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Carlos Conceição • Director

"Cinema is what we want it to be"


- The Portuguese director details some of the several projects currently on his plate

Carlos Conceição  • Director
Director Carlos Conceição and director of photography Rui Poças on the set of Bodyhackers (@ Rogério Machado)

Portuguese director Carlos Conceição is the subject of a retrospective at this year’s Sicilia Queer International New Visions Filmfest (3-6 June). A glimpse of the past both distant and recent that leads to a conversation about the future: from the potential of medium-length films on the big screen, to the presentation of an extensive list of projects in development.

Cineuropa: The last time we saw each other was at the premiere of Name Above Title, in Curtas Vila do Conde. A one-hour film that, from what I’ve read, might be part of a bigger project.
Carlos Conceição:
They’re not exactly connected: they’re one-hour films that I wanted to make. The idea of working with a one hour format was a way to escape from my own prison of length. For someone who wants to develop certain types of narratives, thirty minutes simply isn't enough, whereas working with a classic feature film structure is something you can only do with certain resources (which most people simply don’t have). We all need to open our eyes to the new realities, perspectives, technologies and ways of consuming art. We need to start demystifying certain conversations of what cinema is nowadays. We should all be ready to accept that cinema is what we want it to be.

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Programmers, sales agents, critics, distributors: they all need to work this idea with the audience. Look at how successful series are, with fragmented narratives. People might not want to watch a 5-hours film but they will watch 5 episodes - an hour each - of a series in a row. So when it comes to length, I think we live in a pivotal moment to promote shorter formats as diverse artistic experiences in the cinema. We should celebrate this metamorphosis. And that’s what I would like to do: to work on medium-length projects. Forever.

You’ve been working on a film called Bodyhackers. Could you talk us through it?
We just finished shooting a couple of weeks ago and we’re now in post-production. It’s a turning point for me in so many different ways. There’s a lot of dialogue, all in English, with actors like Elina Löwensohn and McCaul Lombardi. It was also my first time working with most of the team (besides Joana Ribeiro, João Rapaz and Catarina Santiago). It’s a body horror film, a bit minimalistic, that starts with a reference to body dysmorphic disorder: a pathology in which a person is convinced that something is wrong with their body and wants to change it until it meets their own ideal of themselves. That is potentially quite addictive. For me, anything that is addictive implies an underworld. This film invites you on an absurd journey to that underworld.

And then you also have Les Fleurs Abominables (a title that immediately reminded me of Darwin and Baudelaire).
That film started with no budget, back in 2015, and we shot it over the years. I’ve changed the title several times and I’m still not sure. It’s a continuation of Versailles’s story, which paved the way for Bad Bunny. The story begins with Versailles, then continues with this film (that is more sardonic) and there’s a third chapter called Adeus, King Kong showing the same character a couple of years later. I’m just trying to figure out how to present this. But I’m not in a rush.

It is clear that you have several projects in development, so could you tell us a bit about what you’re planning to release and work on next?
This summer, I will start shooting Tommy Guns [+see also:
film review
interview: Carlos Conceição
film profile
, a feature film about the end of the colonial war in Angola. What might be ready to premiere next is Bodyhackers and a film called Baía dos Tigres. Both Tommy Guns and Baía dos Tigres are Mirabilis Angola and Terratreme co-productions. I think I’ll wait until 2022 to release Totem and Taboo. Do you know Chris Ware’s Building Stories? It’s a graphic novel packaged in a box where you can find different chapters in different formats and binding, not numbered but connected. Everyone has a different experience with it. So Totem and Taboo is the project that I’m envisioning as a set of films: Versailles’ prologue, Les Fleurs Abominables (maybe the title will change to Lobo à porta), Adeus, King Kong, followed by an interlude all shot on VHS (and I really want it to exist solely in stream), followed by an abstract epilogue. There are so many different ways to show this. I just haven’t figured out which one. But I’m really excited with the idea as I’ve been working on it for a long time. It’s very important that critics and programmers present and synthesise these concepts. To make them clear even to their own author, to see if they’re viable or not. Or even if nobody will give a fuck.

And how do you feel about that?

There are a lot of things you do in order to protect your work and yourself. It involves a lot of time, money and energy. If someone told me that I would have to go back to the first day of any of the films I’ve made, that I would have to go through it all over again… that’s lethal. There’s something that drives us along the way, a certain obsession. And that can ruin someone. The recovery process one goes through after making a film… It’s a wearing process that can drive someone nuts. And we keep working, we keep trying, with our sanity and physical health on the line. There’s still this thing of wanting to give the impression that being a film director is cool and that we don’t really care. But it’s the exact opposite.

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