Miriam Dalsgaard

Watching Tom Zé was like watching me moving in space: An Interview with Vincent Moon

By 27 November, 2011

We’re big fans of Vincent Moon here on Sounds and Colours. His Petites Planetes and Take Away Shows videos have featured some of our favourite musicians, people like Soema Montenegro, Ney Matogrosso, Fernando Milagros and Tom Zé, all filmed using Vincent’s distinctive style. Recently he has released Esperando el Tsunami, an astonishing journey through Colombia featuring Lulacruza and many of Colombia’s finest musicians. We’ve really fallen in love with the film and so decided the time was right to ask Vincent a few questions about his style of film-making and all of these projects that we love so much.

How did the Esperando el Tsunami project begin? Who contacted who? When did you come up with the idea?

I met Luis while in Buenos Aires, 2 years ago. we exchanged on Colombian music i think, and later him and Alejandra mentioned a possible project in their country – Alejandra is Colombian. I think thats what happened but I’m not completely sure, you’ll have to ask them. I don’t use my memory. But I probably just said let’s do it, as I do for any projects. I didn’t give a second thought, I wanted to discover Colombia, and for me making films is always a good pretext to have an adventure. I just didn’t know this adventure would take us so far, and considerably change my life.

When you started the Esperando project what was your knowledge of Colombian music and culture? Were you aware of many of the artists and the styles of music before you started the project?

No, not really. I don’t care much about doing researchs before, usually I am lucky to travel all the time and just find things on the spot. I discover things like a child, I don’t plan, I just go and open my eyes. On this project, Alejandra and Luis did all the research and made the first contacts, I just arrived there without any preconceived idea. I just like to improvise my films, any kind of preparation is a weird thing for me, I am not good at it. I think they sent me some stuff probably to check, but really, I had no idea.

Following the project, what is your opinion of of Colombia and it’s music?

Colombia is the most intense place I know on this planet, the most fascinating for me. An incredible richness, still very much preserved, a constantly exciting and generous place to be in. It’s a sacred land in my opinion, where the nature is just more intense, more present and informs every aspect of life, wherever you are in the country.

Is there much footage left from the journey? Will you be releasing any of this?

Yes, we plan to release many outtakes from the various musicians we met, as in the end you will see the film doesn’t include many of those, but went its own way. But it might take a few weeks before we are able to finish them all. We will also release various sonic aspects of the projects, in terms of a Lulacruza album and another one with the other musical traditions we encountered.

Two of your recent projects [a documentary about All Tomorrow’s Parties festival and Esperando el Tsunami] have been funded by Kickstarter campaigns. Do you feel this has now become a viable way of funding a film, one that you would recommend to other film-makers?

Obviously it is, and the success of such websites in the past two years demonstrate it. It just resonates well with the way people create nowadays, its very much based on trust from people who like what you do. In a way various people (like, 200 maybe on this Esperando El Tsunami?) just produce the film, its more exciting than buying a final product.

Your current work with Lulacruza and Petites Planetes has seen you move away from the work you did with international acts such as REM and Arcade Fire? Was this a conscious decision to move away from these more commercial acts or was this just how it panned out?

It just happened, really. I scare myself sometimes in how I can be so curious about life, no idea where this comes from, but yeah many people have freaked out in the past because of my energy. I never ever do the same thing twice, I just can’t, I always want to go somewhere else, try something new, and learn in the process, basically. Its always about moving, changing constantly, being this chameleon made of so many colours. I am happy with those past projects with more indie or rock bands, it was a very nice thing, now I am more interested into exploring various musical traditions and experimenting with them, as I think it’s a deeper challenge, and more rewarding in terms of knowledge about our humankind. It’s a long journey I am making, being a nomad for 3 years now, and I just recently understood what I am doing. Well, I understood something, not the full picture, but i have no desire of understanding everything. In our era of complete informations, we tend to disregard mystery and the unknown and its a sad thing. I don’t really understand my films, I just make them, and then people tell me stories about what they feel. It’s an exciting process.

Do you see yourself working with mainstream groups such as Arcade Fire or REM again?

No. I did it, it was great (well, more or less regarding which bands previously mentioned), being on a stage in front of 50,000 people, running around with a camera, capturing that raw energy of a rock show, but I wouldn’t learn anything new doing it again. It’s my past, fine.

Is there one artist (or artists) from all your time working with Take Away Shows, Petites Planetes and other projects that really stands out as one of your favourite experiences as a film-maker?

