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Movie Blues

Movie Blues

"You have to direct a film with the same freedom you
have when you dream: without any limits. It’s necessary to end the dictatorship of
realism. The majority of the viewers today are addicted to a cinema full of formulas,
preconceived ideas, where there is no room for imagination, or delirium."

Born in 1941 in Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais state,
filmmaker Neville Duarte D’Almeida has had a more than colorful career in the Brazilian
movie industry. He took acting classes at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, starting
in 1960. Five years later he continued his performing studies at the New York College, in
the U.S.. Censored at the beginning of his work as a director and unable to show his first
films he ended up becoming a popular film director. Despite his protests, critics have
labeled him together with movie directors Rogério Sganzerla and Júlio Bressane as one of
the leaders of the Cinema Marginal movement, a movie current interested in exploring the
contradictions and existential musings of the Brazilian middle-class.
By A Long Chat With
Neville D’Almeida

Movie Blues

"You have to direct a film with the same freedom you
have when you dream: without any limits. It’s necessary to end the dictatorship of
realism. The majority of the viewers today are addicted to a cinema full of formulas,
preconceived ideas, where there is no room for imagination, or delirium."

Born in 1941 in Belo Horizonte, capital of Minas Gerais state,
filmmaker Neville Duarte D’Almeida has had a more than colorful career in the Brazilian
movie industry. He took acting classes at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, starting
in 1960. Five years later he continued his performing studies at the New York College, in
the U.S.. Censored at the beginning of his work as a director and unable to show his first
films he ended up becoming a popular film director. Despite his protests, critics have
labeled him together with movie directors Rogério Sganzerla and Júlio Bressane as one of
the leaders of the Cinema Marginal movement, a movie current interested in exploring the
contradictions and existential musings of the Brazilian middle-class.

Gustavo Brum

I met Neville D’Almeida when he came recently to Los Angeles to work on the
post-production of his eleventh feature film, Navalha na Carne (Razor’s Flesh). A
very unique filmmaker, Neville has a peculiar trajectory within the Brazilian Cinema
history. His first five features were banned from the movie theatres and were never
exhibited in Brazil because of the military dictatorship. It wasn’t before the late
seventies, when the regime finally started to be more flexible, that he had a chance to
show his work. Neville then surprised everyone by releasing three box office hits on a
roll. One of his films (A Dama do Lotação or The Lady on the Bus) went to
become one of the top grossing films of all times in the history of the cinema in Brazil.
So here’s the man who has been at both heaven and hell.

How did the cinema enter your life?

I was four or five years old and I was traveling with my family. We stopped at the door
of a restaurant to eat and this restaurant shared the space with a movie theater. So my
father looked at me and said, "Come here, let’s go inside the theater." So we
went and there was this curtain and I had no idea what cinema was. So I opened the
curtains and I got scared at seeing those gigantic images, those big faces on the screen.
And a couple of seconds later there was this gigantic close-up of Rita Hayworth and right
after another big close-up of Glen Ford. The movie was Gilda.

I was fascinated with all that. And because of that, the only thing I thought about was
going to the movies. And with that I started going often to the movies. Cinema always
fascinated me and I didn’t care what kind of movie it was. I just wanted to go more and
more to the movies. When I was 13 and I started reading newspapers, on the newspapers I
always tried to read the film critics, or the film articles. And because of that I found
out that in my city there was a cine-club, where they played special films—films that
you didn’t see in the normal circuits. Films by John Ford, Howard Hawks, Ingmar Bergman,
Eisenstein, Visconti, Rosselini, Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, D. W. Griffith, and many
others.

So at the beginning of each film, there was a person who would come, announce the film
and give a theoretical explanation about the film, or about the movement to which this
film belonged. For example, they would say this is a Neo-Realist Film, etc. After the
screening there was discussion and people discussed what they liked and what they didn’t
like about the film. A movie that provoked such strong and endless discussions was the Exterminator
Angel by Buñuel. This was a way to know the movies and also to love movies. Every
week we would go there, discover new styles, study cinematography, and analyze different
types of movies: like American cinema, Russian, French, Spanish, Swedish, Mexican, and
Brazilian too.

I started like this—not only watching the films, but also analyzing and discussing
them. And at the end, this process created in each one of us a big love for the cinema. In
another words, this was like a film school without the worry of passing or failing. And
one more thing, all the people in the cine-club were dying to make films. However, around
that time, to make a film in my town was like something from another world. Difficult,
expensive, impossible. There was no 16mm productions, no short films, nothing. Only when I
went to live in the United States, I finally bought a small 8mm camera and started to make
films.

