Walter Carvalho is best known as one of Brazil’s top cinematographers with credits that include Walter Salles “Central Station” and Hector Babenco’s “Carandiru.” He’s also a director of such notable pics as “Cazuza” and “Budapest.”
His latest directorial effort is docudrama “Brincante,” a lyrical exploration of popular Brazilian art through the prism of renowned singer, dancer and actor Antonio Nobrega. “Brincante” competes for the top prize in the Brazil Premiere fiction feature competition.
What inspired you to make this docudrama?
The origin of the ‘brincante,’ the Brazilian northeast region where both Antonio Nobrega and I come from. When I was a child, my mother used to take me to the popular “folguedos” (religious festivals) in our town. I watched the “Nau Catarineta” (poetry recitals) and “Bumba Meu Boi” (folk dances), and so many other instantes of popular culture. One day, while still a child, I saw a group of the “Maracatua” (Afro-Brazilian people) and the “Caboclos” (people of Brazilian and European mix) with their splendidly multicolored and shiny costumes, irons rattling on their backs and hands, and their colorfully decorated spears. The sky was quite blue and the light reverberated on my glasses. I felt I was experiencing a visual delirium. Years later when I saw Antonio Nobrega performing on stage in Rio de Janeiro, it was exciting. He could bring to the sacred place of theatre all those things that simmered in my memory. But Nobrega could transcend everything that was in my little boy’s imagination in a universal show. My inspiration comes from this fantastic and fabled universe of popular art and culture.
How long did it take you to make “Brincante” ?
From the first meetings and long conversations with Nobrega until inviting Gullane Filmes to join the project, a total five years. Once brothers and producers Caio and Fabiano Gullane came on board, the project took flight. Without them, the project would still be in the drawer.
Nobrega started rehearsing a dance troupe of 20 dancers for six months. Once the troupe was ready, we shot the film in 20 days: 17 in Sao Paulo and three days in Sertao da Paraiba and Recife.
Did you encounter any issues or problems while making it?
Shooting a film in a city like Sao Paulo for 20 days is complicated because you are working against time and you are at the mercy of the traffic and the unpredictability of a large metropolis. We were able to secure locations we wanted and tried shooting more than one sequence in the same location. After that, we focused on shooting the circus scenes outside of Sao Paolo. Other than that, we had the same issues any normal production faces.
Were you able to tap government incentives to make it? What was its budget?
The film had a budget of $1 million of which $600,000 was funded through Brazil’s 1A tax incentive law. Our key sponsors Petrobras, Avon and Neoenergia. Gullane Filmes and private investors covered the rest.
Of the many films you have made, are you proudest of this?
Yes, I’m very proud of “Brincante.” It is a unique film in my career as a director. I found a way to transform 40 years of Antonio Nobrega’s research in the field of popular dance, music and theatre, putting it on the big screen. When Nobrega dances, he changes his anatomy. His muscles find a synergy within the music and when he plays a musical instrument, he fills his hands with dreams. I had the privilege to shoot some of these beautiful moments.
Do you find it more satisfying to direct a documentary or a feature film?
Shooting a feature film is a sacred act; the universe of fiction enchants us through its preparation process. When you take ideas off the paper and transform them into images and narrative, it’s really magical. To move audiences in a darkened room through characters in a story is an epiphany. In a documentary, we work with the universe of reality and through other ways, we also look to move audiences through the telling of real stories with real characters that were not derived from literature or a screenwriter’s imagination. All great documentaries, when well-crafted, end up seeming like fiction. Conversely, a good fiction film has the look of a documentary when it transcends its inventive universe. In both cases, I am interested in finding the humanity in both genres. I enjoy doing exactly what I am doing at the moment.
What is your next project?
We’re nearing completion of my next film, “Um filme de cinema” (About Cinema). It’s a documentary about the language of cinema and focuses on the anatomy of a take. I’ve interviewed filmmakers such as Bela Tarr, Ruy Guerra, Gus Van Sant, Lucrecia Martel, Hector Babenco, Ken Loach, Karin Ainouz, Andrzej Wadja, Julio Bressane, Jose Padilha, Benedek, Ashgar among others in an attempt to establish a dialogue between filmmakers who have never met (the encounters happen in the film) and have them discuss how they make their films; how they construct their takes.
The film questions when one starts a take, ends i. When does one know it’s the right moment to cut? This is one of the issues the film tries to address and unravel through the trick of cinema itself.