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Director to Track Gabriel Martins Talks Brazilian Cinema, His Ventana Sur Paradiso WIP Award for ‘Mars One’

Mars One
Credit: Leonardo Feliciano

Growing up is never easy. Especially if you’re a parent. Winner of Ventana Sur’s $10,000 Paradiso WIP Award, one of the biggest prizes at the event, and one of the buzzed up titles this year in its Copia Final pix-in-post section, “Mars One” ‘Mars One’ portrays a lower middle-class Black family keeping its dreams alive in a vertiginous changing present-day Brazil. But its parents’ dreams for their children are not shared by their offspring, forcing the older generation to adapt to a more unpredictable world where old values are replaced by new.

“Mars One” is produced by Filmes de Plástico’s Thiago Macêdo Correia who’s had four films selected for Cannes, three in Directors’ Fortnight and “The Dead and the Others,” winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in 2018. Such big fest success has established Filmes de Plástico – and writer-directors André Novais Oliveira, Gabriel Martins and Maurílio Martins and producer Macêdo Correia – as a major force forging Brazil’s new film scene. Variety talked to Martins in the run-up to Ventana Sur.

“Mars One” will be seen in a near completed cut at Ventana Sur a week or so after Netflix announced that it was looking for more stories in Brazil from outside Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Your film is set in Contagem, a city near Belo Horizonte. What artistic advantages does such a specific “regional” setting give you? 

I think we are developing narratives in a place where we don’t have a huge historical background in cinema. This gives us an opportunity to explore a lot of places that have never been seen through a film lens. We have a lot of aspects that are very specific from this place, from the geography to the way people speak and I think that sparks interest in many people as something fresh. From our perspective, it’s the world we grew up in but at the same time a new world that we are building while shooting.

And as a production base?

For us, it’s like filming the backyard of our houses. Those people are family, friends of a lifetime, and everything is natural. They live the films alongside us, they have learned the “language” of cinema and now are very familiar with the demands of a film set.

Maybe one challenge is not to be thought a “Contagem filmmaker” whose films are naturalist, semi-autobiographical movies which are pretty much the same….

I think our films have special flavors but gravitate towards universal feelings and challenges. I think the main issue is the situation of what culture we see as hegemonic. If you stop to think, many aspects of American culture were brought to the world as universal although they are very very specific. And also, I think our films are not always naturalistic or semi-autobiographical. I think we work in a very fictional and fantastical universe that borrows a lot from real stories. The thing is that we flow in such a way that our narratives feel very organic.

“Mars One” focuses on the Martins, a lower-middle class Black family. Are Black protagonists finally becoming more common in Brazilian cinema?

It’s slow progress but it’s fair to say that we are having many more narratives in the past decade. In the last five years specifically, we’ve been having a powerful wave of Black filmmakers whom I think will change world cinema forever.

“Mars One” is produced by Filmes de Plástico which has had three films in Directors’ Fortnight. It also works I think as a talent hub, with three writer-directors and a producer. But could you explain, briefly, its working and its advantages?

We are always exchanging honest opinions about each other’s work at the same time we respect each one’s path and discoveries. I feel that it is hard to be in sync all the time but we manage to be something like a band that even though we have our differences we have the same and rare type of vibration when we’re about to play.

The film is one of four Brazilian titles in Primer Corte/Copia Final, which seems a remarkable achievement for a country after three years under a government which has slowed funding to a pretty much glacial level. How did “Mars One” get financed? 

It was financed by funding that only happened once, called Affirmative Feature inside the Low Budget fund. Three films were awarded and shot: “Mars One”, “Cabeça de Nêgo” from Deo Cardoso and “Um dia com Jerusa” de Viviane Ferreira.

In this context, what is the importance of the Ventana Sur Paradiso WIP Award? 

It gave us the opportunity of finishing the film the way we wanted, having the possibility of many creative choices that were only possible with this money. We are very grateful and happy with this honor.

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Filmes de Plastico Credits: Mauro Figa