As a vision of the sacred, Vincent Moon’s Hibridos project melds text, music, and ritual through a breathtaking series of films produced in collaboration with his partner Priscilla Telmon. Traveling Brazil over three years, Moon and Telmon pursued the divine through their art, becoming increasingly immersed in culture, ritual, and community. The result is a multilayered piece that includes video, music, performance, text, “trans-cinema,” and exhibition. Moon and Telmon recently screened the film at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and produced a number of “live” or “trans” cinema events featuring sacred music from around the world.
Moon first rose to prominence through his Creative Commons licensed Take Away Shows series, which illuminated global indie music in an intimate, cinema verité style – his work radically breaks down distance between documentarian and the traditional notion of subject. With Hibridos, Moon puts his ethos of radical sharing and relationship building at the center of his cinematic vision – the films are evocative, adventurous, and intense. Shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license, the Hibridos project is freely accessible through its online portal and on Vimeo.
Can you talk about your particular interest in ritual and sacred music?
I started the Take Away Shows from la Blogothéque a long time ago, which was an online project where we were filming mostly indie rock music, and I eventually got tired of that kind of music. I discovered other forms of music which seemed to me way deeper, on many levels. Not only musically but also on what they were engaging in terms of culture, history, and especially the invisible. More than sacred music, it was my relationship to the invisible, this quest to explore, not following any academic kind of research – trying to explore other cultures in an artistic way, not representing them but trying to approximate myself with them in a sense. It’s a very personal work. You could see it as an archive, but I see it as an experimental take on reality.
The Creative Commons license is a very much at the core of my own way of doing those recordings. I do not see them as fixed, I see them as still living and changing and the idea that people can use those recordings is very much at the core of my own research in spirituality. I do find it very spiritual actually, the way that we allow people to touch and to change. In nature, there is no property, there is always constant change and mutations.
Why did you choose the particular license you chose?
I chose that license because I’m interested in what it means to really start from the beginning.
How can we see the digital age as a completely new way of living together? It’s not a tool; it’s a new paradigm that we have to integrate.
And I do not see our society doing this at all. I think we’re treating the digital age as sort of like an extension of an old, ancient society of living together. That’s too bad. We have to go way deeper into our way of creating. How and where can we go together if we all apply such a license? How can we get out of the business related to art forms?
I use BY-NC-SA because I do not like the idea that anybody could make any commercial use of my work. And the noncommercial factor comes from the fact that I’ve been recording people for free – I just give them the recordings. I don’t do this for money.
As a French filmmaker in Brazil, how do you balance your own outsiderness with recording and also with releasing these recordings online, particularly within the French tradition of patrimoine and ethnographic film?
I do not see myself as an ethnographic filmmaker. I don’t see myself even as a filmmaker. I’m experimenting with the tools of recording and the tools of sharing. The fact that I’m using a camera is just one detail within a larger vision. We do not live in the same form of society we used to live in even 20 years ago. I think culture is problematic, because we’re extremely focused on this idea that we are actually separated, particularly in our globalized Westernized society, so I think of reality in terms of separation from the realities of others.
This is great when it comes to defending diversity and sharing incredible, fantastic knowledge of different traditions. But this is not great when it comes to building physical and invisible walls in between us, in the way we relate to the other.
How can we overcome this? How can we overcome the idea of identity? To not only see it from a political point of view? Most of our vision of the world these days is only informed from a very materialistic, political point of view, which is not the way of the people I record. They do not see the other, in the way that Western culture has been inventing the other.
We should allow people to be more free in creating, allowing all those energies to circulate much more freely – it’s like liberating spirits.
I learned a lot while being with indigenous people – I think that their revision of reality is completely new, and it’s very, very beautiful to realize this.
I’m trying to create an exchange by using my own tools. But at the same time, trying to create that exchange away from any commercial relationship, away from any manipulative interchange approaches. I feel that all the recordings I’ve been making actually help people. That’s the goal, the first thing. Give the recordings to them. It’s a gift exchange. It’s an ancient way of living together.
