In 2019, as part of the ISS’ Brazilian Film Festival, ISS showed two films on gender, one a short animation film called Carne (Flesh), for which the director, Camila Kater, was present as speaker and commentator.
Since then Carne has been become an international hit. It was selected in festivals such as Locarno International Film Festival, IDFA International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Annecy International Animation Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, and has received 48 international awards so far, two key ones being Best Documentary Short at 61st ZINEBI - International Festival of Documentary and Short Film of Biobao (2021 Oscar-qualifying documentary prize), and General Award at 12th Leiden International Short Film Experience.
We ask Camila to discuss the issue of Gender Justice – its reflection in Carne and her life.
In 2016 I started to write a short film project inspired by my own experiences and family stories related to being and becoming a woman. Analysing situations in which I had felt devalued since childhood, I realised that the majority of them were associated with my gender and my body.
Diets were a recurrent topic at home: my mother used to buy many fitness magazines and my aunt tried out the famous Atkins low carb diet. I heard countless conversations during which it was pointed out that someone had lost weight … and it was meant as a compliment. As a result, I remember being very concerned about my body from the age of 6 and I went to see a nutritionist when I was 11. I went through my childhood and adolescence despising my body and if you have learned that you are primarily a body, you start to despise yourself. I was not a fat child, but I was convinced that I was.
Women are seen as females before they are seen as human beings, our bodies are the most exploited by mass media and we are constantly subjected to oppressive white, hetero, patriarchal standards. Nevertheless, inequality-producing structures such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, professional position and age can operate together, creating very different experiences; privileges for some and disadvantages for others.
The association between a woman's body and meat, as an object of consumption, came naturally and I decided to extend the comparison to meat cooking points as a representation of women's stages of life. I called this animation film Carne (Flesh). It starts chronologically in childhood as the ’rare’ stage and progresses to old age as the ’well-done’ stage. The body ages and goes through several transformations through time and, if you are a woman, society diminishes this evolution, as if you stop being a woman when you are in menopause. At this stage you are no longer sexualized and you stop being an object of consumption.
Later, I read The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, a book written by Carol J. Adams and published in 1989, that associates male dominance with meat consumption. In her theory, Adams points out that women and meat are treated as absent referents in our society: the meat is disconnected from the dead animal and simply becomes food, and the woman is mischaracterized from a human being and becomes a body. The book helped me to support the metaphors I had previously created.
‘… meat is disconnected from the dead animal and simply becomes food, and the woman is mischaracterized from a human being and becomes a body.’
To bring my ideas to life, I decided to interview real people and make an animated documentary in which five women, each one representing a stage in life, would share their own personal stories about their relationship to their body and how other people perceived them. The investigation process was essential to decide which subjects I wanted to approach, taking into account that I would interview Brazilian women and my desire to integrate diversity and intersectionality within this. It was important to raise subjects that are often considered private and kept silent in our society.
After deciding on the topics, I created the five profiles. For the rare stage, I wanted to interview a woman who had been fat during her childhood and talk to her about fatphobia during this period. For the second stage (medium rare), I wanted a woman to discourse on her puberty, concentrating on the experience of her first menstruation. The medium stage would be a young trans woman talking about sexual harassment and her transitioning experience. For the medium well-done stage I wanted a lesbian woman facing perimenopause, sharing observations about her sexual life and the body transformation she had been through. The last, but not least, stage (well-done), would be a woman who had been an iconic figure in her youth and whose profession related to the body, and would include her reflections on aging and her career.
Across this spectrum of stages, I wanted to portray themes related to racism, focusing on the relation between hyper-sexualization and colourism. I was especially interested in reflecting on the obstetric violence against women of colour. I first came across these themes in my research, and they developed, changed and were joined by other topics during the interviews.
Along with co-writer Ana Julia Carvalheiro and the Brazilian producer Lívia Perez (Doctela), I found real women who had similar stories to the five profiles I had created. Two of them are famous women in Brazil: Raquel Virgínia is a vocalist and composer with the band Bahias and Helena Ignez is an iconic actress from the Cinema Novo and Cinema Marginal, two movements in third world cinema during the 60s and 70 in Brazil. Lívia Perez suggested Rachel Patrício, Valquiria Rosa was a friend's suggestion and Larissa Rahal is my sister's friend.
In terms of the animation techniques and sensorial dimension, I decided that the animations in the film should use five different styles. The testimony of the first protagonist, Rachel Patrício, for the rare stage, is about being fat during childhood and how important it was to be accepted at school by her gym teacher and her classmates, whilst at home she had to deal with her mother who was a nutritionist and did not accept Rachel's body. Her story inspired me to try unusual materials and experiment with animation, so I chose to animate her testimony over a dinner plate; it was my canvas, a white screen, with oil paint combined with stop-motion.
The next segment of Carne is animated by the artist Giovana Affonso and represents Larissa Rahal's testimony and the medium-rare stage. For this I chose to use watercolours to explore the topic of her first menstruation and fluid puberty.
The third stage, medium, is animated by the artist Flavia Godoy based on Raquel Virgínia's reflections on the hyper-sexualization of black women and the several acts of violence that she had faced for being transgender. I chose 2D digital animation along with virtual image decomposition via glitches and datamash to symbolize all this ’bad energy’ as she called it.
The fourth stage, medium well-done, is animated by the artist Cassandra Reis and portrays Valquiria Rosa, a black lesbian woman facing perimenopausal body transformations, whose doctor wanted to remove her uterus because she would not have children. I chose natural clay as a very flexible material to elucidate her body's deep changes.
‘… if you learn that you are primarily a body, it means you despise yourself.’
The fifth and last stage, well-done, is animated by the artist Leila Monsegur and is narrated by Helena Ignez, a 79-year-old iconic actress. She reflects on the struggles with her body since childhood and on her relationship to it nowadays, in a beautiful transcendent speech. I chose to use a freer animation technique: direct painting over a real 35mm strip to represent Helena's liberty and her association with the cinema's analogue era.
I think that animation can give a sensorial dimension to real testimonies and it can be a wonderful medium with which to approach sensitive topics. There is a special connection between the real stories and the animators, it is somehow printed on the film. Carne is a collaborative work that gave me confidence as a director and animator, but also gave me the opportunity to meet these amazing women and learn with them. I cannot assume that I'm totally comfortable with my body today, but I certainly respect and admire her more.
The production of Carne involved collaboration between Brazil and Spain, represented by the producers Lívia Perez (Doctela) and Chelo Loureiro (Abano Producións). Besides directing the film, Camila wrote the script with co-writer Ana Julia Carvalheiro and animated the first segment of the film.