It’s about Walter Salles in SFFF

24/04/2010 at 9:19 am Leave a comment


Acclaimed Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles crafts personal, socially conscious stories that are emotional without being manipulative and simple without being simplistic. Among them: the gritty “Terra Estrangeira (Foreign Land),” the earthy fable “Abril Despedacado (Behind the Sun)” and “Linha de Passe,” which earned Sandra Corveloni the best actress award at Cannes. “Central do Brasil (Central Station)” collected dozens of prizes and received Oscar nominations for best foreign-language film and lead actress (Fernanda Montenegro); “Diarios de motocicleta (The Motorcycle Diaries),” the story of a cross-continental trek that shaped Ernesto (Che) Guevara, was an international hit and major award winner.

The 54-year-old, twice a BAFTA honoree, will receive the Founder’s Directing Award on Thursday at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

This interview was compiled from e-mail responses by Salles. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Q: Did you grow up in privilege? Your protagonists are so often not from that world.

A: Both of my parents came from small towns in the interior of Brazil, communities that had fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. They were both from lower-middle-class backgrounds, and my father was actually the first one in his family to reach college. He then had many lives: traded coffee during the Depression, became a financier and, later, a diplomat. I was always conscious of these two worlds we originated from: one that was privileged and protected, another that was simpler and rural.

Sometimes, these two worlds merge unexpectedly. The best example is linked to “Central Station.” When the film was launched in Brazil, an old man whom I didn’t know came to me in the streets of Rio and told me that he had worked with my mother at Central Station, information I didn’t have when I made the film. As my mother died many years ago, I asked her family about it. Yes, it was true. When her family migrated to Rio, she worked for two years as a secretary at Central Station – the same building in which I shot the film 40 years later.

Q: Your films tend to be set in specific sociopolitical circumstances.

A: What truly interests me are stories in which the main characters’ journeys somehow mirror the transformations at play in a specific culture or country. This is true of the Neo-Realist movement in Italian cinema, the French New Wave, the Brazilian Cinema Novo, or the New York independents of the ’70s. “Taxi Driver” is the embodiment of this. Tolstoy taught us that whenever you talk about something that is specific and unique to a culture, you may be opening the window to something that is truly universal.

Most of the films I’ve made are about characters trying to reinvent themselves, either because they don’t have another option, as in “Central Station,” or because they opt to, as in “Motorcycle Diaries.” This is the one thematic question you may find in most of the films I’ve directed: characters who go through an identity quest, most of the time in a country undergoing similar changes.

Q: You retraced Guevara’s tracks to make “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Did that lead to your interest in adapting Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”?

A: I’ve been passionate about “On the Road” since I read it for the first time, in my early 20s. I went back to it before shooting “Motorcycle Diaries.” The young Ernesto’s journey ended up generating a political revolution; “On the Road” is an expression of a movement that ignited a behavioral revolution. When I was invited by Francis Ford Coppola and Roman Coppola to pursue “On the Road,” I thought that the only way to do justice to it was to investigate the decade in which that generation came to exist, as well as the impact it had on the culture. So, with a small crew of three, an old Super-8 camera and a mini-DV, we retraced the route that the “On the Road” characters take (and interviewed prominent artists of the time and current ones influenced by Kerouac).

So, what I’m finishing is a documentary in search of a possible film based on “On the Road.” What I’ll be showing in San Francisco is a very impressionistic 60-minute edit, a work in progress of an unfinished 120-minute documentary. It will only truly come to life when we know if we’ll be able to make the narrative film. If the answer is a positive one, then the last image of the documentary should be the first clap of the narrative film: “On the Road,” Scene 1, Take 1.

Michael Ordoña is a freelance writer. E-mail him at pinkletters@sfchronicle.com.

Extracted from http://www.sfgate.com/

Entry filed under: AWARDS, BRAZILIAN CINEMA, DIRECTORS, FILM FESTIVALS, LATIN AMERICAN FILM, SAN FRANCISCO INT FILM FEST. Tags: , , , , .

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