N.01 nëss
by   Maria João Bilro

“For as long as I can remember I never felt like I 100% belonged somewhere.” – nëss

The first edition of Em.Foco gives us nëss as a peep into the future. In this video portrait by Maria João Bilro, the Lisbon-based singer/songwriter nëss brings the strength that transforms the melancholic setting in which he was filmed, into a lively and accepting place of a world still unreceptive to non-normativity.

Maria João Bilro tells us she tried to “explore what it means to be a biracial, non-binary person that struggled his whole life with the spectrums of acceptance, belonging and normalization”.

Towards the end of the video portrait, nëss performs one of his songs, taking the video to a dreamlike level, perhaps momentarily transporting us to his world. The director’s goal was to portray nëss’ song as “a safe haven, a way to express the deepest feelings when he couldn’t do it any other way”.

This is Em.foco’s first video portrait. Nëss by Maria João Bilro.

Talk with Maria João Bilro

Teresa Freitas

1) Your choice to portray nëss was almost immediate. Did you know him before Em.foco’s invitation to direct this first edition’s video?

When you told me that the initial focus would ideally be on emerging artists, from any artistic field, I tried to give some thought on how to turn it around, find an artist within what I wanted to portray that didn’t belong to my world – visual arts or music –, but I just couldn’t. It was in conversation with Filipa, my girlfriend, that I realized that I really should portray a musician because I feel that music lives in me. But all the artists I knew that fit into the “emerging artist” category, didn’t reflect my identity in the way I wanted: to feel truly represented, I specifically wanted someone queer. That’s the community I feel most at home because of the openness, the very particular affection, and the lack of judgment. Also, there’s this willingness to learn and teach. That was the context for the conversation in which Filipa told me about nëss. I listened to an interview he had given a few years back, it was more about his personality than his music, but I enjoyed that. After that, I reached out to him and he immediately went along with it. We had a few talks, I had to chase him around for a bit, but eventually, it ended up working great. We “clicked” from the beginning. I think our personalities are very alike, so it felt “meant to be”.

2) How was the process of getting to know nëss?

Getting to know nëss felt very comforting. I think that’s the most accurate word to describe how it felt. You know when you meet someone and there’s an immediate understanding, ease, and comfort? That’s what I felt happened between us, catalyzed by how excited we both were about the video but also because we were both very honest. We’re both very direct and we have no boundaries discussing certain topics that are still very much taboo socially. I mean, it’s getting better, but there’s still a lot of subjects that aren’t even addressed over coffee with friends. It was lovely to realize that we could connect in that way, that we could reflect, look at the past and address it without fear.

3) There’s a noticeable and touching effort to not impose your own speech on nëss, to give him the stage, focus, and voice…

That was my main goal, to give nëss the whole stage. Of course, I was sharing it, but the focus of the video was him. That was why I wanted to shoot in locations that meant something to him. These were places where he lived his teenage years, between Mercês and Odivelas because his parents were separated. The polarity between suburbs also made its mark on him.

We visited these places, and curiously, on the last day of shooting, we went to nëss’ high school, in the countryside of Sintra, where it felt like you were in the interior of the country, in a very quiet place. It felt like a village, with goats and cows, and it was super cool. Nëss even said: “damn, this is so cool, I haven’t been here in ages. It feels amazing”. And it was also amazing for me to be able to provide that to go there with him.

4) I’m curious: why super8? Aesthetically it works very well and mixes well with the digital format, but was there any point beyond the aesthetics?

It was aesthetic and also conceptual. Super8 or any other video camera takes me back to home movies, something intimate and personal. I always find it extremely rewarding to shoot with Super8, especially in this kind of film project, because there’s usually a limit of cartridges you can use so everything you shoot is going to be spontaneous, there are no second takes. It’s also harder to fake. Besides, it’s an interesting way to view people, it highlights how funny the dichotomy of our modernity is. Shooting this modern and contemporary world, full of technology, through an analog lens, an old lens, carries in itself a special kind of poetry, a touch of nostalgia. I always carry that with me.

5) Another curious fact is that your video was almost entirely shot through dusks and dawns. Why? Was there any other point besides the aesthetics?

Those are the times of the day when I most enjoy existing when I feel the most “alive”. I think it’s because the colors they give people and objects hypnotize me. It’s inherent poetry to me how the sky goes from pink to purple to blue and how that reflects on the world. It makes me feel present, in harmony with the planet, it brings me awareness to the fact that I’m alive and it’s a very spiritual experience. I love to live those moments and feel that. Shooting at those hours comes naturally, it isn’t forced at all.

