Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pedro Costa (Sodankylä Morning Discussion with Peter von Bagh)

Pedro Costa in Sodankylä, 19 June 2010. Foto Laila Alanen

The Sodankylä School, 19 June 2010. Pedro Costa spoke in fluent and eloquent English. He gave a brilliant and intelligent talk, making Peter's task exceptionally easy.

The first film you saw? - tom thumb, with Russ Tamblyn.
    Your childhood home? - I come from an urban, normal family of tailors, and as a child, I spent hours in my grandfather's shop.
    The neighbourhood of your childhood? - Everybody knew each other, everything you needed was there, and there I lived until I was 13-14. When my parents divorced I moved to live alone in small apartments, having small jobs.
     When I was 12, there was the revolution, and the age of dictatorship, a kind of fascism, came to an end. In 1974-1977 there was complete anarchy, it was great, and during that time I discovered the cinema. The fundamental figure for me in literature and in cinema was Jõao Benard da Costa. The streets were alive with banners, with discussion. I discovered the cinema, the music, and punk rock, everything at once. I loved John Ford (he was always a very progressive influence) and The Sex Pistols at the same time. I wanted to play the guitar. There were the wonderful films Jõao Benard was showing in 1978-1979. In the early 1980s it was still possible to see a good movie in a regular cinema. I chose film over music. I was lucky for the revolution to put things together.
    The films of your childhood? - I never went to film school, I just attended to those classes of Jõao Benard da Costa. Theory was not for us. I was an assistant in films for 7-8 years, and I progressed from 3. assistant to the 1. assistant to the director. I even participated in Hollywood productions such as The Boys from Brazil, which was shot in Portugal. I was the chauffeur to Gregory Peck. Everybody hated him. There was a crew of 400.
     My first film was O Sangue / Blood. I wrote it for years, and got financing from the television, for this story of two brothers without a family and a kidnapping. Shot in black and white, this was the film where I got rid of all my favourites, Nicholas Ray, Jacques Tourneur, Fritz Lang, The Night of the Hunter, Flannery O'Connor. But something terrible happened. The shooting was not very happy, because the collaboration with the producers didn't work at all.
    How do you feel about the name-dropping of the critics? - I'm not irritated, this is a "family film", one should name the names... including the music of Stravinsky. It was necessary to get rid of the influences, to put them aside, to find my own voice. I had to find my field of action. Sometimes it takes 30-40 films to achieve that. But for me, after this film, every film was connected in a supernatural way. Each film gives the clue, the key to open the next one.
    The next film, Casa de lava, sent me very far from home, to Cape Verde, which are islands on the coast of Africa. I needed to be completely unprotected, more afraid. I needed confrontation with reality.
    These islands represent the Portuguese subconscious. They have a very mixed population, and there has always been some sort of a Creole population.
    Portugal was a big empire. We had India. Some people still think we have Brazil. After the 1752 earthquake we lost everything. We stare at the ocean and wait for the end. We have nothing to do.
    In Africa, the Portuguese started slavery in the industrial way. We brought Christianity and guns to the colonies. We were the ones to bring guns to Japan. There are still Portuguese words in the Japanese.
    At Cape Verde I visited the place where the first model of a concentration camp existed. There were even spaces that resembled gas chambers. There was no gas, but they got so hot that people choked to death one by one. Only the strongest survived.
    These islands were uninhabited, and they were situated along the route from Senegal to Florida. It took years to cross the ocean. There were 5-10 ships in the armadas, complete with missionaries, soldiers, aristocrats, and their wives. The wifes were left at Cape Verde. Asia and Africa were considered too much for the women. Three years later the men returned.
    There were slaves from Guinea, destined to Lisbon, to Spain. The slaves were left with the womenfolk of the aristocrats. A creole nation was born, black guys with blonde hair and green eyes. They had not only Portuguese but also French ancestors.
    In a small village in Cape Verde everybody has the same name, Montrond. The village is a family. No one could figure out who his real father was. A friend told me he has 35 children. The people in the village also look like each other.
    They speak their own Creole language and they play their own Creole music. The music they play I'd never heard before.
    From then on, a lot of things happened. I brought a souvenir from Cape Verde to Lisbon and thus I discovered the Fontainhas neighbourhood where Cape Verde immigrants live. I had no reason to go outside. Now the neighbourhood no longer exists, it's been demolished, and the people are relocated into apartments and projects.
    They lose more and more, houses, tradition, themselves.
