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An Interview with Director Zé Dassilva

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your education and your interest in cinema.

I have been a screenwriter for 22 years at Globo TV, the main broadcaster in Brazil, where I worked on “Império”, winner of best telenovela at the International Emmy Awards in 2015. I’m currently one of the screenwriters in "Cara & Coragem", a telenovela created by Claudia Souto for Globo TV. My background is in Journalism. I write books and also draw daily editorial cartoons since 1998 for the newspaper Diario Catarinense. That must surely be why the two main characters in my film “You Rock, Zé Perri!” are illustrators as well. I write, I direct, but I guess I often think and see the world primarily as a cartoonist.

Seeing and reading what works aroused your interest in this medium, and as a result, what works do you owe your education in cinema to?

The stories of common life and the everyday people from Brazil attract me. Some of them are on our cinema, as Zé do Burro from “Keeper of Promises” (Cannes Festival winning film in 1962) and Zé Pequeno from “City of God” (nominated for an Oscar in four categories in 2004), by Fernando Meirelles. All these Zés help to understand my country and also helped this Zé to build Zé Perri.

Tell us about your first project. What difficulties did you have in the beginning?

The main challenge was to build the first scenographic airplane in the history of Brazilian cinema. Getting out of my own shell was another challenge on this project, because as a screenwriter for telenovelas, I've spent my life indoors writing scripts and going to the set very little. But I was feeling that I really needed to get out and deal with other people, especially after being locked up at home during the pandemic.

Considering this short film was shot in 13 locations, each one with a different character, we also had the difficulty of production at each location. All these challenges were occurring while we were praying that it didn't rain during the five days of shooting, as most of the locations were outside on the beach. I visited each location with the team twice, made the storyboards myself and, when it was time to shoot, everything became simpler. Another challenge I faced was that all the characters in the film, in one form or another alluded to the book “The Little Prince”, written by the French aviator Saint-Exupéry – who is also character in my film. I reproduced some drawings from this book on the screen and, for that, we even built a wall just like that one that Exupéry drew in “The Little Prince”, a worldwide bestseller in the public domain.

Is it more important to have a budget, or to have the mind to find salvation solutions in critical situations?

My father never worked with cinema, but he always said: “With a lot of money anyone can make it happen; I want to see make it with little money”. When I tell someone that we had a budget of only US$ 50,000 (obtained with sponsorship from the city of Florianópolis, in the South of Brazil, and from Floripa Airport), many people are amazed. It’s always good to know how to escape the problems that appear, because they will appear, and often this can harm even a movie that has a big budget.

Do you think film festivals help filmmakers?

Of course. Besides publicizing our work, the return at festivals is a strong encouragement. The fact that “You Rock, Zé Perri!”being finalist of the Roma Short Film Festival was special because it was the first good result for us. After that, in a few weeks my film already has achieved other good results in Toronto Indie Shorts (best shor and best actor for Marcos Veras), Mumbai International Film Festival (Best Latino / Hispanic Film), Independent Short Awards (two bronze medals – best fantasy short and best first time director), Prague Internacional Indie Film Festival (two honorable mentions – best director and best production design for Loli Menezes) and Tokyo International Short Film Festival (honorable mention). All of this helped to give us more motivation to carry out other projects.

Tell us about film production companies. Can one, as an inquisitive filmmaker, count on production companies?

The game board has changed in recent years. In addition to classic movie studios and TV channels, several streaming companies sprang up producing original material. They want a diversity of products, and I think that opens up opportunities for all kinds of filmmakers.

How much of the future of cinema do you think is in the hands of powerful companies like Netflix?

The trend is to increase even more, but at some point there may be some retracement. I think streaming can influence not only the market, but the narrative as well. Now it’s possible to know, for example, in which scene of a movie or episode in a TV series there is greater audience evasion. This makes it possible to discuss why a particular scene led people abandon a history. This kind of resource it looks fascinating to me.

Is cinema, as some say, dead, and should we expect television and Internet broadcasts to be gaining more and more power?

It's not dead, and I measure that by new generations. My 18-year-old daughter and her friends don't watch TV channels as much, but they still enjoy going to the movies. The huge screen has survived over time and still draws people as an experience.

What skills do you think a filmmaker needs to have? Is it necessary for the filmmaker to personally understand many specialized subfields?

I think the focus is on telling a story and this should never be lost, everything should be in the service of that. I try to be organized and plan everything because it cuts down on time, cost and stress. I think a director must also have the ability to keep a good mood in the set and respect each person, keeping them motivated and excited, and it's valuable to know how to listen what each one has to say. Associating with serious and talented people is important, and on this film I was with two great production companies: Studio de Ideias and Vinil Filmes. The cinematographer Raùl Tamayo Estrada was instrumental in giving the film a special look. In addition, I had the partnership of co-producers Dino Cantelli (writer of telenovelas like me) and Marcos Veras (who played Celestino and is one of the main actors in my country).

Tell us about your next project, please.

I wrote a feature film script about Orson Welles in Brazil: it’s called “It’s All Lies” and it tells how, in 1942, Orson arrived in Rio de Janeiro as a star, and left cursed. This script has already been in some contests in the US (it was a semi-finalist at the Big Apple Film Festival, for example). I also have projects with partners Dino Cantelli and Marcos Veras for TV and cinema. I plan to adapt for cinema a book I wrote about Metropol, a super football team created to stifle a coal miners’ strike and which has become a sensation, touring Europe even. And now I’m working on a feature script based on a book wrote by Beto Colombo, about pilgrimage on Santiago Way, in Spain.


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