“Galumphing is the seemingly useless elaboration and ornamentation of activity. It is excessive, exaggerated, and uneconomical. We galumph when we hop instead of walk, when we take the scenic route instead of the efficient one..when we are interested in means rather than in ends…” Excerpt from Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, by Stephen Nachmanovitch.
Polish film maker, Kamila Jozefowicz, precedes her documentary, Galumphing, with the above quote. The word galumphing was created by Lewis Carroll and first used in his fairytale, Through the Looking Glass. It is a fitting title for a film that eloquently reveals how Argentinian artist, Danna Arabahiana, has chosen not to live her life. (Galumphing is one of TWM’s Top Hot Doc Picks for 2013.)
For the past ten years, Arabahiana has lived on lush land in a remote part of Brazil. She has rejected luxuries such as cars, cell phones, and expensive clothing. She has left what most consider basic necessities, electricity, and at one time a refrigerator, by the waste side. Instead she plants and makes her own food, does yoga on the beach, and paints by candle light (homemade candles from her own beehive). While romantic in many ways, it is not an easy life, particularly for a lone woman facing pressures by the Brazilian government to take back her land. Awe inspiring and gorgeous, for many it marks a new way of living that is actually quite old.
Jozefowicz, was in Toronto for Galumphing North American Hot Docs premiere. Chaka V.
CV: How did you decide upon the word Galumphing for the title?
KJ: I’m glad you asked about the title because the matter of the title is always coming up. Whenever someone asks me, “What’s the title of your film?” and I say, “Galumphing.” They’re like, “What?” “Galumphing? What is that? What does it mean? Is it English?” Then I tell them that it is a created word and it becomes this long conversation and I think, ‘Why did I choose this title?’
When I was shooting the film with Danna in Brazil she read me this quote one day, and I recorded it [her reading it]. She had several copies of a book by Stephen Nachmanovitch, which discuss the technicalities and practicalities of art [Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art]. I really liked the quotation and I wanted to put it in the film but the sound was poor so I couldn’t. The sound [quality] was poor because I was the only person shooting this film, I couldn’t take anyone else with me.
But I really wanted it to be in the film somehow, so when I was thinking of the title I thought, “Oh yeah, how about galumphing?” She’s not going to say it so I’ll use the quotation in the beginning [of the film] as a motto. I think, as well, that it is a perfect title for what she does. I was originally thinking, “Meet Danna…” all of these different ideas but during this one moment I was sure that that was it. Of course now when I have to tell people the title I ask myself if it was a good idea. Yesterday, someone said that this title was good as well, so at least some people think it’s okay.
CV: It’s a challenge to pronounce but again that is very fitting for the film because the life she has chosen to lead is a challenge in and of itself.
KJ: That’s what I also think. Whenever someone asks me, “How do you read this?” I tell them say it however you want. I don’t mind how you read it. I think it’s nice that people have to exercise a little bit, their memory or their tongue, to even remember it or say it.
CV: How did you meet Danna?
KJ: I arrived in this village, which itself is quite far away, there is not even a concrete road leading to it, it is surrounded by national park areas, and I was living there. And one day Danna came into the village and I met her at my friend’s house. We started talking and it turned out that we got along very well and we became very good friends. We were friends for 8 months before I started shooting the film, and we would spend nights talking until morning. It was strange for me. She is from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I’m from a big city as well, in Poland, but when we talked it seemed like we had been brought up in the same cultural environment. We read the same books. We liked the same authors, we talked about the same films. We became really close and that was great because I learned a lot about her, which made it easier when I was making the film. I knew what I could ask, what I shouldn’t ask, and what was interesting to talk about. I knew her very well.
CV: As the viewer, I felt like I knew her.
KJ: I was trying to show her like I see her. But I also didn’t want to go too much into her life or say things she didn’t want to talk about. I tried to be delicate with everything and with the mood of the film allow people to know her as I know her.
CV: You have said that Danna’s lifestyle really reflects some of your beliefs and how you desire to live.
