The Wenner-Gren Foundation couldn’t be happier to share the trailer and blog post from Dr. Flavia Kremer who received a Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2015 to aid filmmaking on Is a non-Bororo man a Mr. Wrong?
In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right
Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship
For my project “Is a non-Bororo man a Mr. Wrong?” I produced two film documents: In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right (40 min) and Dumping Mr. Wrong (approx. 60 min), which are in dialogue with each other.
These films will be the first two episodes of a micro series entitled Tales of Love and Bororo Myth, which explores the anthropology of love and kinship among the Bororo people in Central Brazil. Research and fundraising for the third episode is already underway. The film will follow a group of Bororo gay men in order to research the relationship between gay love and Bororo myth.
Tales of Love and Bororo Myth
The production of the micro series Tales of Love and Bororo Myth is a response to the challenges I faced during fieldwork, which transformed my initial research project. Departing from the first version of the visual ethnography In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right, which is an integral part of my PhD thesis entitled Gendered Prohibitions: Using Film to Explore Continuity and Change among the Bororo people in Central Brazil, I proposed to develop a “new genre” of ethnographic film: a kind of ethnographic “romantic comedy”.
The archetypal “romantic comedy” is often viewed as a “woman’s film” and the genre is generally treated with disdain by (often male) film critics (Mortimer 2010). The “rom com” genre explores the topics of love, marriage and women’s issues with the biological clock (i.e When Harry Met Sally). In Search of a Bororo Mr. Right is an “ethnographic romantic comedy” for it also deals with the search for love and explores the character’s concerns with finding “Mr. Right”, conciliating love and career, as well as the ticking of the biological clock. However, Mr. Right can only be understood as a “rom com” in the context of ethnographic film.
My proposal to produce an “ethnographic rom com” also encountered some resistance from critics, who argued that my project imposed the framework of a “Hollywood genre” to the Bororo context. I disagree with these critics. The traces of a “romantic comedy” genre that we can find in Mr. Right were not imposed on the Bororo. Rather, they emerged ethnographically. In other words, I only realized that the film could be interpreted as an “ethnographic rom com” in the edit suit, when the film was already finished. For this reason, my proposal to the Wenner-Gren Foundation was to develop this idea further. I planned to show how, through Mr. Right, the Bororo challenged the “boy meet girl” narrative structure of the “rom com” (McDonald 2007). Mr. Right is mostly a “a girl meets boy” type of film. As such, it challenges Lévi-Strauss’ theories of “the exchange of women” and shows how, among the Bororo, it is women who exchange men.
Feedback from Bororo viewers is a key element of the research project “Is a non-Bororo man a Mr.Wrong?”. For my Fejos Fellowship, I proposed to return to the Bororo village to screen Mr. Right and assess the impact of the film among Bororo viewers; a stage of the filmmaking processes that has been historically neglected in visual anthropology (Martinez 1992). The film Dumping Mr.Wrong, which I shot specifically for my fellowship, explores the reception of Mr. Right as a film document in the Bororo village. The initial plan was to produce a single film, one that would incorporate Mr. Right as memory, feedback, and develop the concept of an “ethnographic romantic comedy” further. However, by the time I began shooting, the reality of the main characters of Mr. Right, Daniela and Jordana, had changed dramatically. They had babies with non-Bororo men, who left them single. The footage from 2016 is not as lighthearted as the footage from 2011. Both Daniela and Jordana mentioned that their lives have been difficult since having babies and leaving Mr. Wrong behind. Moreover, in the feedback sessions, it became clear that a sort of “Bororo prophecy” had confirmed itself.
Bororo mythology designs specific paths of marriage for each clan. It prescribes the path one should take on the moral village plan in order to find their true husband or wife. Not marrying mythical Mr.Right is a risky business for Bororo women. If one marries out of their path, the “true wife” can claim their husband back. A “true wife” even has the right to claim her husband back and beat up the woman who invaded her path. None of the film characters married Mr. Right according to Bororo law. They had their children with men from different indigenous groups. Daniela had a baby with a man from the Xavante nation, the historical enemy of the Bororo, and Jordana had twins with a man from the Chiquitano nation. However, as the Bororo law would say, their “true wives” have taken them back. The Xavante left Daniela for a Xavante woman and the Chiquitano left Jordana for a Chiquitano woman.
There’s a melancholic mood in the footage of 2016 that problematised the project of refining the ethnographic “rom com” genre. For this reason, I decided to create the micro series Tales of Love and Bororo Myth and divide the footage in two parts. This new approach will give me the liberty to portray the reality of Daniela and Jordana in a lighthearted way, without compromising with the notion of ethnographic “rom com” or the film. The second episode, Dumping Mr.Wrong, follows the main characters of Mr. Right in new adventures in the city of Cuiabá and the Bororo village of Tadarimana, Brazil. We see the upshot of three stories involving mythical Mr. Right. The film cites Mr. Right as memory, but focuses on the cultural and subjective tensions of three Bororo girls, who share past memories and present experiences with mythical Mr. Right: our shy Leandro “DiCaprio”, who remains caught in the middle.
During the research process, I often wondered if making a series would create more problems than it would solve. I concluded that I have created a practical problem in order to solve a theoretical problem. In my application, I sent In Search of a Bororo Mr.Right as a pilot film to the foundation and proposed to refine the ethnographic “rom com” genre, which I developed in my PhD. So I revisited my fieldwork material from 2011 and edited a brand new version of Mr. Right including new footage from 2011, which introduces a new aspect to the film: fierce competition between the two sisters for mythical Mr. Right. I also included aerial images of the Bororo village taken with a drone in 2016 to help us visualize the moral village plan. The new version of Mr. Right does refine the ethnographic “rom com” genre as I had proposed, however, the footage that I shot specifically for the Wenner-Gren Foundation in 2016 brings in a melancholic aspect that clashes with the formula of my ethnographic “rom com” approach generated in Mr. Right. When I decided to deliver Tales of Bororo Love and Myth, I created a practical problem and doubled the amount of work I would need to complete the fellowship. On the other hand, it gives me the opportunity to handle the material I shot in 2016 in its own terms. There are fundamental differences between the two filmmaking processes, in 2011 and 2016, which inevitably shaped the footage.
Dumping Mr. Wrong will not fit on “the old romance formula of transformation of young lovers” (White 1984:44), while Mr. Right fits this formula perfectly. In Mr. Right the main characters are filmmaker and subjects looking for their perfect mythical match. The film breathes transformations of love, youth and hope. Dumping Mr. Wrong brings to the table a number of new topics to explore, both theoretically and ethnographically. The footage from 2016 brings in children as central subjects. Observational footage changes the focus of the film from the search for Mr. Right, to the dispute between babies over Mr. Right, or left, boob! In a culture where grandma’s (or auntie’s) breasts can be great pacifiers, the babies’ search for an available breast takes center stage in the footage. Children also become the center of interviews as the main characters’ love is now devoted to them, unconditionally, with little space for Mr. Right and much less Mr. Wrong.
Other aspects of the “romantic comedy genre” can be explored to tackle the footage in Dumping Mr. Wrong. A closer look at Shakespeare’s romantic comedies and an investigation of representations of motherhood in the “rom com” genre more generally, will help us to define whether or not Dumping Mr. Wrong is an ethnographic “rom com”. I won’t give a final word on the development of Mr. Wrong. New characters, and new topics of anthropological interest emerge in the filmmaking process but I won’t spoil the rest!