Ahead of the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival, director Pedro Cabeleira joins us to talk about By Flávio.
The short film follows Márcia, a social media pro who knows all the best poses and filters for perfect selfies. Her son Flávio helps her to take photos of herself. This is how she manages to hook up with famous rapper Da Reel Chullz on Instagram. She is not about to turn him down when he asks her out on a date – even if no one can be found to look after Flávio. A refreshing portrait of a single mother who knows how to work things out.
Where did your inspiration for this story come from?
I was trying to find financing for my second feature, and during that process I decided to make a short film to keep active. So my first intuition was to film with Ana Vilaça (Márcia and also co-writer) in a challenging role for her. I also knew that writing was one of her talents, so I was very keen on trying to work with an actress who was able to also write her own part. I wanted to work with Diogo S. Figueira (co-writer) who was working on my second feature script too.
One night the three of us met and we brainstormed what could be this short film with Ana Vilaça in the leading role. As I’m very interested in technology and the digital world, I got attached to this image that Diogo had, of a woman on the beach whose son was taking photos repeatedly. After that we tried to join the two universes of the feature I was writing, the Portuguese hip hop world and the people of my region (Ribatejo). So quickly we came up with this idea of a single mother (Márcia) who was going to have a date in this Portuguese countryside shopping mall (Torreshopping) with a famous rapper (Chullz).
Can you tell us about the film’s two lead characters, Marcia and Chulluz, and what you wanted to explore through them?
With Márcia I wanted to explore the social media world, the relation that we create with our own body and image. How can we be in control of our own image in today’s world? What kind of ambitions and self-projections can a young single mother from the Portuguese countryside have? With Márcia I wanted to explore that, this hiper global digitalized world and the effects it has on someone who still lives close to a rural and conservative reality.
With Chullz I wanted to deconstruct some of the modern rap conventions, mainly women’s objectification, and how easy it is given as an acquired formality, as for Chullz using Márcia’s body in one of his music videos is only something formal and part of rap culture. For me it was always quite intriguing. How was this kind of pitch? How was the approach of a rapper to a woman? How would he give this misogynist storytelling to her? And also what would be the reaction?
What is your view of influencer culture and the impact social media is having on us?
It is the present reality and also the future. We are walking a path to achieve more and more perfection on self-representation. Influencers are now the new celebrities, even the non-social media celebrities, somehow need to become influencers. I believe it is a little bit more democratic to get famous, since almost everyone can achieve this status with Instagram, it doesn’t matter if you are a famous actor or musician, or a shopping mall worker.
The fun part of the influencer culture is that you can be really popular, depending only on how charismatic other people think you are. You can literally only do your basic day to day things, and become famous as a pop star. Like, basic things such as eating, driving, being at home, or walking down the street, or at the beach. You can do only these kinds of things, and be famous.
For me it’s fascinating, because now, all of us, who are connected to this modern digital world, make a little effort on portraying our ordinary life. Some of us do just a little effort, but others make a big effort, to give this impression of modern perfect life, with great food, great smiles, our transparent emotions, walking the dog, beautiful children, being happy with sunny days, and desolate with the raining ones. And all subconsciously pursuing this crazy idea of popularity that Instagram gives access so immediately and with numbers!
But also for me it talks a little more deeply about our condition as humans and about this big dilemma – we all are afraid of being alone, but also we are afraid to connect with other people. The digital world made this easy, we can attach to someone with only clicking one button, and in the influencer culture, this button is the following button. You click at the following button and you have immediate access to someone’s life as intimate as one of your friends’ lives.
But this is only the beginning, our days are influencers, tomorrow will be avatars.
Can you tell us about the shoot for this film and working with this cast?
We shoot during the pandemic, one big challenge, but also great to discover new ideas. When you shoot in such a dystopian reality you are always finding new things, and through the eye of the lenses, certainly, these things become even newer.
Of course you always have the tension of someone suddenly testing positive with Covid, mainly because I prefer not to film many shots per day, so we had to stay during two weeks in a working shopping mall, to film. And thankfully nothing happened, and we managed to shoot all without Covid interruptions.
One of the things that, for me, was a big surprise of filming during Covid was the masks. I delayed the shooting one year, because I was expecting that the pandemic would end in 2020 (lol), and the masks would be gone. But when 2020 was ending I understood that it would be impossible to delay it again, the pandemic was here to stay, and I couldn’t postpone the film indefinitely.
So I had to adapt the film to the actual context, and when I started shooting with masks, I really liked it. Maybe because it was something new, but it is so awesome when you film someone with a mask your attention goes immediately to their eyes. So this was an important part of the casting. Ana (Márcia) and Tiago Costa (Chullz) were already casted since the beginning of the project.
But Rodrigo Manaia (Flávio) was not, and when he entered the casting room with his mask on, was so immediate that he would be Flávio, his eyes said so much and his look was so powerful that I could handle an entire film with him wearing a mask. Also working with the cast was great, I worked with a lot of improv, and they all managed it so well, there are a lot of them in the characters, and they all had these great instincts, which made it so easy to work with them.
What do you hope audiences take away from By Flavio?
Above all I want people that see my film to have a new sensation when seeing the immaterial world represented. For me it is very important that people can disconnect themselves from their common perceptions about the digital world, and when they are seeing it portrayed in the film, they will be able to find it strange, like this strange and new organism, almost like something very sci-fi.
One of the most obvious things I also want people to take from the film is how not cool the woman objectification in the rap industry is (and also in all the industries). I believe we really need to change the way how the woman body is portrayed or represented, and I hope the film make people think about that. In the end I want people to enjoy the story, to relate with the characters, to feel their emotions, or new emotions, and to be immersed in the film’s universe.
Can you tell us about your background and what drew you to filmmaking?
I am from Entroncamento, a small town in the Portuguese countryside. I grew up with the ambition of becoming a football player, until I was sixteen and realised it would be impossible. So my parents, who are very advanced people, asked me if I wouldn’t like to go to cinema school. And of course I accepted, somehow it was always a kind of dream to me.
I always loved films, all kinds of films, and also I always loved to think about stories and characters, so the answer was quite obvious. But when I started to think about becoming a filmmaker, I realised that the thing that really got me into films, was not the story or the characters, was more the immersive states that cinema would be able to make us feel. This kind of state would give us goosebumps, so my main pursuit when I make films is to create these immersive states.
What are your hopes for By Flavio at Berlin and beyond?
I believe they are not very different from other filmmakers. That the film would be well accepted, and a lot of people would manage to see it.