Last year’s Salt Kiss, a short film about old friends getting reacquainted during a visit to an island in Brazil, got screened at the Sundance film festival before enthusiastic crowds. It then got picked up by the New York Film Festival, Austin and the Aspen ShortFest. Its director, Fellipe Barbosa, is a Brazilian native who came to New York to study film. Screen Comment recently caught up with Barbosa to find out more about this promising new director whose provocative and spontaneous style is reminiscent of Maurice Pialat. As it happens, the Rio de Janeiro-born director cites him as an influence.
What first brought you to the States from Brazil? How did you break into cinema?
I came to the States on a fellowship program. Before that I was studying Economics and Journalism in Rio de Janeiro, but knew that wasn’t for me. I wanted to study film, and I thought I needed to leave my overprotective home and make movies. Of course, at the time I couldn’t articulate that, but today it is clearer that my only hope of becoming a filmmaker was to leave home. I was nineteen at the time. That’s when filmmaking began.
After Hofstra, where the fellowship first took me, I was incredibly lucky to get into Columbia University’s Film program. Columbia was crucial because that’s where I got a glimpse of what my voice was, and what my interests in film were. It involved a lot of trial and error, until I nailed something that I thought I could do well, and stayed with it, and learned to love it because of it. Columbia place gave me a strong sense of community, and provided a safe platform for me to try things out, and fall in love with cinema.
Whose films do you cherish the most?
The ones by John Cassavettes and Maurice Pialat.
How does family or network help in the early stages of a filmmaker’s training?
I had no relationship to any brazilian filmmaker before starting to make films. Nobody in my family worked in film. I had a lot of opportunities to network and meet brazilian filmmakers in New York but I always believed that the work was the most important thing and that it should speak for itself. I’ve been very averse to the notion of networking until I had something that I could show and that I was proud of.
This happened with Salt Kiss and my previous short, La muerte es pequeña, which was shown at Sundance in 2006. After Salt Kiss was well received in 2007, I got to meet Walter Salles and I gave him prints of my shorts. I really admire him but then again, I want to keep focusing on the work and hopefully doors will open because of it.
Will you be at Sundance this year?
Yes, I m going to the Screenwriters Lab with a feature-script called Quotas which I wrote with my writing partner Karen Sztajnberg. It’s a very personal, coming-of-age story set in Rio in 2004, with affirmative action at the University entrance exams serving as background. It’s a film about class privilege and race relations in Rio, without being explicitly about that. Afterward I’ll be at the festival for a few days and watch as many movies as possible. I love Sundance; the festival has really helped me, and I can’t be thankful enough.
What do you have on target for Sundance?
To get my script in better shape and process all the feedback that I m going to receive. And then, have a lot of fun, as usual. It’s my third Sundance and I feel very lucky.
Can you describe Salt Kiss in one sentence?
It’s a film about entitlement, about a man’s entitlement to his friends and his landscape.
Where did you shoot in Brazil?
On an island, a magical place called Itacuruçá where people have no jobs, no obligations, and where I could investigate my characters’ psychology without any interference.
How much of the story is autobiographical?
That’s a tough question! All movies are autobiographical to a certain extent. Salt Kiss is very autobiographical in that it reflects my own fascination with Rogerio Trindade, the film’s main character and actor. Rogério the character is not really Rogério the human being. The human being is much vaster and deeper than the character. The character was a reduction or an archetype of this man that I know and that I love very much. The film was an attempt to frame some of his behavior in order to try to understand his actions.
I think movies, like any other art, ultimately are attempts to stop time, to frame yourself, who you were, at any particular moment in time. The best works are the ones that feel original, that appear like nothing that was made before. This happens when one is able to frame himself and his time before any other person can do. I’m not talking about Salt Kiss in particular, but about art in general.
What’s in store for you in 2008?
I am attached to direct a feature film called The Wanderers, which was written by a Columbia classmate of mine, Ben Gray—an outstanding writer. The film is a love story that takes place in Prague, and deals with similar themes as those in Salt Kiss the difficulty of reconciling a life of freedom, sex and booze with a life of love and domesticity.
A recurring theme?
Yes. We just optioned it with Visit Films. There’s also Quotas, which I hope to shoot very soon. Hopefully the lab will help me get it made as soon as possible. I think it’s an important and urgent film, so I don’t want to wait too long to make it.
Are there any particular actors you’d like to work with?
There are lots of actors that I would love to work with. I love working with actors. But I also love discovering people and working with friends, people that I am very familiar with, discovering my characters in a non-professional and casting him or her.
Do you have a partner-in-crime around the film set?
My friend Kirill Mikhanovsky, the director of Fish Dreams (Fish Dreams premiered at Cannes in 2006). Kirill taught me a great deal. He showed me how reality tends to fight and resist the camera, so we always have to fight reality in order to print it. Also, Tom Kalin, my professor and advisor at Columbia University who always encouraged me to trust my instincts. That was the best piece of advice anyone gave me. And finally my friends, who are constantly inspiring me.