Antônia, a hip-hop theme drama telling the story of four young women chasing a dream in São Paulo, Brazil, and starring a who's who of contemporary Brazilian music artists, will premiere on DVD in the US, in December. The movie had only a limited theatrical run in the United States.
Antônia should be available in the US, on December 4, priced at US$ 26.99 suggested retail. The DVD also offers the following bonus features:Â a "Making of Antônia" featurette and a music video of "Na Sombra de uma írvore (In the Shade of a Tree)."
The story: In Vila Brasilândia, on the outskirts of São Paulo, four black girls struggle to make their dream of living off their music come true.
The childhood friends, Preta (Negra Li), Barbarah (Leilah Moreno), Mayah (Quelynah) and Lena (Cindy) quit their jobs as backing vocals for a rap group to form their own group, Antônia.
Discovered by manager Marcelo Diamante (Thaíde), they begin to sing rap, MPB, pop and soul music at bars and middle-class parties. But just when they seem on the verge of fulfilling their dream, their hopes are dashed by the daily events which accompany poverty, violence and male chauvinism.
In a fit of jealousy, Preta splits up with Mayah and her boyfriend and begins taking care of her young daughter, Emília, by herself. Lena yields to her husband's pressure, who doesn't want her to sing rap. And Barbarah, a Kung Fu fighter, is involved in a fight which ends in death after her brother's boyfriend is killed at her doorstep.
Separated by a bitter destiny, the four girls will have to fight to reassemble the bits and pieces of their group and salvage the happiness of singing together. "Antônia" also stars Sandra de Sá, the leading lady of Brazilian funk, as Preta's mother.
Antônia is the third feature-length film directed by Tata Amaral and was produced by the same people who made City of God. The DVD is distributed by Echo Bridge Entertainment, an independent distribution company created in 2003.
"Antônia is more than just a film on rap, on hip-hop culture or a chronicle on life as lived by those on the other side of the river. For me, it's a movie about women warriors," says Fernando Meirelles, co-producer of the film and director of City of God. "It's a movie to do away with the idea that "young lady" is synonymous with fragility or submission. Repeat after me: Women Warriors."
I won't give up
Nobody can stand in my way
As long as I can fight
Nothing can stop me…
(Stop me, rap by Antônia)
Third film in the trilogy dedicated to feminine archetypes by Tata Amaral, Antônia comes after Um Céu de Estrelas (A Sky of Stars) (1997) and Através da Janela (Through the Window) (2000).
In this new film, the virginal archetype, the woman who remains "true to herself", takes the form of these girls from the outskirts of São Paulo who try to find a means of expression and a brighter perspective of life through rap.
"Poor, black, excluded, many surmount incredible obstacles to find a place in life and deliver their message: the affirmation of women's role in society", says the filmmaker, who researched the universe found on the poorer outskirts of town for three years before beginning her movie.
The desire to impress in Antônia "the truth and urgency of those who live experiences similar to those of Preta, Barbarah, Mayah and Lena" guides the courageous aesthetical options taken by the director.
Shot on location in houses, upper-story cement slabs and precariously illuminated streets in Vila Brasilândia, a suburb with a population of 280,000 on the outskirts of São Paulo, the feature-length film counts on a cast made up of major Brazilian hip-hop stars and young local talents, picked from among 600 artists, musicians and singers.
The option for using non-professional actors was deliberate. "Antônia was made using actors acting out their own story", says Tata Amaral. "Antônia reveals the conflicts lived by the characters, walking the tightrope between survival and the dream of singing."
Negra Li (Preta)
The same principles govern the dialogues in Antônia, totally constructed in the interplay between the actors and the situations proposed by the screenplay, with a final version signed by the director Roberto Moreira (Up Against Them All).
The cast's preparation, which lasted three months of workshops, was headed by experienced Sergio Penna (Bicho de Sete Cabeças, Carandiru). "We found a nuclei of talent on the outskirts of São Paulo, he says.
One of Brazil's rap stars from out of Vila Brasilândia, singer Negra Li, shares the main role in Antônia with black-music singer Leilah Moreno (Barbarah), actress, MC and free-styler Cindy (Lena) and rapper and dancer Quelynah (Mayah).
Rapper Thaíde, one of the forerunners of hip-hop in Brazil, loans her inside knowledge to charming manager Marcelo Diamante. Sandra de Sá, leading lady of Brazilian funk, and Thobias de Vai Vai, performer in one of the major samba schools in São Paulo, are special guests playing the role of Preta's parents.