Normally, i would say no, or that there are too many. Today, i will reply Tom Zé, because last night I had this talk with a girl who told me that watching Tom Zé in my film was like watching me moving in space. That’s the best thing I have ever heard!

I’ve been really enjoying your Petites Planetes videos in Brazil, especially when dealing with the theatrical (Tom Ze, Ney Matogross) and the ceremonial (Alessandra Leao, Carlinhos Brown). There’s obviously a lot of diversity in Brazilian music. Is this one of the reasons why you spent so much time in the country? Were there other attractions to Brazil?

Brazil… It’s a very unique thing in the world, you know that. You can’t compare Brazil to any other country, or you would just come up with a list of 10 countries Brazil makes you think about. It’s the whole syncretic aspect of the culture that fascinates me, as well as the extremely sensual relationship to the bodies people have. I miss it usually when travelling in other parts of the world – I just spent two months in Indonesia, which is also a very syncretic and fascinating culture, with many similarities to Brazil. But, they don’t have at all this relationship to their bodies that Brazilians have. It’s a very precious thing.

Now i am planning a bigger project about various aspects of Candomblé, that I hope to make later in 2012. I am obsessed with it, of course, and especially after researching a lot in the past months about how oral cultures and rituals tend to represent in a brighter way the changes in humankind (check for example the Torajan culture in Sulawesi, Indonesia), Candomblé is a gorgeous culture to approach and learn from. Also, I don’t know any good films about Candomblé apart from an interesting essay documentary by David Byrne, so I will make my own!

You’re now in a position where you seem to be able to find funding for your videos and find ways in which people around the world can easily view these films. Do you feel you’ve now found your ideal method of making and disseminating your work? Do you think you can break anymore boundaries between your work and the audience?

In a way, yes I feel very much at ease with my ‘economy’ now. I live without any money, or very little sums, from film festivals or music festivals who invite me mostly. But, I don’t make films ‘for free’ as someone was telling me the other day – I just don’t make them ‘for money’, but I get very well paid in the energy of people, in the exchanges I have on an everyday basis, in invitations for a diner or a drink.
This is really my lifestyle and I don’t want to change it for anything else, for now. I travel alone, so I just have to take care of myself.

I know I should sometimes take more care “promoting” the films, but I really can’t do it, for a few reasons. If someone helps me, fine, if not, I just put the films online and barely announce them, people who research will find them, but I don’t push people much towards them. If you are curious, fine, if not, too bad but it’s ok with me.

I just care very much about always doing some lo-fi screenings everywhere I go in the world, where I am present and tell stories in the most intimate way possible. Films are not very important, we should not treat them in a glorious way, as we do most of the time. They are just little tools to interact with the other, a reason to hang out and talk about life. Just a tool…

Is there any way we can help spread the word on Esperando el Tsunami?

Well, maybe. Rent a touristic london bus, put a projector on top and ride around the city screening the film on buildings. But if you can’t do it, its fine with me!

What projects are you working on at the moment? I’m guessing Petites Planetes is a constant. What else is going on?

Yeah, travels and travels. My films are evolving as I am evolving, getting more interested in various rituals (old or new) around the world, into more spiritual elements to say it briefly. But I think it’s a very normal evolution for someone who travels a lot and constantly, you reach a moment where you enter the spiritual zone and you know you are right. It’s getting deeper, music is really just part of something way bigger. Now I am in south east Asia, spending a lot of time exploring traditional Indonesian cultures – obviously the Javanese and Balinese ones, but also the culture from Toraja and Sumba, the rituals from the Buginese people, and from old animist forms still present in various layers around this massive country. All those projects will probably end up being more or less short films, more towards ‘experimental folklore’ or ‘experimental ethnography’ as i am used to say now. It’s not about understanding as classic ethnography would do, as it is about answering the trance with another type of trance, a visual and sonic one. And raising mystery again, hopefully.

You can find many of Vincent’s films at vincentmoon.com. His Petites Planetes series can be found at petitesplanetes.cc and information regarding Esperando el Tsunami, including details of how to host your own screening of the film, can be found at esperando.cc/esperando

Follow Sounds and Colours: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Mixcloud / Soundcloud / Bandcamp

Subscribe to the Sounds and Colours Newsletter for regular updates, news and competitions bringing the best of Latin American culture direct to your Inbox.