes when it came to the adopted process and specific focus of interest of each group.
But, even from the first observational piece, the camera became inquisitive and actively curious, highlighting nuances, unspoken dynamics and emphasising verbalised ideas in visual terms. I was in the privileged position of being ‘outside looking in’ and felt, to a larger degree, honoured to be given access to such minds at work.
Transmitting Musical Heritage: Ensemble
My commitment to best document/represent the various stages of the project was soon recognised, together with the films’ key role as reflection tools. It could be said that I treated each participant as a character – and hence the fully-engaged result – but it was definitely a two-way street, because my individuality has been respected and appreciated, contributing towards a very organic flow of my vision. Ultimately, I’m there to serve the project. Each time I show up with my camera, my ego is parked outside. Yet, I’ve been more than encouraged to be myself within my role.
And who am I? It’s easy enough to work out who I was prior to this project.
My ample previous experience in working with migrants, community organisations and documentaries within which cultural heritage is sustained and shared through music certainly provided the right credentials to help me secure the job.
Incredible Cultures
Still, my approach to filmmaking (and, in particular, to documentaries) has been periodically challenged – in ways that have positively forced me to reflect and consider.
On one occasion, having been invited to deliver a talk about my filmmaking practice at a festival in London, a member of the audience approached me at the end to express his bafflement. In his view, a certain clip from a documentary that I’d screened was unlike anything he’d seen before. For him, documentaries invariably presented the viewer with illustrated information. What he’d seen, that clip, opened the window to a far more ‘constructed thing’.
He was an aspiring documentarist, therefore more reliant on theory and convention, but his words did make me think.
Lisboa Involuntária (Involuntary Lisbon)
My participation in (and attendance of) the Sheffield Doc/Fest have also been a means to reflect on the nature, function and form(s) of the documentary genre. From time to time, I would cover the event with articles for a local magazine that exposed my doubts towards it all. In my selections, I would always gravitate towards films that would centre on personal circumstances and, more importantly, that would employ genuine cinematic techniques to better serve the material at hand. What i would invariably shy away from would be films with an agenda, that would embrace the convenience of exploring a current hot topic and, above all, that sustained the common most employed criteria that the value of content surpasses the importance of the filmmaking itself.
My written views on this were divisive and garnered me the reputation of someone who didn’t appreciate documentaries – when, in fact, it’s the opposite. I would say that, precisely because I want to see every genre fulfilling their potential (and because I have the experience to back up my claims) I can be so critical.
The truth is, it works at a far more profound level.
Yes, all the projects that I have made within the documentary field have been commissioned. But, the simple fact that I have invested so much of my artistic self into them has come to inform a very gradual realisation on my part.
Uma Curta de Amor (A Short of Love)
I’ve become aware of how much the boundaries between the fictional and the factual are naturally blurred – and with great advantages to both ‘factions’. Which brings me back to Transmitting Musical Heritage and its films.
I’m at an exciting crossroads in my career. Deeper philosophical questions are prompting my filmmaking to evolve towards an approach that I have come to define in recent years as Cinema Livre (Free Cinema).
Documentary has informed fiction with a technical versatility that frees me to go straight to the essence of a subject. Fiction has enriched documentary-based forms of expression with techniques that bring coherence and emphasis to every key aspect and intention – making it work at unexpected levels.
Transmitting Musical Heritage: Legacy
In all their simplicity, the TMH films are the perfect embodiment of that.
You have an elliptical style that juxtaposes actions and combines imagery with a carefully observed moment. You have shifts in time that oscillate between the seamless and the stylised.
And you have characters. Engaging, vibrant personalities whose thoughts made verbal solo over a score of arranged concepts.

                                                                        - João Paulo Simões, 12th July 2015