Sculpting the Spirits


Noe Mendelle
University of Edinburgh


Portfolio, Practice Based, Film, Documentary


Mendelle and Luis Correia (co-director & co-producer) were the first filmmakers to visit the Bijagós archipelago and, after spending time with the village chiefs, were invited by them to film their daily life, beliefs, and rituals. Mendelle and her team lived with them for extended periods, twice yearly for 5 years. The elders, alert to radical changes coming their way and conscious that their culture is only orally transmitted, saw a unique opportunity to document their way of life and preserve it for future generations. Their collaboration was essential, both in terms of access and understanding the meaning of their rituals, but more importantly how they perceived change. The film gives voices to the Bijagós in their language without any commentary.However, unknown to the film makers and the islanders at the time, the film ended up capturing their downfall and their absorption into a modern capitalist and global society. The film explores how, in the context of a tribe, the dialogue between generations involves other layers of power beyond the living and how their philosophy of life will be affected by their cultural transformation. Through observation of two main protagonists in a father/son relationship, the audience begins to understand the cultural gap growing between two generations. This is universal to most cultures, but for the Bijagós any change threatens the equilibrium between human beings, nature and the spirits who contribute to tribal decisions about daily and social life. The film premiered 15 September 2014 at the Gulbenkian Museum of Modern Art, Lisbon, Portugal.

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30 May 2024


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.