For a long time, the Brazilian press considered you a filmmaker that belonged to the
Underground, or Marginal Cinema in the late 60’s. People like: Ozualdo Candeias,
Sganzerla, Bressane. How was this? Was there an identification with their work, did you
feel you belonged to a movement, or you felt like you’re a lonely soul hanging around this
movement?

No. I had nothing to do with that. However, I admired the Brazilian Cinema of that time
a lot. When I came back to Brazil in 1966, I made a short film, named O Bem Aventurado or
The Lucky One. At this time, there was a festival of short films in Brazil and I went to
the festival and over there I met, Sganzerla, Andrea Tonacci, Antônio Calmon, Sérgio
Santeiro, and many other people. With Sganzerla, I had one thing in common, which was the
fact that we made our first feature in the same year. I shot Jardins de Guerra (War
Gardens) in 1967 and he made O Bandido da Luz Vermelha (The Red Light Bandit) the
same year. And if I’m not wrong, I believe that the first film by Bressane, was also made
in 1967. We were all friends. (My name is even on the credit list of the Sganzerla’s
film.)

But freedom for me was more important than anything. I liked everything that I saw. I
liked the people and the films of the Cinema Novo and the Cinema Underground, but I was
interested in making my own films. I wanted to make a film or a movie that was much more
free. At this time, at the end of the 60’s, people were very demanding. Everybody wanted
to make a film about this or about that, everybody wanted to make a film with a theory
behind it. And they also complained when you didn’t do it. Well, since the beginning, all
I wanted was to make films, free from all these theories. At this time, the cinema was one
of the most backward arts that existed. It was a jailed art. My theory was that the cinema
should be a form of free expression.

At this time, there were still taboos. People didn’t care if they went to a museum and
saw a naked Venus in a painting, but a naked actress in a film, that was the end of the
world. And to make things worse, there was the censorship of the military regime. My first
film, Jardins de Guerra, was censored and banned from the screens for many
years. It was a free film and suffered because of that. My second film, Piranhas do
Asfalto (Asphalt Piranhas), ended up having the same destiny, forbidden and
banned for many years. At this time, I had to go back and film in 16mm, since nobody
wanted to finance me. Anyway, the films in 16mm like: Surucucu Catiripapo, Mangue-Bangue
and Night Cats, didn’t have better luck. They were all banned by the censorship and
never exhibited in any theater. However, I thought that my function was to make films and
to never worry about exhibiting them. Because of that, I kept thinking that I should make
more films. And also thinking that the films shouldn’t be changed. I think that our
biggest problem at that time in Brazil, was the total lack of freedom.

Now, when I look back, I see that many filmmaker’s from the Underground Movement never
had problems with the censorship like I had. But I never lost my hope. I thought that the
important part was to make films. And with each film, I was experimenting, trying and
learning, and becoming better and better. I think one of the things that helped me was
that I was young and like all youngsters, I thought that I was right and they were wrong.
And because the film wasn’t going to be shown anyway, I decided to experiment more and
more. I even decided to break with that habit of "lifting" one scene from here,
or one scene from over there. I decided to make films that even I had never seen.

And people labeled these films as avant-garde, or experimental. But I never belonged to
any movement. Even because I thought there was no movement. If I ever belonged to any
movement, then it was the movement of films that didn’t get exhibition. The Jardins de
Guerra was forbidden while O Bandido da Luz Vermelha was released. And with
that I spent almost 10 years without having a single film exhibited. When my first film
was shown, it was a blockbuster. And right after that I had two other box office hits. But
those 10 years were very hard, very difficult, and as a result, I was obligated to make
films in Super 8, because I didn’t have any more money.

I was going in the opposite direction of any film career, because I started with 35mm,
then went back to 16mm, then Super 8 and if things hadn’t changed, I’d still be doing
Super 8. But the main thing was that I was filming all the time, experimenting all the
time, because in reality, all the films are the same. If you can make a good Super 8
movie, then you can make a good 35mm movie. And also, these films that I made in Super 8
were very important because they helped me enhance myself in the practice of the cinema.
 

Godard once said that he made films because that was the only thing available for
him. He said that if films didn’t exist, he probably would paint or write, because for
him, all he needed was a medium to express himself. In his opinion the cinema is a
necessity that the artist has to express. Do you agree?