"This is our film. It shows that not only violence and death are to be found in the suburbs, but life and music as well"
Antônia's production is left up to Geórgia Costa Araújo (Iremos a Beirute and Up Against Them All) and counts on the participation of award winning professionals such as film editor Idê Lacreta, director of photography Jacob Sarmento Solitrenick and art director Rafael Ronconi.
The soundtrack, put together by musician and producer Beto Villares and rapper and MC Parteum, explores the vocal potential of the protagonists and their varied styles in new compositions and classic Brazilian pop and soul music.
Pioneering experience in transmedia storytelling in Brazil, Antônia spins off into a homonymous TV series, conceived by Coração da Selva and developed by 02 Filmes and TV Globo, largest TV broadcasting company in Brazil, besides musical projects which include the video clip Na Sombra de Uma írvore (In the Shade of a Tree), by singer Hyldon, one of the major classics of Brazilian soul music from the 70s.
Tata Amaral (São Paulo, 1960) is one of the most awarded Brazilian filmmakers. Her first feature-length film, Um Céu de Estrelas (1997), was elected by critics as one of the three most important national films in the 90's, and won 18 awards in Brazil, United States, Italy, Cuba and France, including Best Film at the Boston and Trieste film festivals.
Através da Janela (2000), her next movie won ten different awards in Brazil and abroad. Tata has directed more than ten short films, including the prestigious Viver a Vida (1991).
With a both dry and poignant cinematographic language, Um Céu de Estrelas and Através da Janela explore archetypical aspects of the representation of women. Antônia, closing the trilogy, was developed over a five year period in a research process which resulted in the shorts Juke Box (2002) and Vila Ipojuca (2003) and the documentary VinteDez (2001), all revolving around the life of youngster on the outskirts of São Paulo.
The Director Talks
In search of naturalism in cinema – by Tata Amaral
Ever since 2000, when I wrote – together with Jean-Claude Bernardet and Fernando Bonassi – a screenplay for the Artè-France broadcasting company, I have been an avid researcher of naturalism in cinema. The screenplay was about the duo Pepe and Neném and proposed a dialogue between parody and naturalism. And besides, ever since Através da Janela (Through the Window) I had wanted to work with non-actors.
Pepe and Neném was abandoned but the following year, during the shooting of the digital documentary Vinte Dez, with young people from the hip hop movement, a new idea was born which gave me the opportunity of working with naturalism once again. Antônia, the story of four girls from the outskirts of São Paulo who wanted to live off their music demanded documental treatment as well.
And so, a whole new project was built up: I went into the field to research stories about girls who lived on the outskirts and who were or had been connected with hip hop movements. A series of themes (early motherhood, teenage pregnancy, making it in a macho world, difficulties of surviving, violence, prejudice, religion, dreams one is not allowed to dream…) and situations (changing your shoes to go into a party, the second-story cement slab, martial arts…) began to appear and be worked on within the story.
I decided on not using a classic screenplay, with dialogues and defined directions for the actors, in favor of a script of everyday activities. These activities were worked on with the cast from the first day at screen tests.
The cast was picked out of members of hip hop movements and not among professional actors. The idea was for these people from the rap movement to act. I did not want to work with actors but with characters telling their own story. We tested, to this end, around 600 people and selected some of them to take part in our acting workshops.
Once we had picked the cast, we worked on the situations contained in the script without them knowing how the story was to evolve: the cast learned their parts based on the situations we proposed, and were surprised with the way things turned out. In this manner, they themselves brought about many situations which we had not even thought of in the script of initial events.
I was searching for truth in the situations and their emotions which did not always correspond to what we had imagined. More than just impose a story on them, I wanted them to tell theirs.
Our project for the mise en scène matured: we weren't going to place marks for the actors as done traditionally in cinema. The camera was to search out the actors as a documentary director searches out his subjects. The camera must be ready for the unexpected, something which I encouraged in the actors.
Illumination was not to propose any predetermined marks, the actors, free to enter and leave dark settings into lighted ones, from lighted ones into shadows. The microphone had to find the actors' axis and not the contrary. The shows were to have real audiences, with the girls really singing and interacting with them.
The art director was not to interfere with the different environments, but "edit" them. The choice of film locations was very important as well. They had to exude quotidian normality. The entire production strategy was set up to better attend this proposal.
The editing of the film was to take place simultaneously with the filming, to be sure that the scenes were what we wanted. This filming process resulted in a vast amount of material different from that which we had initially foreseen: the scenes had a beginning, middle and end, emphasis was placed on scenes differently than originally planned.
