ND/NF Discovery: Kleber Mendonça Filho’s “Neighboring Sounds”


Above: a still from Neighboring Sounds.

To celebrate the upcoming 41st edition of New Directors/New Films, which starts on Wednesday and runs until April 1, we’ve reached out to the filmmakers from around the world who are coming to New York to present their films. We begin with Kleber Mendonça Filho from Recife, Brazil. His film Neighboring Sounds won the FIPRESCI Award at Rotterdam, where Ebert raved, “the outstanding ensemble deserves comparison with the best of Altman, and is topped only by Filho's tremendous precision with camerawork and dialogue."

Send us a picture from your mobile phone of yourself and your environment.

Describe your film to someone who hasn't seen it.
I am still struggling with that. It's like a melodrama that would rather be a thriller. Yeah, bad pitch. I'll keep working on this.

What was the most memorable day of shooting like?
The day we shot the empty house I realized that whole 6-week shooting experience was finally about to end. That was intense. We used that house as production headquarters. That pool we used during the shoot for relaxing, swimming and parties. Leaving the house and dressing it for shooting was just sad. It was also a real goodbye to that 1970s family house, which will make room now for a new high rise.

If you could work with any artist alive, who would it be and why?
I think John Carpenter. The first film of his I saw was Escape From New York in 1983 on a pirated VHS tape. I was 14. Almost 30 years later, I still love most of his films with a passion and have never grown out of them. In the 80s, VHS and TV made Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog look very cinematic because they were wide Panavision films, but they looked good even if distorted or cropped. They looked like cinema on a TV set, something hard to explain. The ones I did get to see (or see again) in the cinema or later on DVD with the full image gave me a different kind of pleasure, and again this feeling of "cinema". His films are also very interesting because they show respect for older directors and still manage to feel like something new, like they are his films - the films of John Carpenter. They also have this "fuck it!" tone going on which is always refreshing. I also think he nailed in images of cinema this very American notion of "evil," again, very cinematic, very American. When films are something we love, there are so many important names that have given you that best possible feeling of cinema (Verhoeven, Klimov, Eastwood, Kubrick, Coutinho, Lynch, Bresson... so many). Carpenter is one of these people.  

What are you most excited to do while you're in NYC?
It's a great place to walk. 

Describe your very first experience with filmmaking.
A VHS production on my second year at university (1989) with four friends as crew and cast. It was about a depressed guy who, of course, kills himself. Or does he? We edited the bad footage using two VCRs, so each cut came with a distracting rainbow effect and a PLOC noise on the soundtrack. It taught me the first lesson: making films is physical work, and there is absolutely no guarantee that the end result will be any good, no matter how hard you and your friends try. 

What would you be doing if you weren't making films?
Writing about them.  

From what types of art, other than film, do you draw inspiration?
Literature and music, of course, though I am no scholar nor musician. We carry these two since childhood and we keep on reading and listening to music. 

What is your favorite food to eat on set?
Apples. Healthy and makes you less guilty for all the smoking. 

Do you have any rituals or rules for yourself while you're working on a film?
The word "rules" sounds bad in filmmaking, you should be able to do anything you want in a film, so no rules there. But the main thing for working on a film, I feel, is to do your best to choose not only great professionals, but great people. Making films is hard, and to have an idiot or two at large on your set draining the energy out of everyone is not a good thing. Choosing well who to work with is my only real rule, and I've been mostly very fortunate in that sense. It helps when your friends are talented, just get everyone together and make a film.    

Which parts of the filmmaking process do you enjoy the most? The least?
Unfortunately, I am polymorphously perverse in that sense. I enjoy all parts of the filmmaking process; it's strange.

What was the biggest surprise you had while making your film?
Actors. Coming from very small, guerrilla short films, I had this prejudice against "professional actors." In many ways I still think a great, non-actor face can be a wonderful thing. But an intelligent, sensitive ACTOR can be a real pleasure. It's when you feel extra-lucky making a film. Sometimes you just feel like crying, that's how good it can be.

Neighboring Sounds screens on March 22 and March 23 in New Directors/New Films. UPDATE: The film will open for a theatrical run in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on August 24!

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