Lewis Hyde writes in The Gift that gifts are cyclical, that they come back to you culturally– that it’s an ancient form of relating to other people.
Absolutely. It’s like with the potlatch. What allows our new tools in a sense is to renew that ancient type of relationship with the other. This is very beautiful, and we have to dive into it as much as possible. I try to complete my own personal research there by doing a lot of what I call live cinema or performances, and it’s quite new for us. It is basically a live improvisation based mostly on ritualistic music. And sometimes we invite some of those people that are a part of it. For example, last year in Morocco, we invited for five days some Sufi Brotherhood in Fes, and they invited us to an incredible healing transritual in a house, and then two days later, we created this show, where we were showing the images we recorded by mixing the images live, and they were also coming over this speaker. They were creating a new layer over their own ritual, and it was amazing! It was completely breaking down this distance that we create all the time, especially in terms of representation of music. I’m very excited about bringing back the sacred everywhere. So we brought the guys on stage, and they fucking nailed it. It turned out to be another ritual. Some people fell in trance again.
You work in a variety of media, not only film and live performance, but also music and exhibition. How does trans-cinema and live cinema fit into the Hibridos project, and also your projects going forward? And how does your work lend itself to that kind of cross-media or trans-media representation?
I’m excited to explore all different forms – to talk about the power of images on our society. And I think it’s so very important to mention, especially when you start to talk about trends or so-called trends in cinema, that our society has turned into a society that is so obsessed by its own images, and reality is actually created by our image, which is dangerous. The way we treat images and the way we share images is very poor and very damaging, damaging a lot the way we see reality. Images are extremely powerful because they deform reality. That’s what’s happening now.
What’s reality? It’s a subjective experience. You make the right images, let’s say, but what I’m excited about are images that are trying to work around the idea of beauty and you might end up making a better society – a more beautiful one. It sounds very simple but it’s exactly how it works. So basically, what we’ve been trying, especially with Hibridos, is to celebrate in a sense, all those different forms of rituals to show the beauty, incredible magic in them, and to share this for free. We’ve been making many films – 94 films. It’s crazy. It’s ridiculous in a way. It’s a sacrifice. We did it with our own money and without any production companies. I still have no idea what’s going to happen with it now. Our desire to use trans-cinema is very much based on the idea that images have a very strong impact. What about images of rituals? What about images of bodies in trance? What kind of impact can they have?
I’m excited about reintegrating the trance into the bodies of the viewers. It’s an experiment. It’s not easy and it’s not easy for everybody. A lot of people don’t feel free in front of these images and they put this on certain idea of manipulation of culture of the image of the others. We actually believe that’s what our society needs. Trance and trance bodies – we need to get out of our own brain. We need to let it go. We need to get to an assent that there is something superior. I’m not going to use the word God or anything. There is something very superior, spiritual in nature. We have to regain humility, and to regain this humility, we need to pass by the trance state. I absolutely believe so. I’m absolutely certain because I had this experience. I did my own. I went to a ritual and I tried to participate as much as possible. I tried to get out of my brain, get out of my intellectual relationship to reality. And it was a life-changing experience. And a very much needed one. But I do not believe that everyone can go there. Of course not. We have to be subtle, very subtle. We are trying to present it as sort of a documentary type of experience, but it’s not, absolutely not in any way. Especially the live-cinema. It’s much more about trying to reach the energy of the ritual and bring it to people would never go there, who might see it through a distance.
Your films do have an extremely intimate quality.
I’m very interested in breaking down any distance. There is no distance because my desire is to do the exact opposite of putting myself at a distance, to write or to study. It’s not our take. Our take is actually to break down a distance, to go very, very, very close, and when you see the feature film, especially on a big screen, it’s almost suffocating at some points. It has a strange type of quality because it’s very close. You never breathe, and you’re in it all the time, constantly.
