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MipTV: Patricia Andrade on Globo Women’s Epic ‘The Seamstress’

Mini-series part of liberal, feminist fiction build at Latin American content powerhouse

CANNES — “The Seamstress,” a Globo mini-series, sports a credit sequence which begins with a burnished brown cloth being sewn. The color is a reference to Brazil’s bone dry scrubland backlands in the North-East, the sewing to the occupation of two sisters, Emilia and Luzia, who grow up at a small homestead on the sertao with their doting aunt.

Emilia dreams of moving to the big city Recife; Luzia thinks she’ll die on the serrao, just fears losing Emilia the only person she has. Luzia is abducted by a local cangaceiro, a bandit, Hawk whom she falls in love with. Emily meets her Prince Charming, a rich city boy, moves to glamorous Recife, suffers loneliness as she realizes her husband is in love with another man.

Directed by Breno da Silveira but written by Patricia Andrade, “The Seamstress” is an intimate epic, charting two sisters’ dramatically different life journeys, who never, however, betray their bedrock loyalty to each other.

The four-part mini is one of the current drama series at Globo. It is also bears the hallmarks of new generation Globo fiction: It is written by a woman, co-produced by a leading movie (and TV) company, Conspiraçao, made with ample means, including streets from a 1935 Recife; and is a liberal fiction which, based on the novel of Chicago-based Frances de Pontes Peebles, reworks the traditional telenovela, not only in its brevity but sense of female empowerment.

“Do you believe in fate?” one sister asks another at the beginning of the series. Both stand up to authority, powerful men, forge in the end their own destinies. Varietychatted to Patricia Andrade in  the build-up to MipTV.

I have a sense that this “The Seamstress” recasts elements of a traditional telenovela in an original new form: This is a story of interclass love, but not between a poor woman and rich man but the sorority love of two sisters whom circumstances throw apart. It also has a novel take on fate and plot motors. In more traditional telenovelas, characters are not in control of their destiny. This is about at least one character, Emilia, learning to take control. Could you comment?

‘The Seamstress’ is a story about women above all else, embodying the essence of the female figure. It is the story about two orphan sisters who, despite having very different tempers, are bound by very strong values and principles passed on by their aunt, who raised them. The phrase “The only thing you have in this world is each other” defines their lives. And that is the truth that they discover throughout their lives. Emília (Marjorie Estiano, ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Side by Side’) and Luzia (Nanda Costa, ‘Brave Woman’) leave the barren Northeast backcountry of the 1930s, taking with them only their sewing skills and this unconditional love for each other. Emília is a romantic who learns that the world doesn’t fit in her dreams and, as she grows up she begins to take control of her own life to deal with the hardships and disappointments. She eventually becomes what we Brazilians refer to as an “empowered” woman.

The mini-series also comes in at modernity from various levels. One, of which it approves, is women forging their own destiny. Another, which I think it sees more ambiguously, is the building of the road across the “sertão”. Could you comment?

There is a historical element to this road through the backcountry. The Brazilian President at that time, Getúlio Vargas, wanted to find a way to bring together all of the country’s states, which operated under their own set of laws back then. For the leader of the “cangaço” – who called himself “Governor of the Backcountry” – the road was a huge threat, since it represented a path to a new and different future.

“The Seamstress” was imagined from the beginning as both a theatrical feature film and mini-series. Could you explain why?

Yes, it was conceived to be both things. It is a strategy to make sure the product appeals to as much people as possible. In my opinion, they are different languages that complement each other.

Again, as a mini-series, “The Seamstress” was a digital-first series on Globo Play, then went free-to-air. ¿How did you reconcile writing for online and free-to-air audiences in terms of narrative structure?

In terms of narrative structure, I did not make this distinction. It happened during editing, which in my opinion is nothing more than a new script, in the sense that it allows changing the narrative without altering its core.  And since we had a lot of footage in the case of ‘The Seamstress’, it was very hard to decide what would be left out. The difference between broadcast TV and online platforms is that the latter offers more freedom. However, regardless of the format, I always try to reach out to people’s basic emotions. As a writer, I cherish emotions.

 One of the revolutions at Globo has been the emergence of new lead series/telenovela screenwriters who are women. Raphael Correa sent me over a list of I think 17 new screenwriters, nine women. Do you feel part of this new generation – in artistic terms – of Girls From Brazil?

I hope to be able to contribute to this revolution, not only in drama, but in the whole world as well, because I am also a mother to two young girls and I hope that their generation doesn’t have to struggle with the hardships that mine had to face. It took a lot to get here, but we have earned our respect on both a professional and personal level.  But now we are finally starting to be appreciated as we should.

When writing “The Seamstress,” what were your influences?

Some of my references were movies like “The Color Purple”, by Steven Spielberg, which is also about the separation of two sisters, and “Little Women”, by Gillian Armstrong, for the same reason. But my main source of inspiration was the book “The Seamstress” by Frances De Pontes Peebles. I remember immediately falling in love for the story the first time I read it. Although I’ve created many different situations both for the film and the series, the essence of what she wrote in the book is all there. Another great source of inspiration was actress Nanda Costa. When I read Luzia’s description, I felt that she was perfect for the part. Not to mention my admiration for the culture of the Northeastern backcountry.

“The Seamstress” marks part of an international discourse which is both liberal and feminist. Did that come from the original novel – Frances is after al Brazilian but lives in Chicago – or from  Brazil, the film and TV shows which companies such as Conspiraçao, Gullane, O2 Filmes and I indeed feel Globo are producing, a stance indeed common to most of the creative community in Brazil?

This was definitely a part of the book, and it is what made me fall in love with it: the strength and courage of two women who faced all kinds of adversities to defend their passions and ideals. But I would say that Frances’ story is much closer to our current reality, either in Brazil, the U.S., or Europe. Speaking for myself, I can assure you that the choice for this story was much more intuitive than rational.

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