    I was forced to make cheaper films. Fontainhas became my studio: the ghetto, the slum, complete with "the studio gate" where the drug dealer on call said "good morning" to me. One could take a tour of the studio, and the actors were always dressed for the part.
   Here I learned lessons. In a very poor place money has no value. In a drug milieu there is a black market and things have strange values: one can get a gold watch for one euro.
    Fear has a lot to do with film, being afraid, being courageous, confronting things, doing the right thing.
    I couldn't bring the sophistication of cinema to that place, where people are exploited, unemployed, watched by the police, facing the crisis.
    In a ghetto everything is secret, everything is public. One must consider what one can show, from the inside, from the outside. Sometimes the rooms are more public than the streets.
    You learn about space, time, narrative.
    I'm not a person who could write a script at home. I do have to write an outline, though, to secure the funding.
    Now I'm in the middle of the shooting of a film, helped by other people. During my first film I was surrounded by 30 guys, all of whom thought "I always knew this guy is a fake". Now we have a joint responsibility, a very small structure.
    The Fontainhas of Ossos and No Quarto da Vanda took three years to demolish, and by 2005 the demolition was complete. Because of the current crisis there are more poor people than ever. Slums have been destroyed, but the existing slums are growing.
    During the first film we carried a lot of lighting equiment. I had a good friend, Emmanuel Machuel, who had worked a lot with Bresson, in L'Argent, Mouchette, Au hasard Balthazar. We brought the professional trucks, generators, and cables to the slum. It was like a big studio at night. The majority of the inhabitants were people such as construction workers and cleaning ladies, who had to go to work early in the morning, at four or five. We did a lot of night shooting, and a guy came out and said that he cannot sleep with our 10 kW floodlights. Normally, we could have paid the guy.
    But I had already felt there was something wrong. We had a quasi-military operation going on, and I already had a vague feeling that I didn't want to get out of Fontainhas.
    I told Emmanuel: "turn off the light". Emmanuel warned me against it, but we just adapted ourselves, there were no more complaints, and Emmanuel won his first award in Venice. From then on, I have used only available light, also at night.
    I have a double task: make a film and reinvent film production as we try to make films in a different way. To make a film is ridiculous, pathetic. When the film-makers take themselves seriously, it is even more pathetic.
    In the photographs of directors they are always pointing, pointing up.
    Nobody will ever again ask me "What do you want?", "Where do you want the camera?". It's a collective thing.
    It may look like a documentary, but nothing could be further.
    What is real? The elements of reality are dependent on routine. Jean-Pierre Gorin has made the film Routine Pleasures.
    Finally Emmanuel said: "You don't really need me".
    A film production is a mirror of the corruption of society. It is very close to a military operation. It is certainly very violent, a political thing.
    Eric Rohmer never visited festivals. For him, cinema was the art of realism. If you go beyond a certain point it's not cinema anymore. It's good to have this kind of limitation. If we go beyond a certain point we lose. In Juventude em Marcha we have a boy, a girl, a room, things to say, a certain light, a certain sound. They write their own dialogue.
    Film is always a revenge, that's what I think Chaplin said.
    We should have filmed in a hospital, but that was unthinkable, and the limitation opened a lot of possibilities. Qf. Mack Sennett filming in the backyard.
    Roberto Rossellini is probably the one who started the concept of inventing a chaotic situation in a stable frame. He did chaotic, irrational things. Rossellini also gave up realism and started to film philosophy, ideas.
    To make a film you have to be a bit stupid. Believing in something for five weeks is too much. We are a weak generation. The only guy I know who is really strong is Jean-Marie Straub. I don't have this power of believing. The only fantasy for me would be actually in believing in something. No one has the answer.
    I admire Aki Kaurismäki a lot. There are two tracks in his films: the world you live in - and the world you would like to live in. Aki still believes films can be made in the old way. It is not fascinating to me, but you need fascination. Erich von Stroheim [The Merry Widow was screened last night] is amazingly fascinating.
    I lost it.
    Do you have a dialogue with Nicholas Ray? Now it's more secret. When I was younger he was really here. I have a feeling our world will forget Ray, Lang, Ophuls, Ulmer.
    You do that alone in your room.
     With them, I lilke to go into the detail, read all the interviews with Allan Dwan, Raoul Walsh. Now I'm the very small things.
    Which film would you take with you to the desert island? City Lights.

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