The footage surprised us. This was not like editing scenes filmed based on a pre-established screenplay or storyboard: the emphasis given the scenes were altered, connections between them imploded. During editing we practically had to re-write the film in an atmosphere of intense and gratifying work to make the end result more documentary-like.
Something which let us "peek" into the lives of the characters which were there, independent of the camera. This idea of "flagrante delicto" served as a guide for the film's drama and mise en scène project.
Interview with Tata Amaral
How did the story of Antônia begin?
In 1998, the secretary of culture for Santo André, Altair Moreira, looked me up to make a film about hip hop and rap with young people from the outskirts of town. I was busy filming Através da Janela at the time and proposed that Jean-Claude Bernardet and Luiz Alberto de Abreu write the screenplay. This screenplay was called Lilá Rapper. I, however, knew practically nothing about rap music: Thaíde, DJ Hum, Racionais MCs and nothing more.
After releasing Através da Janela, in 2001, I set about making a documentary about hip hop music, with the intent of delving into this whole new universe. I filmed Vinte Dez with Francisco Cesar Filho in different regions on the outskirts of Santo André. We found positive rap music, affirmative, which went against the grain of what they called "mugger rap".
This kind of rap is narrative, with long verses, the saga of people suffering the evils of social discrepancies. The people I met sang verses which pointed to solutions: "it's no good to just complain, we have to find solutions".
Inspired by this leitmotif, I changed the screenplay radically, abandoning the idea of Lilá Rapper and wrote the first argument for Antônia during my free time while filming Vinte Dez.
What was this argument and how did it evolve?
At first, it was the story of a young girl, Antônia. I chose this name in honor of my great-grandfather, Antonio, the patriarch of a family of storytellers who had difficulties in making ends meet. Antônia is poor, has a daughter to raise and dreams of becoming a singer.
This story has always held an autobiographical slant: I became a mother when I was 18, my husband died and I had to raise my daughter alone, without a job, money, without a profession. At the same time, I decided to work with cinema, which at the time was a profession as weird as trying to become a rap singer today.
I wanted to tell everyone how it was possible to live off your dreams. The story about changing shoes was already included in this first argument: the girls use sneakers or flip-flops to walk in the streets.
When they come to the party, they change shoes, because you can't use your good shoes to walk through the mud and filth. This idea continued on until the last version, highlighting the frontier between the world outside and the intimacy of the neighborhood, Brasilândia.
The same changing of shoes can be seen in another movie which I love, Rosetta, by the Dardenne brothers. While I raised money for the film, I continued doing research, reading, writing stories. I created a research project which turned into a film too, called Jukebox, which I made with a grant from the Vitae Foundation which allowed me to organize everything I already had and delve deeper into various elements of the screenplay, interviewing female rap singers, girl singers in general, poor black girls living on the outskirts of town. I met Negra Li during this phase.
When did the screenplay turn into what it is today?
There were two big changes. The first one was brought about by this research: Dina Di and Negra Li were already a reference, and I knew about Sharilaine, Ieda Hills, Melanie Grifiti, Rúbia, Sol and a lot of others.
But they were struggling in a universe where women had barely any space at all: many of them abandoned rap when they got married, because their husbands "didn't want anything to do with women on stage", or they would get fulltime jobs, take care of their kids, etc. These situations had to be in the movie.
Antônia's story is in response to the state of spirit of the women I met during my research. In the movie, the girls take the plunge which wasn't happening in real life: the plunge into living off of rap and the dream of becoming a singer. Antônia turned into a story about overcoming difficulties.
Another major turn was when we founded the Coração da Selva Film Company and Roberto Moreira and Georgia Costa Araújo joined the project. When we began working on the project, Roberto came up with the idea of a girls' group and Georgia, the idea for the group to be called Antônia.
How did the idea of working with non-actors and improvisation come about?
Ever since Através da Janela I had wanted to work with improvisation. I went as far as writing, along with Jean-Claude Bernardet and Fernando Bobinasse, a project for Artè about a duo from Rio de Janeiro, Pepê and Neném. We never got to film, but I never really forgot about the idea of working with singers playing roles similar to their real lives.
When I saw City of God, I went crazy. I even interviewed Fernando Meirelles on how he made the film. I saw that it was possible to have quality acting using non-actors or amateur actors, who lend the veracity of their own lives to the screen. I became more sure of myself and my project, of finding a cast of girl singers coming from the outskirts of town for the lead roles in my film.
This choice influenced the process of writing the screenplay: we never wrote anything like a classic screenplay, but one shaped more like a summary of actions which allowed for a lot of improvisation – a sort of scale. I didn't want to write dialogues for any of the characters, I wanted them to say their lines in their own manner. It was with this script which we began interviewing around 600 people, to choose our cast.
