Rita Azevedo Gomes • Director
“I don’t care who I am any more; I will never find the answer”
by Matthew Boas
- The experienced Portuguese director is picking up an Honorary Mikeldi Award at Zinebi, and we took the opportunity to chat to her about her sprawling career
Portuguese helmer Rita Azevedo Gomes is currently in Bilbao to receive an Honorary Mikeldi from the team at Zinebi, alongside US director Frederick Wiseman (who sadly couldn’t make it to the event in person) and Spanish journalist Félix Linares. We caught up with her after the screening of her feature debut, 1990’s The Sound of the Shaking Earth, in the grandiose surroundings of the Guggenheim Museum, to discuss her career so far.
Cineuropa: You mentioned during the press conference here that receiving this award gives you a feeling of happiness, but also one of fragility – why?
Rita Azevedo Gomes: Emotions are difficult to describe, so this kind of event, putting the things I do into context, is strange for me. It’s obviously very good, and I’m thankful there is someone who evaluates the work we [filmmakers] do. But somehow, it’s a double-edged sword because when I made my feature debut in 1990, the film was put to one side, nobody wanted it and it never came out. I always thought, “It doesn’t matter – the film is made, and one day time will tell.” Thirty years later, suddenly it's considered a cult movie, and I wonder what the reason is.
I wonder, “Is this the end?” Maybe they’re saying, “Okay, she’s achieved this, we’ll give her a tribute and it’s all wonderful, but maybe she’s getting to a point in her personal life and reaching an age where people think maybe she might be about to finish.” On the other hand, I think it works the opposite way with me: I feel more encouraged to go on, but I still have this dual feeling. It’s a bittersweet happiness that I feel.
You said last night at the screening that the question of who you are remains an enigma – but do you at least think you get to know yourself a little better with every film?
I don’t care who I am any more; I will never find the answer. But it helps me change – I learn not to do this or I choose to do that. I try to educate myself because I know I don’t want to hurt people. I try to be a good person – I’m not, but I try my best to follow a good path in life, which means respecting your neighbour, letting him be, and not taking sides. I try to be as fair as I can and make myself a better person, and maybe cinema helps with that because when you are filming, you are in these tense situations and it’s very hard sometimes. So I learn a lot from my mistakes and I know what not to repeat.
What is the situation for filmmaking in Portugal at the moment?
It’s difficult for me. People think, “Now, at this point, nobody will refuse a project of hers,” but don’t you believe it. I had that experience with The Kegelstatt Trio [+see also:
film profile], where I tried to get some financial support to make the film three times, and the ICA said no. So I decided to make the film on my own, with no money. And then finally, once the movie was already at Berlin, the ICA gave me a grant to finish it! I was very happy anyway because I was able to give some money to the people who worked on the film for free.
Another problem is that when you start making multiple films on such a low budget, it works against you. People start saying, “She can make anything; I don’t how she does it, but she does it on her own. She doesn’t need our help.” Yet when a film doesn’t cost anything, when it’s a “homemade” movie, it’s viewed as worthless – it’s incredible but true.
Do you think COVID-19 and the experience of making The Kegelstatt Trio in those conditions has changed your perspective on how you make your films?
Oh yes; it was wonderful! I hope there is another lockdown – I think it’s the only solution for the world. Everything was changing rapidly, and we were all in a special frame of mind. We’d been stuck in our homes, and suddenly we were going to be together. It was a great pleasure – we were in a bubble of creativity, and each minute, each hour, was just total happiness for everyone. It’s something that we still cherish, and I wanted some of that to go into the film. When you make a movie like that, the advantage is that you’re totally free and you don’t owe money to anyone. So if it doesn’t work, that’s your problem. You don’t owe anything to anyone, and I don’t like owing people things.
At last night’s event, you said: “One word contains so much.” Given that you love working with words, how do you strike the right balance with the visual aspect?
I hope they match each other. I think the aim of the visuals and the construction of the image is to help the actor. The text is the leader. Often, I feel like the text is directing and leading me. I spend a lot of time reading the text, and each word is endless – you can explore it forever. But then, around that, I try to construct everything that helps you listen to the actors.
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