Half-Brazilian half-Dutch, director Maria Ramos is no stranger to Brazil’s judicial system, or its complicated political situation. She revisits these themes in her Berlin Film Festival world premiere documentary “The Trial,” selected for Panorama.
Her previous critically acclaimed and award winning series of documentaries: “Justice,” “Behave” and “Hills of Pleasures” are, in the words of Variety’s Jay Weissberg, an “essential trilogy on the Brazilian justice system.” It should come as no surprise then, that the recent impeachment trial of the country’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, was too irresistible a subject not to chronicle.
Ramos has always been uncompromising in the way she tells her stories, and to that end frequently finds financial backing in familiar partners with hands-off attitudes. In the case of “The Trial,” however, the time between the idea and the start of filming, one week, was too short to pursue traditional means of financing one of her films. The involvement of Brazil’s Nofoco Filmes, a frequent producer of Ramos’ works, was never in doubt, but as a means of raising awareness and hopefully a few extra dollars, the director crowdfunded part of the project. “The Trial,” also eventually received backing from the World Cinema Fund and Canal Brasil.
“The Trial” gives fair dues to arguments from both sides of the issue, but clearly indicates that not all was as it seemed during the process. Accusations of corruption, collusion and sexism are levied against many of the democratically elected president’s opposers, while those defending her also have their lives put under a microscope, and their own crises to deal with.
In the lead-up to the film’s premiere in berlin, Ramos discussed the project with Variety.
This is one of the biggest political crises in the history of Brazil, and your footage goes way behind the curtain. Did you film everything in the movie, or were there other places you got recordings?
The footage was mostly mine. We were allowed in the Senate to film, but not in the House of Representatives, not inside anyway. I filmed outside, which is the prologue of the film. It takes place on the day they are voting. But the House has their own TV broadcast and the images are public, so anybody can have access. There is also one report about the husband of a senator being arrested, and that is not mine. Apart from that everything was shot by my crew.
How did you get that access?
It was difficult. The Senate allowed us in, but they were very suspicious of independent documentaries. They would ask which media we were from, and since we weren’t media it wasn’t easy. They said we had to be associated with a news media, so that took some time and asking and pressure. Of course the House we never got access. The house speaker you see removed in the film, he decided who was allowed to film or not.
Was crowdfunding your first choice for financing the film? How did you end up financing the rest?
It wasn’t my first choice, no. In all my films, it is important that I have complete independence. The people that agree to be filmed must trust me, and I trust them too. I don’t film people that I would have to ask permission at the end, or that would have any say in the final film. It’s been like that with all my films, and this was exactly the same. As I am half-Dutch, most of my films are co-produced with the Netherlands, but in this case we had to do it very quickly. The primary reason was that it was urgent; I decided one week before we started shooting. That made it very complicated to write the project, ask for money, the usual means of getting financing were just not available at the time, so I shot the film first. Afterwards, the TV channel Canal Brasil became a co-producer and we received funding from Berlin Festival’s World Cinema Fund and the Netherlands Film Fund. The crowdfunding certainly helped in the beginning, many progressives from the judiciary contributed.
When you are filming such a dynamic situation as this, how do you decide when you’re done?
When I decided to make the film, it was clear that I would follow the whole process from beginning to end. So it would end when President Rousseff was removed or not at the end of the impeachment process. I previously made a trilogy within the justice system, and I was very interested in the judicial political trial. I’m sure there will be other films about it; it’s a subject matter that can be debated or filmed from different angles. After Dilma Rousseff was removed, the new President was accused of corruption by the Attorney General, and I decided to go back to Brasilia and film that. So the final scenes were filmed in December because I thought they were important.
How do you hope the film will be viewed in years to come?
I hope it serves as a historical document for many years to come, to help people understand what happened. Of course it is not objective in the sense that no film or documentary is objective. It is my vision, my version of a cinematic experience, of everything that I lived through those six months. I tried, as with my previous films, to make a reflective film, to allow people to understand and give them enough information they can make up their own minds and see all the arguments.