6) There’s a strong melancholy to this video portrait, that simultaneously makes us feel restless and calm…

I think the color palette, the search for those dusks and dawns, the transitions are very nostalgic and melancholic by themselves. And so am I, so is nëss. And, truth be told, I find it beautiful that the video shows that. It turned out to be a “lucky marriage” how my aesthetics also matched nëss’ world by pure chance. The decision to shoot at those hours was a directorial one, nëss also identified himself with that nostalgic, melancholic side that is also part of being alive, the colors as well.

As far as that melancholy that “simultaneously makes us feel restless and calm”: I think that those melancholic and nostalgic feelings can be the source of some disquietness, but there’s also some comfort in that, especially in nostalgia. It’s possible to miss a moment, a time in our lives, that deep down we know wasn’t the happiest, but there’s some contentment in elevating the past, a moment, and changing that memory and how we feel about it.

That’s a fascinating facet of the human mind. I think the reason that melancholy comes across as comforting in the video is that that’s how it feels like for me. The colors, the Super8, the ocean, the nature… All of it is soothing, yearning, being in the moment: it’s to live.

7) But what inspires you in that state of mind? Is it something deep-seated in your sense of self or is it something you look to as a place of creation?

The moods themselves, of melancholy and nostalgia, feel different to me, but they’re linked. I don’t go into that state of mind exclusively when I create. There are times when I’m detached from that, busier with non-creative work, in areas where I have to be more functional. Or maybe I’m just in a happier mood, which is not very usual for me. What inspires me in that mood is not a specific thing in the sense that that mood is a part of who I am. It’s not something that I have to look to for inspiration, it’s always there. I’ve been in therapy for a few years, and that’s something I’m aware of, that nostalgic side, that melancholic being that still looks within, anxiously trying to figure out the reason for that constant restlessness of mind and body.

But creating offers a catharsis through which I try to come to terms with some of the things I feel, uncovering them, unburdening them from my rational side. To sum, that state of mind is part of me, and creating is how I deal with it.

8) What voice would you like to have (or be recognized for) as a director?

I don’t know if it became obvious to you while asking these questions about colors, melancholy, nostalgia, dusks, and dawns, but that’s exactly it. I want that to be my voice. An open, honest one, that isn’t afraid to talk about trauma, to admit that it’s unhappy most of the time. One who assumes being melancholic tackles issues such as mental health and being a part of the queer community, even if from a point of privilege because society sees me as a white, cis woman. Assuming my sexuality came with a lot of prejudice but I know some people suffer from much harsher judgment.

I’d like to stand as a bisexual woman, who wants to talk about topics that are discussed in a heteronormative society, but in my own sweeter, simpler, more naive way. Naive in a more narrative way, in the sense of truly narrating things. I love it when friends see a movie or picture and say “Oh, Maria, this is so you, you’re going to love it!” It usually comes from this aesthetic place I love and try to reproduce in my work, be it film or photography. It precisely comes from those transitions from night to day to night, hand in hand with my favorite colors, that truly represent calmness to me. That’s what I’m looking for at the moment: calmness. And honestly, it’s not even calmness in creating, just calmness in life, generally speaking.

I also want to shoot what makes sense to me, keeping in mind that I always want my art to be relatable – that’s what I’m seeking, obviously – and I think it is relatively so. I’m not a “symbols and mystery” kind of person even if I love that kind of artist. Maybe I’m more literal in a poetic kind of way. A poetic literal. I’m very much at peace with my path as a director, even if it’s not aligned with what people in the field, colleagues, or whoever expects.



portrayed artist

Proudly from Mercês, Sintra, and the core of the Troublemaker Records family – a collective/publisher whose activity has done much to highlight POC and queer artists, gatekept from larger platforms – nëss fearlessly faces the frailties and desires of his queer, black, non-binary identity, in songs full of characters and life. A personal reflection of his life experience, that looks for hope, forgiveness, and a way forward in the midst of depression, angst, and doubt.

Maria João Bilro


She doesn’t like labels (so nonunique) and believes we’re all made of matter of many different things. Having to summarize, she assumes herself as a creative person with a penchant for visual nostalgia. Having collaborated with several magazines (Empire, Revista Umbigo) writing about cinema, she has been working as a director and creative assistant for the last few years, switching between advertising and fiction (Krypton, Take it Easy).


Jângal Studios


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