A film by Marc Weymuller
Production : Le Tempestaire / l'Image d'Après
Bourse Brouillon d'un Rêve de la SCAM
Portuguese (English subtitles)
Our memories are our life. It seems that the less we forget, the more we live.
Daniel de Sá - "A ilha mãe"
On the island of Santa Maria, in the Azores, we witness the end of a particular world. Once internationally famous for its airport, there is now only a residential neighborhood, gradually falling into ruins. It used to be called Little America. The perfect metaphor for the American dream, a temporary Eldorado. The disappearance of the airport has left a void. Now, the inhabitants of Santa Maria seem lost in their own existence. They constantly question the past. Confronted with the eternal youth of the island's landscape, the inhabitants now go on a personal, retrospective quest.
I have been travelling and filming in Continental Portugal and the Azores for years. What strikes me the most in those islands, aside the beauty of their landscapes, speaks for many Azoreans’ attitude : it’s a way of being there without really being there, watching the sea without seeing it, getting bored without sadness, in a combination of contemplation and torpor that touches me deeply.Most likely because it’s a way to question the world, keeping it at distance. Over there, life’s fragility appears to me with more evidence than elsewhere. Questions we ask ourselves are always simple and essential. In that manner, they seem universal to me.
I met Daniel de Sà in 2011, in São Miguel Island. An Azorean writer. He started to tell me about his childhood in Santa-Maria, and I recorded our conversations. It was the beginning of some work I wanted to extend. Unfortunately, Daniel de Sà died prematurely in 2013, leaving his story unachieved. A few months after his death, I went back to Santa Maria, naively hoping to discover the following of his story. While visiting the Island, I encountered the settings and landscapes of his childhood, I discovered the ruins of his house. But I also met people who were living there, here and now, and who were allowing me to enter another story, wider than just his. The one of the turmoil the island had been through during the Second World War.
Soon, it occurred to me that Santa Maria contemporary history was somehow an hologram fragment, mirroring what had happened almost everywhere in Europe during the 20th century. The island has now lost the part she was playing in the planetary ballet. That sends us back to the faltering part the old continent takes nowadays in the global concert.
As Miguel Torga says : « The universal is the local without the walls. » By telling how life in Santa Maria was upset by the progress brought by the airport, then affected by his decline caused by a « new » progress - the appearance of jet aircrafts - we unroll a different story, to be read between the lines. It retraces what the old Europe went through since the end of the war, in its complicated relationship with the economic power : this combination of fascination and repulsion towards modernity and material prosperity.
Eventually, progress comes with the same effects, everywhere. Ironically, it doesn’t concern everybody. In Santa Maria, it has even become a segregation factor and an excuse to social inequalities among the inhabitants. Imposing itself as a unique and sectarian way of thinking, it devastated the certainly poor but ancestral economy, based on a clean culture and an authentic know-how, as well as a local implantation. It worn out the natural resources. What was still essential to the world yesterday, has now become useless, condemned to oblivion and maybe even to death.
On the island, after the airport’s decline, the big history has went away. Its absence created a huge void. Doomed to live in a present with no perspectives, after the impending storm of progress, the islanders seem to be lost in time, not knowing to which era they belong to, nore where they are precisely. Wondering who they really are. They feel useless and filled with interrogations, they wander in their very own existence. Lost in their memory, they have endless questions towards the past. Here they are, forced to lived here and now with what’s left to them : an island at their feet, lost in the sea, a few pieces of land to cultivate… And the sky and the infinite ocean all around, always reminding them their obvious helplessness. But undoubtedly, it might be exactly what will allow them to become themselves again, to get their identity back. And their questions today, most likely will be the ones the old Europe’s inhabitants will ask themselves tomorrow. The dream of greatness dissipated and the island’s loss of impact in the global aviation activity, left room for a massive desillusion. The end of a prosperous era which reminds us what so many powerless European are witnessing, incapable of creating another world. Not able to establish a different value system.
Little America is in line with my work, examining the connexion between the individual story and the big history. Trying to get closer to this intimate memory which keeps struggling, in a hurried and amnesic world. Recalling people’s capacity to remember and to escape from oblivion, and evoking how human time-scale is fragile compared to the geological one, this film will maybe contribute to unravel essential questions.
In Santa Maria, something keeps resisting. A memory resurrects and rises slowly, above contemporary history and even beyond primal discoveries of the island and its first settlement. The one from childhood, the memory of the world’s genesis. Geologic and volcanic tracks from the birth of the island remain, perfectly visible, in the heart of this wild and so young geography, specific to the Azores. It’s as if the island had always been connected to the mystery of its origins.
Therefore, Little America is a journey to discover the island’s landscapes, apparently still, as well as a wandering within its people ephemeral thoughts. It’s the work of the memory who questions the environment, the slow uprising of the pictures and the souvenirs in the present that I want show. The story can never be told by only one voice : bubbles of individual memory speak in a permanent back and forth between yesterday and today. They pile up and complete the whole picture, constituting little by little a wider and collective memory, which, beyond any geographical limit, contributes to witness a certain state of the world.
Little America tells the end of an era and announces the beginning of another one. The Island testifies everyday for a story that comes to an end, for a bygone era. But its landscapes, sending us back to the origins, invite us to dream of new possibilities. It’s happening here and now, before our eyes and ears, condensed in a handkerchief of pocket. It shows, it’s listenable. It can be filmed.