No doubt, the cinema is a form of expression. I love to film, I love to produce a film,
I love to make a film. For me the best thing in the world is to be on a movie set with a
camera, an actor, and preparing myself for the next scene. If I can’t film, "I"
who don’t know how to write, who don’t know how to paint, would be voiceless. And because
of that I would be nervous. That’s why when I couldn’t make a film in 35, I filmed in 16
and if I couldn’t do it in 16, I would do it in Super 8. And people would come and ask me,
"But where you gonna play these Super 8 films?" I would answer, "Listen, I
made films in 16 and 35 and they’re not playing, so if the Super 8 doesn’t play, it’s
nothing new for me, but I need to make a film."

Because I thought that when you’re filming, you’re learning. You can see a difference
between a sequence and another. You can see a difference between types of lights, editing,
montage, etc. As a matter of fact, if you don’t follow this, you will be lost. Because in
Brazil and I think in the rest of the world as well, filmmakers suffer with the time gap
between films. You spend two, three, even four years trying to produce a film, only to
spend two, or three months filming. It’s madness. I try to free myself from all of this.
There are so many films that I’d like to make, that the only possible way is to experiment
with 16 or Super 8.

Many of your films are adaptations from plays. Do you consider yourself influenced
by theater or the cinema?

I always liked theater. You see, I loved the cinema. At 13, I was hanging around a
cine-club, but I also went to study theater at the University. This was an excellent
course because there was many classes like interpretation, improvisation, speech, voice,
intonation, body language, history of theater, history of art, and many others. I was
lucky because I had the opportunity to first get acquainted with the cinema and only later
with theater. Because of that I could appreciate the roots of the cinema, which come from
theater.

And as I was studying, I got real excited and I thought I could also be an actor.
However, at the University my classmates complained about my voice. They thought I had a
low voice and this conveyed the idea of being superficial. One day someone came to me and
said, "With this voice, you can never be an actor." Suddenly, I thought about
the cinema again. To study theater for me was fundamental. To study interpretation, to
learn improvisation and all the theater techniques, gave me experience to talk,
understand, and work with actors. Because of that, I think I know what I can ask and what
I cannot ask from an actor.. I love to work with actors. I rehearse very deeply with them.
And with each actor I use a different method.

First I study the personality of each actor and then the psychology of each one. I like
to take from inside each actor the interpretation that I think is important for the
character, or for the scene. So I treat some actors in a way and other actors in another
way. Thanks to the theater I developed my own technique. What I see today is that many
directors simply don’t know how to direct an actor. And this is maybe the most complex
part of a film. I think young directors should put more emphasis on the elements coming
from theater.

What I see in many films is that the actors come and do whatever they want. At the end,
it all turns into a big mess because one actor has a background in classical theater and
the other comes from the circus. In the end, the actor who came from classical theater
will do everything he can to act, like he was in the theater. While the other, will do
everything he can to act as if he was in a circus. Meanwhile, the director stays in the
background saying, "No, okay, no, okay", for both. It becomes a confusion
without harmony.

What is your method, then?

Well, first we start by mandatory screenplay reading with the actors in someone’s
house. Most of the time, my house. Three months before we start filming we gather and we
read the whole film seated. Then I make them memorize the words and there’s no other work
until they all memorize the words. After that, we start doing the work of how to say the
words. Because sometimes actors get into the habit of swallowing words, or saying words in
the wrong way. And I give a lot of importance to words. Because in a line there is at
least one word that is important and if the actor says the line without perceiving the
value of that word, it’s a wrong line.

For example, if there’s a line like, "You are a bad guy and I think you should
die!" Then in this line, the words, "bad guy" and "die" are the
most important. You have to make these words stand out because they are the key to
understand the meaning of the line. You have to put more emphasis on these words and there
are many ways to do this. I would use a pause right after "bad guy". And then I
would have the actor raise his voice when he says "die." With this you play with
the forces inside the line and the motion of the actors, get more in touch with the
harmony of the film’s context. After that, we spend time researching, trying to find what
certain character would do, think and where he would live.

This is my laboratory. With this, when the time of filming comes, I give myself the
luxury of improvisation. Because, you can never forget that to improvise, you need to have
a good background. Because when you’re filming there are always new ideas in the air and
you feel tempted to use the new ideas simply because the new fascinates, the new has a
good taste. This temptation is sometimes too big. So you feel this huge desire to abandon
all the work you did for months and unwrap a new idea in the middle of the film set.

