The lives of a self-obsessed film star and a struggling filmmaker collide in Brazilian director-producer Diogo Leite’s first feature, “Monstro,” set to screen as a pic-in-post at the Ibero-American Work in Progress strand of this week’s Sanfic Industria.
“Monstro” follows Magaiver, a young filmmaker who moonlights as an Internet technician in order to survive. His life takes a bittersweet turn as he’s hired to film a retrospective on ageing cinema star Laura. The ignorance of the elite on full display, Magaiver’s life is upended to accommodate her fragile ego, leaving him to question the legitimacy of a trade he once coveted.
Produced by Leite (“Menino Pássaro”) and his Filmes de Mentira, alongside Andrea Lanzoni, a creative producer at Brazilian production house, Fenda the film taps the idle lives of the bourgeois as they fall from grace, a biting exposé of the prejudice that lurks plainly behind an industry that celebrates each faux advance.
“Diogo brings cinema with complex characters, he’s been building a black narrative free from stereotypes, a narrative that’s often ahead of the spaces to which the audiovisual industry itself confines black creators” said Lanzoni. “The movie ‘Monstro,’ can be seen as a film of racial discussion, but it talks mainly about empathy, the human condition in these times, the weaknesses and strengths of the characters and their values.”
“Despite the advances of an affirmative policy, black cinema which doesn’t only focus on a racial discussion still faces great difficulties. This is something that we have to discuss urgently,” she added.
Leite spoke with Variety about the uphill battle towards inclusivity in film, authenticity in storytelling and the struggle to bring diverse narratives to a broader cinematic audience.
Is there a way to be successful and maintain a sense of service to the communities that you try to uplift in your narratives? A way to maintain a sense of identity among exploitative aspects of the film business?
Showbiz understands that it’s correct when a white director tells these stories, that there’s a “narrative inversion”. But now black directors can also give their version of events. I intend to keep on telling these stories. They reveal people’s hidden aspects, something I like to explore. In the movie we see the character Magaiver facing horrible situations. But they’ve always happened, many of them have happened to me.
These stories are vital in addressing the hypocrisy of an industry that cries out for diversity but often still tries to package that diversity from the eyes of the elite. Can you speak to that?
Black cinema in Brazil is made of cycles. They begin and then they end. Each new cycle starts with funding and several black filmmakers appear. But then there’s a financial crisis and that’s it. This has been the case since the 1960s with Cinema Novo and white filmmakers. Some of them are making films to this day. Unfortunately, it’s not the same for black filmmakers of that period. The fact that I’m making cinema, directing a film, is in itself a confrontation with the elite.
In Brazil, as everyone knows, there’s a huge institutional crisis, we have a far-right government that hates culture. Jair Bolsonaro stopped funding culture in Brazil and consequently the cinema industry was penalized. Making “Monstro” is almost like a response to racism and cultural collapse in my country. I already knew, as I was writing the script, that I would have few resources and few days shooting. And it was thanks to my team’s efforts, too, that we were able to tell this story together.
Your movie makes living the “high life” seem extremely dull and lifeless compared to living an authentic life as Magaiver does. Was your intention to show the underbelly of the work?
My main inspiration for “Monstro” was “Sunset Boulevard.” It’s crazy the way the world of cinema can be. I started my career as an actor, so I had a taste of it first hand. I have a small part in the movie, as the character who tries to collect Magaiver’s rent. I’ve personally lived some of those stories. I want to talk about artists who’ve lost touch with reality and have no idea what real life is like. Magaiver is the only one who knows what real life is.
Representation is important. We see the industry slowly coming to this conclusion there still seems to be a lack of real representation across cultures. What do you think could help these important narratives break into the mainstream to further influence the push towards authenticity in film?
There’s a lack of real willingness by white people in the industry to give these people a voice, that our stories get to be told by us. White people have to stand back and let black, trans and indigenous people be the protagonists.