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CANNES 2024 Quinzaine des Cinéastes

Paulo Carneiro • Regista di Savanna and the Mountain

“Dato che comunque non credo nel documentario convenzionale, ho iniziato a scrivere la storia come una finzione"

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- CANNES 2024: Il regista portoghese svela la sua concezione estetica e il modo in cui ha lavorato con i protagonisti del suo film al confine tra documentario e fiction

Paulo Carneiro • Regista di Savanna and the Mountain

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Portuguese filmmaker Paulo Carneiro has presented his newest film, a hybrid between documentary and fiction, at this year's Cannes Film Festival, in the Directors’ Fortnight. After his first feature, Bostofrio [+leggi anche:
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trailer
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, for Savanna and the Mountain [+leggi anche:
recensione
intervista: Paulo Carneiro
scheda film
]
, he returns to a remote village in the same region. We spoke to the director about his aesthetic concept and how he worked with his protagonists.

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Cineuropa: How did the project begin?
Paulo Carneiro:
I knew some people from the village, and I had already heard things about what was going on there, but not much at the time. In 2020, during COVID-19 when everything was closed, a video about the newest developments vent viral on social media. From there, I started contacting people and began my research. I went to the village. Because of its remote position and its few inhabitants, surrounded by nature and the mountains, it felt like a particularly safe place during the pandemic. With a camera and with my sound engineer, we were there, first, mainly to understand everything, without having any precise idea about making a film. I talked to the people, among whom was also the mayor. He helped me understand the political context, and I learned about the dynamics of the community.

How did you develop the film from there?
We started to make videos of what was going on and about the protests, which the people were able to share on different networks. While we were shooting what really went on, I saw that the people were fragile. Often, they were very sad and down. But I rather wanted to show how strong they are and how they engaged in this David-and-Goliath struggle. So, since I don't believe in conventional documentary anyway, I started to write the story as a fiction. The camera was a way to reinforce their position, to translate their real strength into the images. It was important [to consider] what position the camera adopted.

You avoided having talking heads or interviews with experts, and you really relied on the people themselves. Could you elaborate on your choice?
Because it best suits the intention to show the struggle of David against Goliath. For the protagonists, it's difficult to have a precise idea of who they are fighting against. They never see the people at the top of it all. For me, cinema is not about showing black and white, but more the grey areas. The intention was to show people involved in the bureaucracy, but the little ones, the ones who are part of the populace. Everyone is just a little cog in the machine.

There are a few elements such as the music and some visual aspects that lend the film a fairy tale-like character. Was this your intention?
There is this expression that the region of Covas do Barroso is a wonderful kingdom. It was written by a famous Portuguese author, Miguel Torga. For me, his novels were part of the creation of this world because I didn't want to make something like a National Geographic film. The nature and the wonder of the place give it a kind of fairy-tale character. But I didn't want to explain who is threatened, or that the nature and animals there are at risk of perishing. I wanted to focus on the people. Moreover, even though I live in the suburbs of Lisbon, I grew up in the countryside. I therefore don't view the scenery as exotic. And I wanted to avoid giving an exotic perspective of it in the film.

How did you work with these people, who had no acting experience?
The problem is that they didn't have time. They had to work. In agriculture, you can't stop – even if I might have offered to pay them for their time. They don't care about the money. And that’s not the idea I have of making films. So mainly, it was important to prepare well and quickly. During the shoot, they never had more than one or two hours to spare at once. They had to understand the choreography and the framing. I gave them the dialogues right before the shoot so that they wouldn't get anxious. We mostly worked all together on the dialogues, but there was also room for improvisation.

What was the funding situation like for the film?
We just applied for post-production support but were not successful. We applied three years in a row for Portuguese state film funding. I was disappointed to see that we ranked very low. We finally got some money from two regional councils, but the film was mainly made possible thanks to the help we got from friends and our community.

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