What was casting like?
Patrícia Faria, recommended by Sergio Penna and Silvana Mateussi, was very important in the process. Antônia was her first solo casting job, she had already worked in Carandiru, among others. She knew the guys from the rap movement, and brought a lot of good talents to us. I would listen to the girls and boys talk and sing and would select some of them for longer talks and some improvisation work, supervised by Penna and Silvana. We selected the girls, mainly, for their improvisation capacities, charisma and voices.
How did you find your four lead protagonists?
Leila, who plays Barbarah, was the first. She is blond, a little Beyoncé-like, been singing since she was young, is really good with improvisation. And she had already done some Kung Fu training, and there was this character who fought Kung Fu. Then, we met Cindy, 16 years old, was a great free style singer, used in the characteristic rap rhymes. She was what was left over of Tuti from prior versions, an underage girl who gets pregnant.
Patrícia then went to a show by Negra Li and invited her to do some improvisation work and talk. She came, looking beautiful, and really got into the part, it was great. Quelynah was the last girl. She dresses really outrageous, with a super hip hop attitude. And besides, is incredibly good at composing. We didn't have a role for her. According to our "scale" the group was to have been made up of three girls.
On the other hand, I wasn't satisfied with the fact that, in the story, the three girls got along super great, with them against the world, and no crises between them. I talked to Quelynah about representing this crisis, the first kind of instability within the group and the beginning of the redemption of the character played by Preta (Negra Li).
Why did you choose Brasilândia?
Brasilândia is one of the more cinematographic regions in the city: it is geographically formed like one big soccer stadium, or the crater of a volcano, in the foothills of the Serra da Cantareira. One of the sides leans down towards the Tietê River, the skyscrapers on Paulista Ave. and the buildings downtown, the Copan, Itália, the Hilton Hotel, in the background… Really, it's hard not wanting to shoot there. Besides, it was really practical: near Pinheiros, where we have our office and Negra Li and Nathalie's neighborhood.
How did you pick locations?
We sort of build up a way to shoot Brasilândia. Gilson, Negra Li's brother, helped Giba (locations producer). We exchanged ideas and came up with some concepts: Brasilândia is a neighborhood from the 40s, the place used to be full of small farms. We took advantage of this idea to define what type of houses our characters' parents would have, like houses you see out in the country: you also have the newly built houses, made for their children, but which still have the fruit trees. The younger characters, like JP and Ermano, live in recently built houses, with only one room, very poor.
Barbara and Duda's house, which their parents left them, is different, with multiple stories and cement slab terraces which will be later transformed into more rooms, full of landings and stairways, like a small building. I call these houses complexes, family complexes. The entire family usually live in these complexes, with sometimes, some kind of commercial activity on the ground floor. And then there are the streets, which are pretty important in the film. I think the use of the streets gives the images a kind of everyday look, highlighted by the photography work of Jacob Solitrenick.
How where the interiors constructed?
Rafael Ronconi's idea was more to "edit" interiors than stage them. The film has a naturalist intent. The white walls might not be very photogenic, but they translate our desire to show the houses as they really are, our desire that spectators recognize themselves in the environment. This recognition incidentally, was one of our more permanent preoccupations throughout the movie: the credibility of the stories, the way characters behaved, everything, was thought out to transmit this idea of quotidian normality.
Did many things change in the script during the workshops with the actors?
Yes, the whole process demanded changes: since the beginning of rehearsal, we decided not to read our summary scales, but improvise each scene, day after day, in such a way that the actors learned more about the story little by little. And they built up their characters, little by little, a very rich and unique process. I wanted the characters to have credibility, something only they could provide. We would coach their improvisations, filming them. For two reasons: the first of which was for them to get used to the camera.
The second reason was to be able to record their reactions and dialogues. And I would accompany them, re-writing the dialogues, creating the screenplay. Besides this, the fact of having recorded everything allowed us to watch the whole movie before we started shooting.
This procedure, of having the camera shooting from our first day at work was something we learned from Fernando Meirelles: make the actors get used to the camera from the start. I feel really gratified by my efforts when I watch the scenes in which the camera comes between two actors who are talking and they don't lose their eye focus nor miss a step in their acting.
Another thing I picked up from City of God was the fact of doing general rehearsals with the crew and cast on all locations: this helped us foresee problems, introduce the crew to the cast, familiarize them with the dynamics of the set and, of course, be able to shoot quicker.
How were the songs put together?