So, how do you know when is the right time to improvise?

You have to have talent to search and find what is really new. You must have desire and
intuition. And most of all you need to establish an environment where the actor gets
stimulus. You have to stimulate the actor to search for new solutions. Only then, the new
will show up in its original form, very natural. And I don’t think this applies only to
actors, the same applies to the d.p.(the director of photography), the art director, the
editor, the make-up artist and all the people involved in the creative part of the film.
In my films, these people spend a lot of time looking for new things, looking for
enhancing a line of dialogue, or finding a new prop.

I stimulate all of this, because all of this stimulates what is really new. And because
of that, when the "new" shows up in my films, it’s always welcome. Sometimes if
you don’t have an open mind, you end up rejecting one thing or one idea simply because of
the overwhelming power of a situation or a moment. At this time you need to leave your
prejudice at home, forget that you are the director and remember that all these people
around you are as creative as you are and they can help you get what you need and what’s
essential for new things to come.

Here in the United States, people who know and study Brazilian Cinema often use the
term "Magic Realism" to describe the majority of the films made in Brazil after
the 60’s. Do you disagree with this label or do you think Brazilian filmmakers do have a
peculiar way of seeing the world? Even more so since the Brazilian reality is full of
magic like Carnaval with symbols, masks and illusions.

I think that "Magic Realism" is a very Brazilian form of expression. The
popular imagination of the Brazilian is very rich. Brazil is a very complex country with a
multiplicity of cultures, races, folk legends, songs, etc. We have the rich industrial
city of São Paulo on one side and the Indians who barely know fire in the Amazon Jungle.
We have the strong German culture of the South and a state like Bahia where you feel like
you are in West Africa.

The Country itself assimilates this form of realism, because at the end the only thing
that unites us is our language. Portuguese. However, to make a film that relies only on
"realist" ideas is just too easy. For me, the films that are too realistic get
too close to documentaries. And at the end, I think realism is like a prison, because, for
me, realism in many ways rejects and limits creativity. To reproduce reality as it is,
it’s way too easy and too safe.

I think the cinema must have the freedom and go beyond, go deeper, explore unknown
areas. I think the director should have the mentality of an "outsider", which
means the one who sees deeper because he’s out of the context. In my opinion, realism is
also a trap. I try to get in my films, elements of narrative that can escape from reality
as much as possible. And then they transform themselves into a form of virtual reality.
Because in my films, I go after scenes and sequences that can visually represent desires,
imagination, dreams, lyrical sequences that can translate to the screen.

Most of the time, a director should have the mind of a poet. You have to compose the
images as if you’re making a poem, try to combine one image with another, to see which one
rhymes, which one brings harmony. As if it were a visual poem, a poem that can convey you
emotion. Sometimes a violent image combines with an abstract image, creates a lyrical
reality and magnifies the feelings of those watching the film. And this is the basis of
magic realism.

You have to escape your self-censorship and give yourself the freedom of inventing, the
freedom of dreaming, the freedom of delirium. You have to direct a film with exactly the
same freedom you have when you dream: without any limits. Because to dream is a very human
thing, after all, everybody sleeps and everybody dreams. So, if you can use the language
of dreams, you will be able to have something in common and also to communicate with every
human being on this planet. Because to dream is to be human.

It’s necessary to end the dictatorship of realism. And the best weapon is the cinema. I
think also in the films —and I always do this in my films—it’s necessary to give
space to the viewer so he can have time to reflect about what he’s seeing. So he can think
about what he’s seeing and then decide if he likes it or not. The main problem today is
that the majority of the viewers are addicted to a cinema full of formulas, preconceived
ideas, where there is no room for imagination, or delirium.

Luckily our cinema, the Brazilian cinema, is a cinema that’s very interested in
expressing feelings that are universal. Because if art cannot be international, then it
doesn’t deserve to exist, period! Our cinema can be understood in any part of the world
because it’s a cinema that gives wings to the imagination. After all, Brazil is the only
country in which everything stops for one week for Carnaval, the biggest party for the
imagination.

Two years ago when the American Film Institute paid homage to Brazilian film
director Nélson Pereira dos Santos in Los Angeles, he created a controversy in a speech
when he declared that exhibitors in Brazil were the number one enemies of the Brazilian
Cinema. Do you agree or not?

