As if adolescence is not hard enough, Haroldo Borges’ new feature, “Saudade fez morada aqui dentro” (“Saudade Became Home Inside”) follows the heartbreaking experience of a young, father-less Brazilian teenager confronting a degenerative eye disease that will ultimately leave him blind.

As his vision deteriorates, however, he also finds himself experiencing the confusion and pain of adolescence as his performance and behavior in school suffer and he learns first-hand the pain and confusion of an unrequited first love.

The film is shot in almost documentary style, with many scenes, especially those of the main character interacting with his closest friend, his younger brother, as real as cinema can be. Anyone who grew up with a sibling of a similar age will recognize these scenes.

This week at Mexico’s Guadalajara Festival, “Saudade Became Home Inside” won the Paradiso Work in Progress Award, which comes with a cash prize of $10,000. The award is part of the Brasil no Mundo program, instituted by the Olga Rabinovich Institute’s Projeto Paradise, to boost the presence of Brazilian films, series and projects at the world’s major international festivals and markets.

The film was also awarded the Habanero-sponsored prize for international distribution worth 200,000 pesos ($37,000) and the HD Argentina-sponsored prize for color correction valued at 200,000 pesos ($37,000).

This film is made in a very naturalistic, almost documentary, style. Is this how you originally conceived the film?

The camera is not a machine for creating images, particularly, as I used to think, beautiful images. The truth is that the camera is an eye. It’s a machine for looking. And these looks reveal all the subjectivity of the person behind the camera.

After realizing this, the documentary came to be my preferred approach to filmmaking. Even when working with a fictional script, we work always to develop a space in which the relationships between characters as written can be transformed by the personalities of the actors that give them life. I like to think of the director more as a trainer than a choreographer, a person who is there to motivate the characters to achieve what they want with as much energy as possible, to take the actors to a level of truth, where they are alert and anchored in the present, because they will never know where their antagonist’s blow may come from.

There are many ways to define the differences between documentary and fiction, but we love the poetic way! In fiction, when it rains, people get desperate and start thinking about their plan B. In documentaries, when it rains, the opportunity to film the rain is coveted.

How much of what we see on screen was scripted and how much was improvised?

We took a trip into the interior of the State of Bahia to search for our actors. We met some 1300 young boys and girls and those who were most enthusiastic about making a movie were invited to participate in a creative lab.

From the start, we had a script with a developed and structured story, but we never showed it to our actors. The entire story was transmitted to them orally. The point was that they did not begin to create actions without first experiencing them. We wanted them to contribute more than was just written in the script. Through this exchange, we were able to design the scenes, learning from them and transforming the script, planting elements in reality so that we could reap what reality returned to us.

We embarked on this journey open to learning about the reality, the place, the relationships. And when we filmed the last scene, we were not the same people as before we started the film.

What are the origins of the story?

Some years ago, we met a young boy who had a degenerative disease that would, little by little, make him blind. He had no idea when this would happen, but he knew that a day would come when he would live in total darkness. So, when we met him, he was working to see the world, to retain the most that he could in the world inside of him, so that when he lost his sight, he would have this album of imaginary photographs to return to.

That’s where the inspiration for “Saudade fez morada aqui dentro” was born. “Saudade” is that feeling that we all experience, that makes us want a moment to happen again, even if we know that it is no longer possible. But it is not just a feeling of sadness. It’s bittersweet. That moment is no longer coming back, but we can remember it. And, through remembering it, we find the tools to move forward.

Beyond that, this story attracted me because of the strong parallel it has with Brazil today. Our country, like our protagonist, has gone blind. And now it must relearn how to see.

So, what now? You won three prizes in Guadalajara that should help you finish and release the film.

Our experience in Guadalajara was incredible. Aside from receiving the WIP Paradiso Prize that provides $10,000, we also received the Habanero Prize for distribution and the HD Argentina Prize for image post. These prizes are fundamental to going forward, especially when added to the incentives that we received from the other three WIPs that we participated in this year: WIP in Malaga, the Bolivian Lab and the Brazil CineMundi International Coproduction Meeting. Now, “Saudade fez morada aqui dentro” has garnered 10 prizes at international markets, allowing us to finalize the film this year. We are already in talks with distributors in Brazil and other territories and are very excited about sharing the film with audiences. We look forward to remaining close to this film and engaging in the debates and hugs that come along with it. That is how we like it.