Everyday during rehearsal people would be singing. They were all, after all, musicians. We'd always end our sessions with free style singing. Besides this, Penna asked the actors to take down their impressions, the sensations they had during rehearsals, and that they try to express their characters' experience in music.
After all, everyone knew, from the start, that the songs to be used in the movie would be a synthesis of the characters' trajectory and composed by the actors. When the time came for them to write the songs they were all more than ready.
Musically, the movie is not restricted to rap. Does this have anything to do with the idea of not addressing exclusively the world of hip hop?
This sort of grew. It was Roberto Moreira's idea too. Through research, I realized how close the girls were to pagode and country music. Roberto had the idea of creating a manager who would take them to different musical genres, outside rap, to the world of popular music and then for them to return later.
You have to understand here that rap is rhyming and not singing. The verses are spoken, declaimed. The backing vocals add a few melodic commentaries, when they exist. Up until a short time ago, girls' role in rap, except for a few rare exceptions (Dina Di, Sharilaine, Rúbia, among others), was limited to backing vocals. The film represents a tendency – worldwide, which goes without saying – of valorizing the melody in rap.
And so, in the beginning of the film, there is a scene in which the four girls sing Olhos Coloridos right after they leave a show in which they sang backing vocals for another group. And the film thus reveals that they also sing and make rhymes too.
Later, now with Marcelo Diamante as their manager, the girls sing Killing me Softly, publicly presenting their capacity as interpreters. The choice of this song came from my research as well: Lauren Hill is an icon for female rap singers and her version of Killing me Softly brought the female voice and singer into the genre, for good.
How do you create a harmonic musical group within a work of fiction?
Beto Villares's challenge was to maintain each girls' musical personality, very different among themselves, within one harmonic field. Cindy is a free style singer, hard rap, Barbara and Quelynah are more charm, and Negra Li represents rap with cultural and melodic overtures.
They have very distinct rhythmic meters and mannerisms in the way they sing. Beto proposed the following structure: one melodic refrain for all of them, followed by a rhyme by each one, in their own style. This also has to do with rap, which is made up of verses you do not compose for someone else, but say what you want to say, each one in their own manner.
In rap, you don't interpret someone else's song as the discourse is personal, un-transferable. It was important for us to maintain each girls' characteristic within one encompassing harmonic field.
How did your partnership with O2 come about?
O2 Filmes had co-produced Coração da Selva's first movie, Up Against Them All. When we got to our first cut in Antônia, we went to O2 to talk about a partnership and a television series. We got along fine from the start, and things worked out. I think that O2 has a lot in common with Antônia, in a variety of ways, aesthetically most of all.
Besides, they have turned out to be really great partners, bringing a lot of visibility to the film through the series with Globo TV and other commercial agreements.
Antônia is the second feature film produced by Coração da Selva, a company created in 2003 by Tata Amaral, Geórgia Costa Araújo and Roberto Moreira. Their first film, Up Against Them All (2004), directed by Moreira and co-produced by O2 Filmes, was awarded in more than 20 Brazilian film festivals as well as in Hong Kong, Trieste, Portugal, Israel, Las Palmas and Providence.
Antônia is Coração da Selva's first experience in a series of films with transmedia content. The film spins off into a video clip, musical and cinematographic content to be distributed on-line along with a homonymous TV series, conceived by the production house and under production by O2 Filmes and TV Globo.
This production house from São Paulo is the largest of its kind in Brazil, with various awards for projects in cinema, TV and publicity. Their feature-length film City of God, directed by Fernando Meirelles, was nominated for four Oscars and awarded in over 40 festivals and institutions such as BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) and the critics association from New York, Boston and Toronto.
Antônia is the seventh feature film in O2 Filmes portfolio, which also counts on the more recent TV series City of Man (TV Globo) and Filhos do Carnaval (HBO Latin America). In 2006 the production house will produce, along with TV Globo, the series Antônia, based on the film, besides the feature films City of Man, the Film, by Paulo Morelli, and Not by Chance, by Philippe Barcinski.
Globo Filmes was founded in 1998, as the cinematographic arm of TV Globo, largest TV broadcasting company in Brazil. Focused on projects with major box-office revenues and partnerships between cinema and TV, the company has already participated in more than 40 films, a large portion of which in association with independent producers.
The company's portfolio contains nine out of the ten most successful films with Brazilian audiences over the last ten years, including films such as City of God, Carandiru, Lisbela e o Prisioneiro, Cazuza – O Tempo Não Pára, Olga and 2 Filhos de Francisco, seen by a total of 65 million spectators. Included in their more recent projects is Romance, Guel Arraes's new film.