After making many films, I still had no idea what I was doing, and little by little I have a bit of a different vision, and that’s why I’m so close, to create that feeling. But that’s also because we are there, we are in it. It vibrates more, and we love that, and we want that.
We want to vibrate more with them. We want to respect them and for me, that’s the only way of respecting, is getting closer, not stepping backward, stepping really forward to one another. And I’ve always done that everywhere I went. In the center of places, just feel at home, because that’s the best way to do it. That’s the greatest thing.
What are the next projects you have planned? What’s next for Hibridos? Where do you see this project going and where do you see your next project?
What we’re excited about is that we’ve been able to produce all the material, and now that it is freely available it can circulate and disseminate.
I trust the curiosity of the people. We just try to let it go. Hopefully, some people are gonna find it and then they’re gonna use it and then they’re gonna share it, and others will make things with it. This is a project to make other projects, right? So hopefully, it’s going to inspire people in many different ways.
The Hibridos project is mostly online. It’s not the entire project, which is a web project, but basically sort of like the ground of the house and now, we’re finding the water and putting up the roof. But basically, the roof is made of other experiences. We’re gonna experiment. Research and consciousness, that’s what it is about.
Thinking about my own first encounter with Hibridos, which was on my laptop, I’m curious to know what your thoughts are on the difference between encountering the project on a smaller screen versus these large scale immersive experiences you create?
One complements the other. At some point you have to acknowledge the fact that you are not really the owner of anything. Basically you just believe, trust, that people might encounter the films here or there. Things are very organized in the invisible. Things are supposed to happen the way they happen. It’s destiny – some people have to encounter this project, and they will, but I’m not gonna force it. There’s no need.
Someone may end up seeing this on their laptop one night because someone sent them a link. People could be researching their next trip to Brazil, and suddenly they bump into this. Or people might come see a show tonight because they take a look at what’s in town and they see us by accident. Many things, but it’s all accidents. It’s all made of little accidents, tiny accidents – which we feel are not really accidents at all. And that’s the beauty. It’s a game with reality. You play your role. You just play it the best you can, and that’s what we’re going to do.
There has been sacrifice, complete sacrifice, but we’re very happy. We’ve been researching, filming, recording, editing, publishing things about beauty. What people do with those rituals are amazing. That’s the core of the project. It’s the heart of everything.
What kinds of differences did you find across the country, from urban to rural?
I would not really define urban and rural differences like that. Every place is always very different and some places might be much more populated by people that would have a poorer economic background than others. That might change a lot of what their relationship with spirituality is, but we’ve really been exploring in lots of different places, urban, rural, jungle, forest, the sea.
What we need these days, especially artists, we need to be inspired to create new forms — call it culture if you want. We create new forms of being together and Brazil is the most inspiring place for me in that regard. I learned so much, so much about myself as well.
Now we’re ready to move onto other projects with this absolute certitude that we have to experiment. That’s the only way to go.
Would you talk about some of the rituals and some of the ways you engaged?
They are all so different and all so complementary. I’m really researching deeply on spirituality and I think you’ll find spirituality as well in religion sometimes, not always.”
All of those places we went to, we’ve been trained to look for those little encounters with the invisible. We just published some new films of rituals that are already online. Especially there is in this last batch of films, there are a few from Fraternidade Kayman. It is amazing – complete hybrids. That’s sort of like what Brazil taught us a lot, that you can experiment
The evolution of rituals is creating new forms of rituals all the time. It’s normal, and it’s magical.
We have to break down those barriers, to break down the idea of identity. We’ve been trying to question our own identity. I think lots of those rituals are really guarded by the people who have the money to make the films. We’ve been very curious, and especially we wanted to represent people who are not represented, to give them a voice, to show them in their beautiful life.
This interview has been condensed and edited. Visit Hibridos.