I agree totally. Because the exhibitor most often prefers to open a can with an
imported film inside to have to deal with a national film, which includes someone from the
production crew going to the movie theater and complaining to the manager that the sound
is too low, or that they skipped a piece of the film, when they changed the rolls. The
position of the exhibitors is an underdeveloped, colonized position. They only want to
sell what’s easier, they don’t want to deal with anybody. The exhibitor in Brazil sees
films like tires or potatoes. They have to understand that the cinema is an important part
of the culture of a country, just like music or sports.

How come the foreign record companies have so many Brazilian artists under contract
while the American film-distribution companies barely have a Brazilian staff? The majority
of the Brazilian exhibitors have an attitude similar to the prostitutes: whoever pays more
gets it. They don’t see themselves as part of a cultural activity, no. They could be
selling soap at the corner and that would be the same thing for them. And for that they
lack commercial vision.

They could be participating in helping in the film production and making a lot of money
at the same time. But they lack imagination. Imagination for them to create a strategy for
the Brazilian cinema. Or what do they think? We also want to make a lot of money with the
cinema. Who wants to make films to loose money?

What about the dictatorship of style?

Everywhere I go, from Hong Kong to Greece, people always ask me about Brazilian movies.
They come and they ask me: "Where are the Brazilian films?" However, down there
in Brazil, people don’t seem too interested in their own national cinema. And I blame
this, most of all, on this horrible dictatorship of style. The American cinema, the
blockbuster type, ends up transforming everything in "mono" while in countries
like France you have a marketplace that you could associate with the word
"stereo". Here in the United States—and the same happens in Brazil—the
market is totally mono. They have exactly the same films playing from one side to the
other of the country.

There’s not much space for any other kind of cinema. The American style is a style that
won—it’s a good style, but we cannot forget that there are hundreds of other styles.
And today, these other styles have no room or just a very minimum space, the same
happening in the countries dominated by the Americans. I believe people should have the
right to access everything that’s been done and produced in the world and to choose what
they like best. Universal studios have a cineplex in Studio City, with 20 movie theaters,
but they only play their films. If this is not Stalinism, then I don’t really know what it
is?!

Do you see any hope, at least in Brazil?

At least I try to show the Brazilian exhibitor that you can make money with a Brazilian
film the same way you make money with an American film. Just like the music industry in
Brazil, which makes money either with foreign music or Brazilian music. I try to show them
that all we want is more space, or at least a minimum of space. As a matter of fact, I
think this "space business" should be taken more seriously by our politicians
because if you’re good enough to buy American film then when you make a film, you should
be able to sell it, right? Does it mean that they only want to sell, but do not want to
buy anything? What kind of free market is that?

And there is also the dictatorship of the art house. They release the American film in
1200 screens and the foreign film in one screen only, called "art house". I
consider the art house a punishment. If they put my film in an art house it’s a punishment
because you’re not gonna make money, it’s not gonna play in the medium cities, nobody is
going to know you made a film, nothing is happening with your film. I want to see my film
playing in 500 screens competing with their film in another 500 screens. Only then can we
say people like the film with John Travolta more than my film.

But if they put my film in one cinema and their film in 1000 cinemas, even if the
people don’t like it, they make money. In the case of my film in an art house, even if the
people like it, I lose money. They all talk about free market, globalization, but all of
this is to sell their film. When I call a distributor then the globalization disappears
and what comes instead is a nationalistic stereotype. And he says with a straight face
that "the American people are dumb and can’t see subtitled films." Bullshit, the
American people are extremely intelligent and one of the most sophisticated in the world.
But the American distributors do everything they can for you to believe that the Americans
don’t really care for anything that is not American.

When you travel through the United States you discover that all this is a big lie. The
Americans, they like everything. You can see American tourists anywhere in the world, the
American people is interested in all cultures. You enter an American University and you
find there courses about all cultures, all languages, all customs. The United States, for
good or for bad, is the country that most gets involved with the rest of the world.
Therefore, the American people have a very wide vision of the world. And it’s just obvious
that these Americans would go see a foreign film. However the American distributors
continue to scream, saying that the Americans are stupid and dumb, that they will not
understand your film and that they don’t like subtitles.

In the United States, the exhibitors are responsible for some of the money involved
in the pre-production of a film, which means that they pay before to guarantee the rights
of the exhibition. In Brazil seldom are the cases where the exhibitor brings some money
into the production, how do you see the situation?

