Open City Documentary Festival

Open City Documentary Festival 2020 – Focus: Things We Dare Not Do, When The World Is Still New to Our Eyes

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Cathy Brennan looks at how a child’s perspective informs the events seen in Bruno Santamaría’s Things We Dare Not Do. Things We Dare Not Do is available in Block 2 (Sat 12th Sept midday – Tue 15th Sept midnight BST).

The perspectives of children are prioritised in Bruno Santamaría’s Things We Dare Not Do. The film opens with a man dressed as Santa Claus flying over the village in an autogyro, dropping toys for the local children. This scene establishes a porous relationship between reality and the fantastical. The village, first seen from above from the perspective of the airborne Santa, appears isolated as it is sandwiched between two rivers. One of the most striking aspects of Santamaría’s approach is then revealed when the film cuts to the excited children on the ground. Throughout the film, his camera often rests at the children’s eye-level so that the audience sees the world from their perspective. In a context of non-fiction however, this choice also informs the role of the children as active players in the film rather than subjects to be scrutinised.

It is through the children that we are introduced to Arturo (referred to in the film as Ñoño), a teenager who plays with these children and teaches them how to dance. Ñoño secretly dresses as a woman by the river and have been working up the courage to come out to their parents. The aforementioned interplay between reality and fantasy is a comment on a child’s developing sense of their surroundings. A classroom scene emphasises this to a cosmic degree as the children are tasked with creating posters about the solar system.

When the world is still new to our eyes, its workings are at their most elastic and mysterious. Every experience is novel and will come to shape our perspective as adults. This can be both a blessing and a curse. The reality of Santa dropping presents can be just as significant to a child as the fatal shooting which occurs midway through the film during a dance in the village square. The children congregate around the dried pool of blood with curiosity the morning after the shooting. Just as the young are more acutely aware of the magic around them, so too can they absorb the violence of a patriarchal world. The shooting haunts the scene after Ñoño comes out to their family when they are dancing in the square. Off-screen a young boy can be heard shouting “faggot” at them. 

This painful reminder is reinforced in the final moments of the film when Ñoño has left the village for a larger town and the slur is repeated by a man as Ñoño simply walks the street. Through embracing their own personal magic, young queer people like Ñoño are forced to endure the homophobic lessons others have grown up to learn. To exist openly as LGBT is both an embrace of the world’s possibility and a rejection of the restrictive reality imposed by our surroundings. Children eventually learn that Santa isn’t real, but the wonder such a fantasy instills can be fostered throughout life. Santamaría leaves the audience with a tentative hopefulness as the end credits begin. Ñoño’s deadname of Arturo fades into Dayanara, suggesting that their journey continues to hold onto the magical potential of queerness.

Cathy Brennan is a film critic based in London.

Tickets for Things We Dare Not Do are on sale now.