An interview with Reel Brazil Film Festival director Leandro Cavalcanti.
ALEXANDER BISLEY: Who’s a Brazilian director who inspires you?
LEANDRO CAVALCANTI: Walter Salles (Central Station, Motorcycle Diaries, Behind the Sun, Foreign Land, On the Road). I basically love all his films! He’s got a thing about road movies—I find myself relating to his movies a lot because of all the travel in my life.
AB: Motorcycle Diaries makes me want to travel again. It’s long interested me that Brazil has the largest Japanese population in the world outside of Japan. Variety writes about post World War Two Brazilian fight Dirty Hearts: “Sequestered during the war and cut off from all Nippon publications, most immigrants refused to believe their country did not triumph. Fanatical societies sprang up, targeting those who acknowledged Japan’s surrender as ‘dirty hearts’.” There is, of course, a significant Brazilian Japanese community in Japan also. The Jerry Collins yarn about issues with a Brazilian Japanese gang seemed fantastical to some, but it seems distinctly plausible to me. You? Dirty Hearts, my pick of the festival, is part of this dark territory?
LC: Brazil is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, mostly in São Paulo. In regards to Collins’s story, yes it is plausible, but regardless of it being a gang of Brazilians or from any other ethnic group! There are gangsters in every culture. Dirty Hearts is a story based on real facts. I think Dirty Hearts shows the pride of a nation being broken and how important it is to hold on to your references like your language, religious practices, and even your nation’s flag. In Brazil the Japanese immigrants were treated like enemies, and not allowed to live their culture. That was the 1940s and 1950s, but I still see this happening today with minority groups in many countries. Brazil has its own problems with minorities—take Pirinop, a film in this festival about the indigenous Ikpeng people of Brazil and their experiences of land loss and diaspora.
AB: This journal has shown enthusiasm for your festival/Brazilian films in the past. Tell me about your favourite film in the festival?
LC: All films have their purpose in the festival and they each come with their own accolades, but Heleno (2011) is very special. This film made me fall in love with cinema again. I watched it twice within twelve hours. The film is about the controversial 1940s football star Heleno de Freitas. It’s beautifully shot, in black and white, and reminds me of those classic Hollywood-era movies.
AB: How do Brazilian films represent the dynamism and excitement of Brazilian culture?
LC: People associate Brazil with dancing, drinking, eating, football, laughing, basically having fun. These things are often why people think Brazil is exciting and dynamic, however there is also the serious and quiet side of Brazil. The last two editions of the festival I went out scouting films that also showed this aspect of our culture because it reveals something different about the Brazilian way. I have found that New Zealanders really connect with these films, such as Reflections of a Blender (RBFF 2011), Neighbouring Sounds (NZIFF 2012), and in this year’s lineup, Found Memories.
AB: What do you hope people take away from the festival?
LC: That they learn something new about Brazil and feel they were able to connect at some level; be it through humour or sadness. It would also be fantastic if several businesses connect through our corporate night and create a strong partnership.
AB: What got you into movies?
LC: I’m not much of a book reader and my way to interact with the storytelling world has always been from listening to people’s stories and by watching movies. Now, what got me into film festivals was pure chance. I worked at the Brazilian Embassy in Wellington, and one of the things under my wing was organising the Latin American Film Festival. After four years at the Embassy, I left for Toronto, Canada, and helped set up the Brazilian Film Festival there. In 2009 I returned to New Zealand and Reel Brazil was born.
AB: There are a lot of film festivals these days. What’s special about yours?
LC: At its core, Reel Brazil has a different concept from your usual film festival as it came together as a business initiative. I also have a commercial background from my time working at the Embassy of Brazil and wanted to use the festival platform to also foment business relationships between Brazil and New Zealand. Generally Latin Americans believe in mixing business with leisure and a lot of deals are started through informal gatherings. Through a drink or two, information is shared and people get to know each other in a more honest and relaxed way. An excellent film, great food, and fantastic music is also a social drawcard so I decided to put them together into one opening night event.
AB: What are the similarities/differences between Brazilian and Kiwi film culture?
LC: Both countries have an emerging film industry, including in the short film arena. There is a big appetite for stories about ourselves, take Whale Rider and Boy here, and City of God and Central Station in Brazil.
Where I feel they both differ is actually in the financial space. Brazil has a lot more favourable tax shelter laws that will allow the private sector to invest in film. Having better tax shelter laws in New Zealand would increase the participation of the private sector, and would free the public sector from the weight of always being the provider and gatekeeper. The government would still be filtering and approving projects, but the fund pool becomes as large as we can make it by reaching out to different companies. If New Zealand does a co-production film with Brazil, they can also take advantage of these benefits.