I think this is a natural road of a civilized society, the road in which the exhibitor
acts in a normal way and gets interested in this or that production. And then decides to
put up some money so the film gets made and he gets a profit. With this he would be
involved in a more just and fair relationship with filmmakers and producers in general.
And Brazil always had films that generated a lot of money and whoever was involved with
these films made a lot of money also. In the 50’s, the Brazilian films had 60% of the
market. Today they have less than 9 percent.

I made a film called, A Dama do Lotação (The Lady on the Bus) in 1978
and this was the biggest box office hit in Brazil that year. It knocked down American
films like James Bond or Jaws. This film is still among the five most seen films in
the whole history of the cinema in Brazil. This interests me a lot. Because how can the
public suddenly decide that they want to see my film? And at the end, I’ll have a gross
income superior to many American films. And I suspect that this is due to the fact that
that year my film was exhibited in the same conditions as Jaws and other films.

What is the perspective for the film industry in Brazil, in this phase post
Embrafilme?

(Embrafilme was the state-owned production/distribution company that boosted the
Brazilian film industry in the mid-seventies. The company was extinct in 1990 by President
Collor mainly because a lot of filmmakers signed a manifesto supporting his rival in the
elections). 

I had three films financed by Embrafilme. If you add the gross income of those three
films you will find out that I was the biggest box office hit in the history of the
Embrafilme. But I think the future of the cinema is the internationalization and
co-production between companies from around the world. I always have in mind the Formula
One races, where a company like Ferrari is Italian, but have pilots and technical crew
from many countries. At the end everybody does what they wanna do and they make money.
This way, the best are really the best.

But what’s happening in the cinema today is as if they didn’t wanna do Formula One race
in the States because the American people don’t like car races only horse races.
Ridiculous. I strongly believe in this internationalization of the cinema. And I also
believe that the future of the cinema is the art film. Because the rest, the television
will make. This is very important because the cinema is one of the last niches where you
can make art and be accessible to thousands of people at the same time.

The more television improves its technology the better because this way nobody will
want to go to the "movies" to watch exactly the same films that are playing on
TV. Only the art film will survive and will continue searching for new techniques, new
languages, which will occupy less and less space on regular TV. If everything goes
according to plan one day the mainstream film will be united to TV and then it will be
impossible to distinguish one from the other.

And what about Brazil in this context?

I think the same applies to Brazil because, after all, Brazil has what you can call a
film industry. In a world of 220 countries, less than 20 maintain a regular film
production. We had years, like in the early 80’s, when our film production was about 130
films a year.

In a recent discussion between Hector Babenco (The Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ironweed,
etc) and Cacá Diegues (Bye Bye Brazil, Quilombo, etc), each one of them had
a complete different idea of what’s happening in terms of cinema in Brazil today. Cacá
had the impression that the moment is perfect for film in Brazil. He mentioned, for
example, the incredible number of short films being made there today. Babenco, on the
other hand, thought that after Embrafilme, the country hasn’t recovered from the shock.
And because of that there is no reason for euphoria. In which part of this spectrum do you
place yourself?

This was a very interesting discussion, huh?

We are two years from the year 2000 and I think this must mean something. Some change.
I don’t agree that filming in Brazil has stopped or even that is slow. Quite the contrary.
What I see today in Brazil, it’s a big movement of new filmmakers, people with new ideas,
everything very stimulating. I believe that in the year 2000, for being the end of this
millennium, people will reflect more about themselves, they will reflect more about
life…and with these reflections there will be more talented people around at this turn
of the century.

With more reflection, there will be more creativity. And people who think that there is
nothing happening today, it’s because they are either reflecting something personal or
they’re not synchronized with what is happening. Today in Brazil, I see many new faces.
It’s almost like a new cycle. And this is very, very good. How many people do I know who
are making their first film? And I cannot even mention the ones who want to make their
first film… which are thousands. (laughs)

This movement of short films, that you see in Brazil today, is a clear indication that
there are many things happening. And this brings me a lot of hope. I’m sure that pretty
soon Brazil will have a new cycle of new directors or a very strong film movement. All
this is in the air. I look around me and that’s what I see. This is good because it’s a
renovation time for the cinema in Brazil. Because not too long ago there were many people
who didn’t belong to the cinema and were making movies. People who wanted to be writers
and then ended up directing films. Many people crossed over from publicity to direct films
because the politics of that moment created the chance for this to happen.

