Leonor Teles’ latest short film, Dogs Barking At Birds (Cães que Ladram aos Pássaros), portraits the summer days of Vicente and his family as real estate speculation forces them to leave their house in downtown Porto.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Teles about the film ahead of its screening at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival.
Q: How does it feel to be premiering ‘Dogs Barking At Birds’ at the 2019 Venice Film Festival?
A: It feels pretty good. It’s always great to premiere in a festival that will give more visibility to a short film, and therefore to reach a large number of viewers outside of Portugal.
Q: The film takes place in Porto. Can you tell us about the city and the role this setting plays in the short film?
A: Porto is suffering a huge transformation, not only in it’s urban landscape but a more radical and profound change demographically – people are being pushed out of the city centre. This was the setting that we found when we arrived in Porto, this was what I felt that I needed to work on, and of course how the state of a city reflects on a family, especially in an emotional sense.
Q: Do you have a personal connection to Porto? What drew you to this particular city?
A: This was an invitation from Porto City Hall. They invited me to do a residence in the city last year and the result was a short film – Dogs Barking At Birds. I didn’t have a personal connection to Porto, so it was very challenging for me to take a city that isn’t mine and make a film there. In the end, I think now because of Gil Family I have a personal connection to Porto.
Q: I’m glad you bring up the Gil family. What do they bring to the story?
A: They bring everything to the film. Dogs Barking At Birds is the story of their lives. This sounds like a cliché, but it’s true!
Q: What was your collaboration and connection like with the family? How important are relationships to your work?
A: Relationships are the most important thing in my work. The encounters with people are what make a film take shape.
When I met Vicente, I knew instantly that he would be the main character, but I didn’t know the narrative for the film yet. Once we began to know each other better, I started to know his life, his family life, their story, and we came to the conclusion that their story should be the film. Of course that was only possible because we became friends, we had a lot of trust (all of us: the team and the family) and they were very generous to let me shoot them.
Q: What was your approach to the visual style of ‘Dogs Barking At Birds’ and capturing the essence of Porto?
A: I wanted to shoot in 16mm. I really like the visual style of film, its texture, the grain, the colours. I also wanted to shoot handheld because, throughout the film, we are constantly following Vicente across the streets of Porto. We had a small team so we needed to be light and portable, to capture the teenage spirit always on movement. The camera also needed to be in constant movement, always with Vicente, breathing with him.
Q: What do you hope audiences leave ‘Dogs Barking At Birds’ reflecting on or thinking about?
A: If I am lucky enough that people go see the film, that they take their time, I already feel very thankful for that. However, if they also come out reflecting on it, with ideas about it, with questions even, than that for me is the most positive and hopeful reaction.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and why you were drawn to filmmaking?
A: My background in high school was science, but I was very obsessive with photography, and it led me to cinema. So I went to film school. During my studies I realised that I really loved this and I wanted to do it for a while. I think filmmaking is a way of expression, for me it works like a need, an urgency. I feel the need to say something, or I am restless with some feelings, and use the film to get it all out.
Q: I understand you are currently working on your first fiction feature. Can you reveal anything about that yet?
A: Not yet!