KJ: I know that I would never be able to live like she does. That is something that is maybe my idealistic life that I would love to live and sometimes I dream about being far away from the city, far away from everything. I went to Brazil because I was tired of the city but I didn’t live such an extreme life like Danna does. I was still surrounded by people in the village. I was not planting my food – although I tried to plant some things and they even grew. I had never done that in my life. I was so far away from nature before. I didn’t know names of trees and now I’ve started to become interested in it thanks to living there and thanks to her.
I lived there for a year and half but even after eight months of being there I realized that I began to think differently. I slowed down. I have more space in my head, if that makes any sense, because I don’t have so much information coming at me. I’m not watching TV. I don’t have to run. Everything there is slow, people even talk slowly and walk slowly. (Laughs). So I had this clear head and finally saw things I didn’t see before.
Also, it may sound banal, but in the city people are unhappy because they don’t have the natural connection with nature, they are far away from it,.They don’t live according to it, they are detached from it. But there, there is a respect and closeness to nature. So I had all these new experiences inside of me and she was an example for me. I had my little piece of this kind of life that was not as extreme and I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to tell people. I wanted to scream out, “My God people, stop and think a little bit differently. It’s wonderful.”
Danna and her story was very interesting, so was her life and her choices, so it just came to me that I had to make a film about her. She is the example of what I want to talk about. How she lives. What she does. How she thinks. So it was a natural decision to make this documentary.
CV: Was it your first documentary?
KJ: Yes. I was into fiction before but now I am really into making documentaries.
CV: Does Danna mainly earn income from selling goods or does she also sell her paintings?
KJ: It’s funny, I’ve had many people ask questions about her paintings as well. She doesn’t sell her paintings because as the man says at the end of the film, she doesn’t know the price [or value]. She cannot put a price on her art because one doesn’t go with the other. Even if she puts the painting somewhere and people ask how much it is, the owner of the place where she puts it, it’s a little restaurant, doesn’t know. So no one has ever bought anything and she doesn’t make any money on her art. But she tries to make money from the coconuts. She dries fruits and makes coconut oil. It’s very hard. She has very little money. But she chose that life and she’s happy.
The funny thing is that people from this village, some say she’s a witch. Some say she’s crazy. It’s funny to hear all this and then actually know her. We both laughed at this.
Also, this land that she owns is a huge land and it is in a beautiful place. It’s on the coast. She has had offers from people who want to buy it from her and it’s worth millions. But she doesn’t want to sell it. She could sell it and buy another property and she wouldn’t have to work because she lives such a simple life but she doesn’t want to do it. She is attached to this place and this life. She believes in it. But as she says in the film, sometimes she even questions whether to stay or not. Sometimes she has hard moments but then she wakes up again, she does her yoga and she moves forward with her routine.
CV: You made this film with no outside funding. Was it a leap of faith? Did you expect so many people to see it?
KJ: You know, I didn’t think that way at all. I just felt the need to say something and I had to say it. It was inside of me and I needed to let it out. I wasn’t thinking about who was going to like it or not. I was just hoping that some people would feel as I feel. And if it was just a small group of people than I didn’t care because if this group feels the same and, even for a moment, reflects on this way of life, then for me that was the most important thing.
What was amazing is that I felt an enormous strength inside of me and a belief that this made sense and I had to do it. Although it was really hard sometimes, I didn’t spend too much time worrying about the obstacles, I just kept moving forward forward forward. In the end I also proved something to myself. I realized that if I want to do something I can. Now I’m here [Hot Docs] and I never expected that it was going to go this far. But I’m very happy about that.
CV: In wake of the Bangladesh tragedy, where over 400 [now over 1100] factory workers were killed, do you think that films like this can shift mindsets towards the beauty of living simply? Is living as Danna does, simply and consciously, the new luxury?
KJ: I hope so. I hope so. You know, I’ve seen some other films during Hot Docs, like one about Tiny houses. I am interested in these things. And that’s why I love to go to documentary film festivals because if you watch TV you feel like the world is a horrible place and people die and people kill themselves and all these things. Then when you go to a festival like this you see that the world is different. There are some people who think differently. Who try to live differently. So it’s good. I’m glad that it’s happening. Maybe it’s happening slowly but I think people are waking up a little bit and if my film can also be a catalyst and a way for some people to open their eyes and reflect a little bit than I will be very happy. Slowly it must change and I think the change must start in people’s minds first and then the rest will come.
