SUSANA DE SOUSA DIAS

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— It was the year 2000 when I set foot in the film archive of the Portuguese Army for the very first time. Then, I was researching a film about times under the dictatorship and unaware that this subject would transform into the material for my future films. Despite not being the direct topic of my research, I inevitably came up against images of the colonial war.

A few years later, I returned to the same archive because of another film. Over the course of the months that the viewings lasted, I began to grasp that I had embarked on my research with a series of certainties about some historical events without, however, being fully aware of some of the dimensions inherently present in them.

The fact of having been born in the midst of the colonial war and having had close family members involved (two uncles both did tours of duty in Angola) had not enabled me to consider the paradox underlying the situation: a far off war which we were in opposition to, a close up war that went undiscussed within the family.

In viewing the images of the campaigns taking place in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau, in dwelling on the actions of members of the armed forces going about their daily routines or in situations of conflict (many of which were purpose staged for the camera, with others taken in extreme and unexpected situations within the theatre of conflict), I gradually gained the sensation that those men could so easily be my uncles, or my brother (if there had been no revolution) and even my son if he had already existed during the days of the dictatorship.

In this disoriented period of time, one image stood out with great impact. I found it on a roll of film not normally shown to the public, the leftover shots that did not make it into any of the final cuts. It is a close-up shot of a soldier, sitting on the floor, with his back resting against a jeep. I know, after having seen the preceding footage that he had just been the target of an ambush. Despite the movement in this sequence, the wounded soldiers carried by the fellow soldiers, the grimaces of pain, I ended fixated by this image, a short run of just three seconds and ten frames: an anodyne shot, without any great “information content” in the restricted meaning of the term. That soldier is just there, leaning back. He does not look, he does not see and does not move. There is no gesture in this image. Only a face. A face that nevertheless manages to become a screen for projection: on it we project our own traumas, our own constructions, our own doubts. In it, I make out the essence of the colonial war.

This was precisely one of the images that formed the foundations of my film Natureza Morta, integrally based on archival images. However, at the end of a year of editing, it was with great perplexity that I perceived that the shot itself would not be part of the final cut.

This image has actually haunted me ever since. This is a copy of a copy of a copy. It has already made the provisional cut in some of my subsequent works even while never having actually found its place in them.


Susana de Sousa Dias was born in Lisbon in 1962. Her film STILL LIFE (2005) has been shown in festivals and screenings in five continents, and won several awards, including Prémio Atalanta Filmes at DocLisboa 2005, Merit Price at Taiwan International Documentary Festival 2006, Honorary Mention at the Slow Film Festival 2007, Hungry. 48 (2009), her last film, won the Grand Prix at Cinéma du Réel 2010.