Many people say that publicity is for the films what matter is for anti-matter. They
say that this is due to the fact that the mentality in the advertising industry gives a
lot of weight to the image and not to the content. Do you agree?

The publicity cinema has only one objective which is to sell and with that it becomes a
prostituted cinema. It’s obvious that there are many people who are creative within the
publicity cinema. However the filmmaker who comes from the publicity cinema comes with a
huge guilt complex. So the majority of these filmmakers follow the fashion of camera this
or lighting that—that they saw in some other film. They try to apply in the cinema
the same rules they learned in advertising—which is just to copy. They come to the
cinema because they feel guilty of making publicity, they feel guilty of following a
fashion. So they try to make a film of the cinema.

In publicity there’s an idealization of mediocrity. There are many things that are
really mediocre and they try to idolize them as good. They announce in advertising cinema
that being good is to make everything the same, that being good is to make everything
pretty, that being good is to make what everybody else is doing. The people from
publicity, they want to be different, they want to make different commercials, right? So
how come all the car commercials are pretty much the same? Because this is very easy. To
copy is very easy.

The cinema on the contrary is very difficult. Publicity cinema you can do it even by
telephone. The director stays at home watching TV, calls the studio, tells the cameraman
to frame the actress like this, after that he tells them to do a close-up on the product
and then asks the actress to repeat the lines a hundred times and it’s pretty much done.
The advertising cinema is very dangerous for whoever rides on their back. Because it’s a
fake cinema, which means it doesn’t really exist. It creates fake myths, it’s easy to do,
create mediocre directors who self-transplant to the cinema as if they were great
directors.

They make festivals for themselves, they give prizes to themselves, they make
commercials only to win a prize, betraying even the sponsor who actually paid for the
commercial. A big joke. I think these directors who came from publicity should spend more
time making short films in Super 8, operating the camera and working with real actors.
Maybe they would learn something. Of course, the blame is not only on the directors, but
on the advertising agencies themselves because they are the ones that invent this
dictatorship of the style, this flavor of the moment, this wave of limited ideas that aim
at the moment and not the eternity.

If you see a good commercial from the 70’s it’s something very dated. But when you see
a good film from the 70’s it’s something eternal. The publicity cinema has a fantasy of
being sophisticated, but is a slave cinema. And I hope one day this slave can gain its own
freedom.

Many Americans complain that recent Brazilian films are too much influenced by novelas
(soap operas). Do you think that there are people making films trying to get the same
public of the novelas?

I agree more or less because it depends on what kind of films these people saw. For
example, the other day I saw Os Matadores (The Killers ) by Beto Brant and there is
nothing of soap opera in that film. However, if they based their opinion in a film like O
Quatrilho (nominated for the Oscar of Best Foreign film in 1996) then I think their
opinion is true. But I believe the Brazilian cinema is not only these two films; there are
many more. Many with many tendencies, many styles, many films.

The problem is that there are so many films that try to look like novelas in
Brazil now, that today there are novelas that are better than films. Some of these
films even have the same actors, the same story lines, the same production design and of
course the same type of ending. These are the shy films, the cowards, films that don’t
have the courage to go deeper, to explore new territories. The cinema has the obligation
to go deeper, not TV. Because the TV set is in your living room and its images come to
you.

On the cinema, you’re the one who goes after the images, you’re the one who pays for
the ticket at the front door, you’re the one who makes the choice. So we filmmakers, we
have the obligation to go deeper, to pay back those who choose us. TV on the contrary
doesn’t have this necessity because if you don’t want one image, you either turn off or
change the channels and your life goes on.

Now a philosophical question. After certain time here, Brazilians who live in the
U.S. start to miss guava paste, yucca flour, guaraná, Carnaval, etc., but there’s
one thing that 99% of them don’t miss: the Brazilian cinema. What’s your opinion about
that?

I believe this is because the Brazilian cinema is not being manufactured in an
industrial form today. There’s no industry of cinema like the Brazilian music industry, or
Brazilian guava paste industry. In Brazil if you enter any store that sells CDs, there
will be an enormous quantity of Brazilian music. The same if you enter a supermarket;
you’ll find many brands of guava paste. This way, this becomes part of your daily life.
But if you go to a movie theater and there is never a Brazilian film playing, then this is
not part of your daily life. You don’t miss when you don’t have it.