CV: What has the Brazilian government said, if anything, about the film? Are they still pressuring her for the land?
KJ: The land is still hanging [in the balance]. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen. It’s really hard to get in touch with her because she doesn’t respond to e-mail for 4 months now. So I don’t know exactly what’s going on but I hear from others who live in the village who I am sometimes in touch with. They’ll say, “Yeah, we saw her. Sometimes she looks very skinny, sometimes she seems alright.” So I know she’s there. She still lives there. That’s all I know. I’m still waiting for her reply.
The government, about that I don’t know. I can’t say anything about that. When I had a screening in Poland there were some people from the Brazilian embassy and I was a little bit worried because I didn’t invite them, someone else invited them and at the end of the film I say something about it. But the man came up to me and said, “Yes, this is a problem.” So he admitted this but I don’t know if he just wanted to be nice. That’s the only time I’ve had anything to do with Brazilian officials.
CV: What can others do to support Danna’s fight to protect the land?
KJ: I have shared her e-mail with some people but I don’t know if anyone can really do something unless they’re going to start a petition or something like that. I don’t know what the situation is at the moment so I cannot really say much about. But I’m sure if people write to her and share how they feel, and what they think about her and what she’s doing, that that will give her some strength. To know that there are people that she’s never met, who have seen the film and have such nice feelings towards her and want to write to her, this small thing will give her a lot of strength I hope.
CV: Documentaries make a lot of change in the world. It highlights issues. You have brought her lifestyle and the current struggle to the World’s attention and it is up to people to stand up and support her. Do you think these kinds of subjects get any attention if there’s not documentaries behind it?
KJ: I think documentaries have tremendous power. There are many things happening in the world but unless we talk about it nobody knows about it. How could they know about it? I think it is a mission to make these films and show people things that are worth seeing. Especially now when we are tortured with media and the news it is good to have another point of view and the documentary is the perfect way to do it.
It is becoming more and more important as a genre of film. For me, I prefer to watch documentaries now than watch fiction films because it’s really rare that I find a very good and interesting and touching one that makes me think. It is a lot easier to find interesting documentaries that teach you something new and opens your mind.
CV: What are you up to next?
KJ: I am now starting to work on a new documentary. I am at the very beginning so I need to find the funding for it. (Laughs). I decided that this time I cannot afford to do it on my own again and the subject is quite big. Actually, when I was talking about it here [during Hot Docs] some people came up to me afterwards and offered to help.
The subject is completely different but I like to talk about someone that is special or doing something special or interesting. My next character is a man this time. He’s around fifty-years-old and he is also a bit of an outsider like Danna but in a different way.
He loves to run and cycle across Poland and during his cycles or runs he stops in villages. From one trip to another he found people who opened themselves up to him. It started when one person in one of these villages told him that in their field there was a mass grave of about 200 people that were killed by Nazi’s during the Holocaust and nobody ever knew about it or talked about. He was like, “Oh my God. We need to do something. We need to put a headstone or something there.” The people remember all the families and their names. He kept going from village to village and people were coming to him, now I think he’s found 200 places or so. He has commemorated about 20 places and family in Israel and other places finally know where their mother, father, sister, or brother are buried, which they never knew before.
The people whose land it is are very old – so I need to hurry up – but they also feel like they’re old and at least they have done something important in their lives. It’s like a heavy stone taken off of them because it was there but nobody was interested, nobody went out there. The thing about him is that he found out these things and he went to organizations in Poland and they were not interested in helping him so he started doing it all by himself. He writes with a pen all the things that the people tell him because they share with him how it was and who was there. It’s very analog type of work.
Now people are starting to become interested in what he is doing and he does not want their help. It’s a problem because there are so many places and so many people that are old and going to die soon who remember things that he actually needs the help. But he doesn’t want it now because they didn’t come in the first place. The thing is this man is not Jewish. He just discovered his life mission and he really believes in it.
CV: How did you meet him?
KJ: I heard about him from a friend. He didn’t know I was a film maker at first. There were some film makers that were coming abroad for two days and they were too pushy and he refuses to deal with people like that anymore. He’s really closed and it’s another hard character like Danna. Danna was also a tough character. But you know, I will try. I think this is big.