A decade back, Clarissa Campolina burst on the filmmaking scene co-directing with Helvecio Marins Jr. “Swirl” (“Girimunho”), a portrait of an elderly faith healer on Brazil’s arid highlands and the beliefs, myths and habits of rural Brazil before they are swept aside by the passing of a generation.
Activated by producer Luana Melgaço, Campolina and fellow director Marilia Rocha so as to produce “Swirl,” Belo Horizonte-based Anavilhana has since then consolidated as one of Brazil’s most prominent regional production houses. It has spent seven years maturing Campolina’s third feature and first solo outing, “Faraway Song” (“Canção ao Longe”).
The film’s a different proposition to “Swirl,” a far more structured narrative, as coming of age stories have to be, more in line with Rocha’s own fiction feature debut, “Where I Grow Old,” a 2016 Rotterdam Festival competition player.
Written by Campolina and Caetano Gotardo, who co-directed Berlin 2020 competition player “All the Dead Ones,” “Faraway Song” turns on a young women architect’s battle to escape her asphyxiating life in a highly conservative Minas Gerais family and find, in physical and emotional terms, her own place in the world.
Variety talked to Campolina and Melgaço after “Faraway Song” played this week at Ventana Sur’s pix-in-post strand Copia Final, which has proved a rich showcase of upcoming Latin American movies.
During the conversation, after Jair Bolsonaro’s radical slowdown on governmental film funding, Melgaço anticipates what looks likely to become a battle cry in the run-up to general elections in Brazil on Oct. 2, 2022: Independent cinema is dependent on public policy.
Compared to “Swirl,” “Faraway Song” looks a film with more structure. Was that a personal choice, Clarissa, or does it in some way reflect the direction Anavilhana wants to take. Or is it also a matter of industrial necessity.
Campolina: When we imagine a movie, we imagine at the same time a production design. To narrate Jimena’s story, her questions and feelings, we needed to have a larger production structure for the mise-en-scène – acting, camera movement, light design, scenery, sound atmosphere, etc. At the same time, I could imagine ‘Faraway Song’s’ plot and production design, due to our history and experience. But this choice is not a definitive path: Anavilhana has a multiplicity of productions, with different budgets and designs. Each film is unique, with its needs and urgencies.
Brazil is sadly famous for the slow-down in state film financing from 2019. How was “Faraway Song” financed, Luana?
Melgaço: With a pool of national resources, from the Fundo Setorial do Audiovisual, and local funds from the state of Minas Gerais, where we are based. It’s a film that we started funding in 2014, when we gained our first development funding and it took us almost four years to get the full budget raised. For production, we have one of the latest editions of a national fund dedicated to films with research and language invention, aimed at the international market. Since then, there have been many changes in Brazil and the film has survived…. It seems to us a miracle that we managed to finish in such challenging times. Brazilian independent films that are being released in 2021/22 are the result of a policy that was dismantled in 2018 and we foresee a gap in works of artistic relevance in the coming years.
For your first solo feature, Clarissa, you’re still collaborating with other directors such as Caetano Gotardo and Luis Pretti, who co-wrote the letters sent to Jimena by her father. Could you comment?
Campolina: I’m very interested in working collaboratively with people I admire and with people who shift my gaze. In Brazil, there are many groups/collectives of artists, and I believe this results in films where these collaborations are more recognizable. In 2002, I founded Teia, along with five other filmmakers, and this collective experience determines my way of working.
Copia Final co-curator Eva Morsch-Kihn noted to me that many of the productions at Primer Corte and Copia Final turn on “characters who are exploring in an intimate fashion, searching for identity, trying to find legitimacy or their own path in life or go back to who they were.” Do you feel that your film reflects some larger kind of Zeitgeist?
Campolina: “Faraway Song” took about seven years to get made, and, throughout that time, the raw material for creating the film was the world and the observation of people around me. In this sense, I believe the film dialogues with contemporary Brazil and with the issues and feelings of our time.
Anavilhana is a near legendary company from its birth as part of the Teia collective. At a time when public-sector film funding is still so hard to come by in Brazil, where do you see the company’s future?
Melgaço: It’s been more than 20 years of work together and during that time, our production was quite diverse. I believe this brings us an ability to create, adapt, to think in alternative ways. Fortunately, over the past few years we have managed to finance projects that keep Anavilhana alive and producing. But independent Brazilian cinema, which today lives asphyxiated between government negligence and pressure from the streaming market, will only have a future if, in the next elections, we change the government that is currently in power. There is no such thing as independent cinema without public policy.