Director Florian Joahn reflects on the chance he took to tell the stories of (and working alongside) a community of trans people in a Brazilian favela
In 2019 COMPULSORY director Florian Joahn moved to Brazil to educate himself about the unique trans culture woven into the fabric of life in São Paulo. He had been before, when he got to know the trans community of the city and had become fascinated with the complex discourse around trans and queer bodies in Brazil - something radical that he was previously unaware of. The more Florian discovered the adversity this community faced, the more urgency he realised lay under the surface of this story.
The film was eventually released in partnership with British Vogue for its Pride month series, but it is vital that these stories are given attention throughout the year.
LBB’s Alex Reeves asked Florian to reflect on the long process of putting IARA together in collaboration with the creative community the film represents.
LBB> What was the first moment where this film began to form as an idea for you?
Florian> The first inspiration was found in the inner city architecture of São Paulo. I was fascinated by the implication of nature inside these brutalist concrete structures sometimes resulting in symbiotic but more often predatory relationships. Trees would spiral around buildings contrasted with roots breaking through the asphalt on the ground and reclaiming their space. It became my recurring metaphor for the film and informed its conceptual but also visual language.
LBB> What was the original story you wanted to tell, and how did that become the specific one about brasilândia.co and the Deversos collective?
Florian>The film formed organically after we got to know Iara through brasilandia.co. From that moment on we started to collect stories, understand the workings and challenges of the favela and shape the intention of the film.
We wanted to use this film to talk about the trans experience in Brazil and share the pain and fear they confront on a daily basis, but also use it as a platform to showcase their talents and beauty.
LBB> What were the biggest priorities for you, in terms of what you wanted the film to represent?
Florian> For us it was important to show the strength of the entire cast and crew involved. We didn’t want to create a feeling of pity within the audience but show them the immense talent that can be found in the favela. This film was largely carried by the queer and trans community from Brazlândia and São Paulo. Casting, production, location, social engagement and cinematography were all creatives from Brazil. I wanted for the audience to experience what’s behind social constructs - to see the drive and skill this collective has.
LBB> What were the biggest challenges of shooting it?
Florian> Addressing different forms of privilege and access (especially mine but also other members’ of the crew) within the production of the film. This film was really a learning curve on how to address marginalisation within narratives without going down the rabbit hole of pathos and repetition.
LBB> What will be your enduring memories of the whole process?
Florian> Getting to meet Iara and her family and being welcomed into their lives as a friend is the most important part of this project.
LBB> How do you feel about the reaction the piece got when it went online on Vogue?
Florian> I am happy that audiences from different spectrums were able to relate to the film on different levels, but when I saw the trans community of Brazil reacting and sharing the work I felt relieved and grateful that a small group allowed me to tell a part of their story and it resonated.
LBB> Since you made the film, how have things changed for the communities you focus on? And what is the most urgent change that needs to happen?
Florian> Nothing has changed - if anything it has gotten worse through Covid. Brazlândia is the hardest hit area in Brazil by Covid with limited to no access to healthcare and social support.
In terms of support for the cast and crew in this video I challenge the audience to stop seeing them as a visual commodity for representation but see them as artists. This group was able to pull off a movie like IARA and put their soul into it. IARA is just a drop in the ocean of stories, creatives and authentic, progressive identities that are not waiting for donations but access, opportunities and representation.