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May 25 - 26, 2013

Still Lives: Two Films By Susana de Sousa Dias

Archival footage has long been used in documentaries as illustration, but the most powerful use of such footage subjects it to what the Situationists called détournement: re-contextualizing the moving image to undo the message it was originally meant to convey.

Portuguese filmmaker Susana de Sousa Dias has been using the images photographed and filmed by the Salazar dictatorship, which lasted nearly half a century, from 1926 to 1974, to provide a history of those years. In Still Life, she juxtaposes official propaganda and footage from everyday life to illuminate the control that authoritarian regime exerts over every facet of human existence. 48 displays the photos of imprisoned dissidents taken by the state police to create a vivid sense of oppression at work directly on the body and mind of its subjects.

De Sousa Dias’ films demand that we look closely at the workings of authority by taking the images it creates to celebrate and document its own might and revealing both the violence behind, and the limits of, that authority. — Brittany Gravely

Presented in conjunction with the 8th Boston Portuguese Festival.

Special thanks: Paolo Cunha Alves, João Lima – Consulate General of Portugal, Boston

$12 Special Event Tickets - Susana de Sousa Dias in Person
Saturday May 25 at 7pm


Directed by Susana de Sousa Dias
Portugal 2009, digital video, b/w, 93 min. Portuguese with English subtitles

Susana de Sousa Dias creates a living requiem from recently excavated photographs of Portuguese political prisoners taken by the Political Police (PIDE) during the Salazar dictatorship of 1926-1974. The hypnotizing sequence of faces – upon the remarkably sharp moments of their capture – flows eerily through an absorbing narrative arrangement, guided by the voices of the surviving prisoners and the very present ambient space around them. The subtle zooms, slow fades and heavy pauses isolate and vibrate the historical and emotional charge of the routine identification photos. Explaining their expressions at the moment of being photographed  – often the result of complicated emotional states disguised by the “minimal gestures” of a repressed Portugal – lead to unexpected, poetic, horrific tales of the physical and psychological torture the survivors endured while in prison and the ubiquitous, insidious atmosphere of subjugation and surveillance while “free.”

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$12 Special Event Tickets - Susana de Sousa Dias in Person
Sunday May 26 at 7pm

Still Life (Natureza Morta)

Directed by Susana de Sousa Dias
Portugal/France 2005, digital video, b/w, 72 min

The first piece in Susana de Sousa Dias’ extensive visual archaeology of the oppressive Portuguese dictatorship simultaneously releases the images’ souls from the constrictions of their original use – war reports, newsreel propaganda, political prisoner records – while underlining the deadly solemnity aching beneath even the most placid or vibrant moments. With minimal, meaningful tracts of silence, slow motion, and the heavy, yet hollow dissonance of the soundtrack, the haunted forms materialize as if just thawing out from a secret past into our present, politically-complex moment. Gracefully disrupting the direction of power with the simplest of means, she draws out the intricate humanity on both sides of the camera.

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