During President Collor’s government in 1990, the only company that supported Brazilian
film was terminated. And the structure that we had in terms of Brazilian film distribution
and production was trashed overnight. It wasn’t something studied, neither there was a
gradual change. It was like this: today Embrafilme, tomorrow suck your thumb! So whoever
was 13 years old around that time, today is 20 years old and grew up without ever seeing
Brazilian films, because , our film production during this period has been reduced to
nearly zero.

And also the Brazilian soap operas are so similar in content to American blockbuster
films that when they come here to the U.S. they watch a film and they don’t miss soap
operas anymore. Only the Brazilians who still have difficulties with the English language
are the ones who miss the soap operas. That’s why I think the Brazilian cinema in Brazil
will only be important to the Brazilian people when it establishes itself in an industry
level.

What do you think we need for this to happen?

In these times of aggressive American cinema the best example comes from Europe. Some
countries of the European community, like France and Italy, created laws that protect
their national cinema. Not only for the culture that this cinema represents, but also for
the number of jobs and income that it generates. Who didn’t take this radical attitude,
like England, ended up seeing its national cinema being trashed by the American cinema.
England was always an important and maybe the biggest producer of films in Europe. Today,
however, their production numbers are a joke. And they are not more than a simple consumer
of American films.

No one can measure the size of this loss. Only time will tell. The rest of the European
Community today, are adopting a system of "one by one", which means for each
American film that plays on TV, one film from a country, member of the European common
market, needs to be exhibited. So you get the example of Portugal, which doesn’t have a
big production of films. This law helps the Portuguese films to be shown in the TVs across
Europe. This is a very democratic way to deal with something very important, financially
speaking, like a national cinema.

We Brazilians always liked foreign films. But it’s important that we create a
legislation that protects the producers, so we can be at the same time producer and
consumer. Many people call it protectionism. But I ask you this? What do they do with the
auto industry in Brazil today? They don’t let Brazilians import cars freely because if
they did the Japanese would come and totally trash the Brazilian auto industry. But when
it comes to the territory of the cinema, they allowed the American films to come here and
trash the Brazilian industry that we had.

The marketplace for films in Brazil needs to be free. People need to be free to see
what they want to see. But when 90 percent of the market is occupied by one type of film
then there is no freedom. That is dumping! Even exhibitors, if they allowed the free
opening of the market to the American cineplexes, the Brazilian chains of movie theaters
would disappear overnight. So it’s fundamental that we have a minimum of space so we can
grow strong and healthy.

What are your next projects?

Well, first I have a story that we’re developing in which Christ comes back to earth at
the end of the year 1999. He’s born in a slum in Rio. He’s poor, black, and he shines
shoes for a living. This is a project in which I have lots of interest. Another project is
about the life of William Michaux, a Swiss painter who went to Brazil at the turn of the
century. When he arrived in the state of Paraná he was fascinated by the Atlantic Forest
and he spent most of his life painting every single aspect, plants, and animals from the
region. Today when more or less 90 percent of the Atlantic Forest no longer exists it’s
ironic to know that if you want to know how was the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, you have to
travel to Vevey in Switzerland where most of Michaux’s paintings are..

Now to finish: three tips to a filmmaker who is starting today.

The first and the most important is to be free, which means to think without
censorship, to have an interior freedom to think. Don’t follow any herd. Be yourself. And
let the herd follow you. Second, try to be very, very sincere with yourself. And find out
what you really want. Some aspects of the cinema are more interesting than others. Try to
find out what you really like. Don’t try to be a director because you want to impress
someone. Try to be a director because it brings you satisfaction. Even if the rest of the
world says the opposite. The answer is inside you. Not in the fashion or the flavor of the
month. If you do what you like, sooner or later the money comes. And the third tip is:
forget about success. Believe in your ideas, believe in your inventiveness.

I leave here the example of Spielberg’s first film, which for me is a consummate
example of simplicity and inventiveness. "Duel" was a film that basically had
only one car and one truck. Remember there are only two kinds of ideas, the expensive ones
and the cheap ones. The first ones can look more interesting, but the second ones will be
easier to be executed. You can’t forget that if you are a filmmaker the most important
thing is to make films. If you spend your whole life trying to make a film you’re not
learning anything. Make a film each year and you’ll learn a truckload of information. At
the end you’ll have made many, many films.

Gustavo Brum is a Director of Photography who studied film at UCLA
(University of California, Los Angeles) and is currently directing music videos.

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