Podcast from Intelatin: Filmcraft | Neon Bull

May 25, 2016
1:18 PM

This month we welcome Gabriel Mascaro, director of Neon Bull, and Dra. Arlene Dávila, author of El Mall: The Spatial and Class Politics of Shopping Malls in Latin America. Plus a correspondent’s report from Sarah Bingham Miller at Cinelandia USA.

Our Film of the Year in 2015 was Que Horas Ela Volta? by Anna Muyleart. This film returned to a theme of class distinction depicted often in Brazilian cinema. It was a film that belonged to its wildly charismatic lead character, Val. Val’s charisma owns every scene so completely that you cannot help but root for her. You leave the film thinking that you know Val. You want the world for Val and I thought that this was a big accomplishment in the fundamentals of cinema. Two thousand sixteen starts the year with Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull. Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, continuing on to the Toronto International Film Festival, winning the best prize at Festival do Rio and playing this season at Lincoln Center, this film is already showing its artistic pedigree.

Eric Kohn of Indiewire goes so far as to say:

Neon Bull provides a striking response to questions surrounding the precise nature of the movies. It’s a cinematic achievement that works on its own terms, beyond any semblance of marketplace pressure, and speaks to the unique power of the medium. The director offers a window into a world that not only promises an original milieu, but invites viewers to become a part of it.

Stephen Holden in the New York Times writes:

Neon Bull doesn’t tell a story so much as portray a way of life in which people and livestock coexist as an extended family. It is a profound reflection on the intersection of the human and bestial. For all his ease in the barnyard, the protagonist longs for something more. Class conscious and upwardly mobile, he is not alone in his hierarchical social view.

With us at Intelatin is the director of Neon Bull, Gabriel Mascaro. I asked him if he studied the work of Brazilian educator Paolo Freire. Next I asked him about the scene in the mid-section when a dancer in a nightclub dances with high heels and a horsehead. The visual implies a sexual interconnection between human and animal — a viewpoint that has rarely been touched in contemporary cinema. Is there a natural interconnection that we attempt to obscure? Lastly, I asked him if his film wanted to be both visible and profitable.

Find Neon Bull in theaters this season or look for it on VOD.

Professor Arlene Dávila works as a professor of anthropology and social and cultural analysis at New York University. She was raised in Puerto Rico in the seventies. Her study, featured in El Mall, focuses on the political infestation of an already proven unsustainable model of retail and consumption. Before we go there, I’m gonna go back towards the ancient…

Black Elk spoke:

I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there, I saw more than I could tell and I understood more that I saw. For I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit and the shapes of all shapes as they must live together as one being. The sacred hoop was wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty tree. And I saw that it was holy.

Tree by tree, la cara-pálida has edited Grandmother Earth of all that she provided. Economic interests were unsatisfied when entrepreneurs opened their mom-and-pop stores on Main Street. In time, shopping malls were conceived in the United States and in Europe and then eventually, the concept conquered Latin America. According to la profesora, 326 new malls were constructed in the span of five years in Latin America, and with them the livelihoods and social identities of the people are affected on a daily basis.

We start by defining “el mall.” At the heart of El Mall is a learning lesson on public and private ownership of space. This is exactly why I opened this feature with a quote from Black Elk. The Oceti Sakowin believe that Grandmother Earth is not an asset to be owned. La cara-pálida is at the other end of the spectrum. And what happens is that the characters in our society end up not knowing what is and isn’t public space. Typically the way they find out the rules is when they don’t meet the demands of what is called “heteronormative values.” This brings us back on Intelatin to racecraft, femmecraft and classcraft where individuals are judged according to their skin color, sexual orientation, gender and economic status. La profesora tells us about this dynamic…

Because our society in the Americas runs on marginalization, cities throughout the Americas are becoming mollified, and the public keeps losing more and more public space. This vicious cycle of purchasing in malls robs us of civil rights and entitlements that the private sector obfuscates in the tandem with “larger policies, politics and ideologies that profit from economic inequality and of its many outcomes.” Dra. Dávila wrote her book to incite the public to claim ownership of public space.

We’ve touched on Gabriel Mascaro’s film, Neon Bull, and the Puerto Rican academic Dra. Arlene Dávila with her book, El Mall — both of which, in my opinion, are inspired, at least in spirit, by the work of Paulo Freire. While I have the mindset, I want to read you a thought from Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

To surmount the situation of oppression, people must first critically recognize its causes, so that transforming action they can create a new situation, one which makes possible the pursuit of a fuller humanity.

Let’s agree that we are spirits on the third planet in an enormous solar system using the moon as a satellite and the sun as a life force for growth. Housing that spirit is an anatomically modern human with 10 liters of water and five liters of blood using the positive vibration of atoms which become molecules which become cells which become tissues which become organs which become sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems which create our organism. To sustain the positive vibration of these atoms, we eat plants and animals and we drink water and, hopefully, we take spiritual guidance from Wakan Tanka, the great mystery, to understand the relationship we have with Grandmother Earth so that we do not act in a way that is counter-productive to our survival.

Let’s break that down, homies: First of all, what is oppression? For me, oppression starts at the struggle for my spirit. For me, that would be my first action: Rid myself of the struggle for my spirit. Second would be the struggle for my mind and body. Third would be the struggle for my space on the planet I inhabit and then on down the line: My hemisphere, continent, country, state, city and private shelter. My fifth struggle would be for my time.

Assuming I had the power to control my spirit, mind, body, space and time, I would be ready to create my new situation, the one which makes possible the pursuit of my full humanity. I wonder where that might be in México but I am happy and fortunate to know with certainty who I would be sharing of my space and time.

Featured Guests: Gabriel Mascaro + Dra. Arlene Dávila

Correspondent: Sarah Bingham Miller for Cinelandia USA.

Music performed by Prince, Anchorsong, Los Pleneros de la Cresta, Celia Cruz and Desert Dwellers.

The next Intelatin episode will be released on the supermoon of June 2016.


Intelatin is a monthly radio broadcast hosted by Sergio C. Muñoz in Los Angeles, California. It is published on Latino Rebels, marketed by Audioboom.com and podcasted on iTunes. You can also find us on Stitcher. Latin American culture is the focus of the program: music, film, food, literature and business. It is in its fifth year of production and is dedicated to the passage of the federal DREAM Act. The radio broadcast for Intelatin was started in 2012 at California State University Long Beach as outreach for their majority Latinx campus. The broadcast aired on KBeach Global and KKJZ 88.1 FM. Connect on Twitter @Intelatin.