Mutum – Truth in Fiction

Sandra Kogut’s Mutum blurs the lines between fiction and documentary, creating an authentic window into life in the Brazilian outback.

MutumPROVO, Utah (January 20, 2015)—Brazilian filmmaker Sandra Kogut had one of the strangest moments of her career while shooting a documentary in the French countryside. In a moment of inspiration, she stopped her car to film a farmer as he tended to his land. As she filmed him, the farmer began to give her advice on where to find the best angles, and he did so using lingo and terminology that Kogut would have associated with a fellow filmmaker – not a rural shepherd.

The farmer revealed that Kogut was not the first person to film him, but that he and his town had already been featured in numerous documentaries about the region. In fact, the townspeople were so accustomed to documentary crews that everyone knew what role was expected of them while being filmed.

This presented a problem for Kogut: How do you film an authentic documentary when the people assume artificial roles whenever they are being filmed?

Kogut’s solution went in an unexpected direction, one that at first may seem counterintuitive to her goal: she would use the people to film a fictional story, blurring the line between fiction and documentary. She took this resolution and applied it in Brazil in her film Mutum, featured by Brigham Young University’s International Cinema.

The film is loosely based on Campo Geral, a short novel by João Guimarães Rosa. Rex Nielson, who presented the film in an IC lecture, described Guimarães Rosa as one of Brazil’s most important authors. Like most of Guimarães Rosa’s work, the novel focuses on the sertão – the rural Brazilian outback – a region that the author considered to be a different world with its own codes and sense of right and wrong.

Kogut shared this view of the sertão and sought to depict it in Mutum. The plot centers on Thiago, a nearsighted and sensitive boy who must navigate family turmoil in his own coming of age story.

Already significant for its ties to Campo Geral, the film is revolutionary in the way it is cast: none of the actors, with the exception of the father, who is played by the famous Brazilian actor João Miguel, had any previous acting experience.

Before filming, Kogut moved into the small town she had selected as the location, and spent the following weeks getting to know the residents. Once sufficiently acquainted, she approached members of the community, explained her project and offered them roles. Every character was named for their respective actor.

The film used no script. Instead, Kogut would explain what she wanted to happen in a scene, then allowed the performers to fill in the blanks on their own. Only rarely would she give specific lines that had to be said.

Nielson praised the end product, saying, “Kogut’s unusual documentary approach to cinema allows her to create an authentic representation of the Brazilian sertão and makes this adaptation of Guimarães Rosa’s work even more powerful.”

For more information on future IC showings, visit the IC webpage.

—Samuel Wright (BA American Studies, ’16)