Brazilian filmmaker Juliana Rojas’ last Locarno experience was one to remember, culminating in a Special Jury Prize for her 2017 feature “Good Manners,” which played in competition. This time around her situation is less enviable, as the filmmaker presents “Cidade; Campo” (City; Country) in Locarno’s The Films After Tomorrow competition for productions halted by COVID-19 shutdowns.

Rojas is among Brazil’s most exciting film and TV writing-directing talents with a resume loaded with festival plaudits, including two Cannes Discovery Awards for “A Stem” in 2007 and “Doppelgänger” in 2012. But even a filmmaker with such a stellar track-record can’t escape the dire effects of the pandemic on the industry.

Rojas and her team are presently finalizing the script and looking at ways to adjust the project to its post-shutdown budget, which has suffered a hit, according to producer Sara Silveira of Dezenove Som e Imagens.

“Cidade; Campo” is a film in two parts, related thematically if not narratively. As the title implies, the stories juxtapose life in urban and rural settings. The first half of the film turns on Joana, forced to move to the city after losing her home to a flood. There, while working as a housekeeper, she learns the ways of the city and joins the struggle with her colleagues for better working conditions.

In the film’s second half, Flavia moves into her recently deceased father’s rural home, bringing her partner Mara with her. There, the women learn of a secret that makes them begin to suspect that supernatural elements may exist in the countryside.

Variety spoke with Rojas and Silveira about the state of their production, and what the near future may bring.

How has the production shutdown affected your production? Has your funding suffered?

Silveira: The filming of “Cidade; Campo” was interrupted in its pre-production, when it was being prepared to shoot last May. We already have about 70%-75% of its budget from the Audiovisual Sector Fund (FSA) and other contributions.

How strict has that shutdown been in Brazil regarding production?

Silveira: We are facing several difficulties in our cinema sector, which is being hit hard, not only by the pandemic, but also by the fragile state of our cinema, as well as our culture. We continue resisting – to maintain the history and the diversity of our country. Now we are waiting for decisions from São Paulo governmental authorities and feature film production health and safety protocols before resuming work on our productions.

Do you have an idea when you might be able to begin shooting?

Silveira: Our hope is to shoot by the end of the year, or even at the beginning next year, when we feel we’ll have better conditions and we’ll have acquired more visibility about this tragedy in the world, and especially in our country, where COVID-19 has been reaching very high numbers.

Are the two stories in the film directly related? Or do they just play on similar themes?

Rojas: The story is structured in two parts (City and Countryside) that are not directly connected but have elements that resonate or complement each other. Both parts deal with a tension between materialism and existentialism – work relations, grief, family ties and our connection with nature.

I see the characters think something supernatural is happening. Will there be fantasy elements to the film?

Rojas: There are light supernatural elements in the film but used in a different way than in my previous works. They serve as a reflection on memory and the boundaries between life and death, and our ancestral connection with nature.

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Director Juliana Rojas Credit: Juliana Rojas