Sofia Bost is a Lisbon-based filmmaker who has received a master’s degree from The London Film School.
Her new short film, Party Day (Dia de Festa), recently screened at the 58th Semaine de la Critique. It tells the story of Mena (played by Rita Martins), a single mother trying to organise a birthday party for her young daughter while under the strain of limited financial resources and other anxiety-inducing pressures.
Q: What interested you about Tiago Bastos Capitão’s script and the upsetting scenario of ‘Party Day’?
A: I had been doing writing and directing exercises in film school that revolved around mother-daughter relationships. I showed these to Tiago and when I graduated he presented me the script of Dia de Festa. Straight away it had an effect on me and I wanted to do it. It felt like something I knew about and had the sensibility to direct, being myself the only child of a single mother, growing up surrounded by women and no male role model.
Then there was Mena’s character: she’s flawed, vulnerable, and I believe she’s doing her best. Tiago wasn’t worried about making her “likeable”, which I appreciated. Her humanity made me empathise with her straight away.
Finally, I thought it was a piece of good writing, particularly the ending. It’s not easy to write good endings, especially in short films.
Q: I read a review of the film that underlined the importance of Rita Martins’ performance. Can you talk about working with Rita and what she brought to this role?
A: Rita Martins is an outstanding actress and I was very lucky to have her in the film. Although she isn’t Mena, as you watch her performance you can’t help thinking she must have dug out a part of herself that is real to the role. She’s always fully there, her emotional honesty is incredible. Her performance is essential to the success the film has had, no doubt about that.
Working with Rita was a dream. She had an intuitive access to the character, which means we hardly ever talked about it. Everything flowed naturally. At the same time, she’s very patient and generous and her attitude was key to make the relationship with Melissa, the girl that plays her daughter, feel credible.
Q: Why did you decide to film on 16mm? What challenges came along with that?
A: It was a decision made with Tian Tsering, the cinematographer. We felt the roughness and grain of the 16mm suited the mood and theme of the script. Analogue feels more connected to the real world than digital. I didn’t want to be sentimental, as it would take away from the story and character. I wanted to get at the truth, and I saw it as something gritty and unadorned.
The main challenge was the inherent time limitation that comes with film stock – you eventually run out of it. There’s no such thing when you shoot digital. So with the rolls we had I could only do about 4 takes per shot. Everything was well thought out in advance. And with child actors, especially of such young age… I was nervous of course, although they were great. I tried not to think too much about what could go wrong, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it.
Q: You received a master’s degree from the London Film School. How do you reflect upon your experience in London and your growth as a filmmaker during that time?
A: I had never directed prior to London Film School, and I thought I would come out an editor, not a director. I guess I had directing ambitions as well, but in the beginning I didn’t think it was for me. It was so hard and the results were almost always terrible. But then you get over the fact that you’re bad.
Film school is a safe place to fail over and over again, and in the process you start discovering yourself as a filmmaker. Having your work shown and critiqued in front of the whole school, even when you want to bury it, is extremely useful – it forces you to deal with it, to figure out what went wrong and why. And having talented people from all over the world working with and around you – it really makes you up your game.
Q: What is the current landscape for filmmakers in Portugal? Is there a path for emerging filmmakers to progress?
A: Portugal doesn’t have a film industry. Filmmakers are dependent on public funding, and it’s extremely competitive. It’s hard to get funds for a first short film, but it’s even harder to progress from shorts to features. The Portuguese Film Institute supports the production of around 12 feature films per year.
Q: What initially drew you to filmmaking?
A: It was a gradual process that began in college, when I was studying Communication in Lisbon. I started watching independent films and attended Film History as part of my curriculum. I remember watching Bergman’s films for the first time and walking out somewhat changed by them. His films made me realise how wonderful and powerful film could be as medium, and they really got me interested in cinema as an art form.
From then on I started watching all films in a different way, not only as entertainment as I had before. I watched the classics, bought a lot of DVDs, noticed the craft, had more analytical thought, started reading Sight and Sound. But even then I didn’t think, or dare to think, that I wanted to make films. I just loved films and wanted to know more and more. Filmmaking still felt like a very distant universe for me. It took me a long time to go from just loving films to thinking: “I could do this.”
Q: Is ‘Party Day’ a good indicator of the type of films you would like to make in the future?
A: My next projects will probably be similar to this one in terms of genre and tone. But the decisive factor is always a strong connection to the material, I don’t have preconceived ideas about the type of films I want to make.
Q: What is next for you? Any hopes or ambitions to share with us?
A: I’m shooting another short film, hopefully next year, and I’m also in the beginning stages of developing a feature. My only ambition is to keep making films and growing as a filmmaker.