It’s the Earth Not the Moon


Talking about films, one often falls back onto that hackneyed, insufficient phrase “a sense of place” — Gonçalo Tocha’s micro-epic documentary It’s the Earth Not the Moon tests the limits of how much any movie can convey of that sense. “We are going to film everything we can,” the filmmaker announces during his staged arrival with a one-man crew at Corvo, the smallest of the Portuguese Azores islands, home to a single village (pop. 440), a church, a makeshift discotheque, and a volcanic crater: “We will try to be everywhere at the same time and not miss a thing.” Through fourteen headed chapters, Tocha catalogues every strata of island life, often in captivating images—the reflection of the village in a rheumy eye, moonglow on the harbor. But while devoting three hours of final edited footage compiled over the course of four years to combing over the same seven square miles, he is finally as much an observer as the English birdwatchers who appear at one point. One memorable scene invites natives to narrate the filmmakers’ footage of waves crashing over the single pier, which they do, with an evident sense of the individuality of each. The infinite variance emerging from within monotonous established patterns highlights the impossible nature of Tocha’s ethnographic mission. To have any real sense of place, Tocha’s film suggests, a lifetime is necessary—the rest is just tourism.

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