Brazilian director Tata Amaral‘s “Antonia” is the story of four young Brazilian women, Preta, Barbarah, Mayah and Lena, old-time friends who live in a poor neighborhood of São Paulo and decide to have their own hip-hop group, having to deal with the violence near their homes and the machismo of the musical business. But the women convince the men in charge to let them perform and their music drives the crowd wild. But what chance do they stand against poverty, sexism and the everyday danger of life in the favela? The film opens Friday in New York, Los Angeles and Newark followed by additional cities on October 5.
Please introduce yourself…
I come from Sao Paulo, the biggest city in South America. This city that I love is always a character in my films. I am 46 years old and “Antonia” is the third film in a trilogy I started with “Um Ceu de Estrelas.”
What attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
I used to be a cinephile. Since I was a child I loved to see films. When I was 18 years old I had to choose a career. My choice was to do the thing I liked the most. I knew that that choice would guide me all my life. Turning feelings, sensations, and stories into images and sound was the one thing I liked the most.
Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?
I am always interested in finding a way to film emotions. When I choose a story I am also choosing an emotion. Now I would like to explore action films (or films with action sequences), I like to shoot fight sequences and I like to shoot love sequences. My first film, “Um Ceu de Estrelas,” was elected by the Brazilian critics “one of the three best films from the ’90s” and had a sex sequence that was elected one of the best among Brazilian films.
How did the idea for “Antonia” come about?
The idea for this film came from four basics elements: since my first feature, I was involved in shooting a trilogy about the three main phases in the life of a woman: birth, maturity, and death. It was a kind of personal challenge. These three phases represent the cycle of life that repeats endlessly. My first film was about a woman in the mature age, the second was about an old woman and death, and the third, Antonia, about the birth, the youth, the moment when a woman is awaking to life.
The second element was that I would like to do an homage to my father and his family, a family of storytellers. So I knew from the beginning that this film would be called “Antonia” because of my great grandfather. Third, I want to tell my story: when I was 18 years old, my husband died and my daughter was three mounths old. I had to take care of her, alone. Besides that, I decided to make movies–it was my dream–and making movies at that time, in Brazil, was not a profession. I would like to tell a story about “dreams that come true.”
The fourth element came when I made a documentary in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, called “Vinte Dez” and I met the hip hop crowd: I noticed that these guys were involved in reconstructing their own image of poor, black guys in the outskirts which was always associated with marginality, poverty, and crime. At that moment I decided that “Antonia” would be about rappers.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film, including your influences…
As I told you, I have been a cinephile for years, so I have had many influences: from Jean-Luc Godard to Steven Spielberg, from Wim Wenders to Coppola to Martin Scorsese. I like to see how a filmmaker conveys emotions in this language. How does he or she tells stories, express feelings withing the movie frame. How much can he or she say or express along the sequences. And I like to see films that are made with body and soul. In my films, I always want to find what can I say about a subject, in an emotional way. There is always the question: “How to express it?” and “How to share it?”
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
When I decided to do “Antonia” with rappers and not with professional actors I knew that I had to teach the rappers how to act. I also knew that I would like to make a fiction film like if it was a documentary because I would like to give a sensation of “urgency.” So I had to create a strategy of shooting to make it happen. When the film was almost ready, I realized that I would like many people to see it. In Brazil, movie tickets are very expensive so the poor people, the people that were in the film, cannot really go to the
cinema. That’s why I accepted to sell the rights to TV Globo. Because they would bring “Antonia” to a big audience. And millions people saw it on TV, it was an enormous success.
How did the financing and casting for the film come together?
I spent three years to raise the money for the film. Here in Brazil we have state programs to finance films. It comes from different sources and we need time to get all the money we need. While the money was being raised, I allowed the project to mature: I interviewed many women rappers from the outskirts. When I got the money to shoot I asked Roberto Moreira to help me in the screenplay. He saw all that material about the girls I interviewed and suggested that “Antonia” should not be one character but a group. I started the casting. I interviewed almost 600 people. I chose about 80 to make dramatic tests with myself and a coach, Sergio Penna. I chose about 30 girls to do a workshop and then I was able to choose the final cast of the film. I was looking for rappers that could do dramatic improvisations, that could write songs and sing.
Who are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest impact on you?
“Rio, 40 graus” from Nelson Pereira dos Santos. I saw this film when I was 16 years old and the fact that it was a Brazilian neo- realist film, the fact that it was a Brazilian story that was told in a Brazilian way made me think about making films in my country, with our stories, our actors, in our cities. I can say that this film was the most important influence in my career.
What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker, and what is your next project?
I would like to make action films. I love fight sequences. I am a kung-fu trainee. I also love romance and sex scenes. My next project doesn’t have any of these elements but it is a “huis-clos” film. Because I also love to work “intimism” as you can see in my previous films. This is the film that I am planning to shoot in April, 2008: Today Vera buys an apartment with the money earned from a reparation fund from the Brazilian government for the dissapearence of her husband, Ercilio, during the military dictatorship. The day she is to move, Ercilio comes back to haunt her. Lucia makes an appointment to meet her uncle, Alfonso, in front of a bar in the middle of the trajectory of the Gay Parade (Sao Paulo has one of the largest Gay Parades in the world). She forces her uncle to recognize his homosexuality through the memory of an affair he had when younger. Two stories that intertwine, bringing back ghosts from the past.
What are your interests outside of film?
Theater dramaturgie, kung-fu, music, cooking, gardening. In a personal level, I love being with my family.
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
Keep making films with your soul.
Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of…
Staying independent whatever I do. Working inside and outside industry without having prejudice towards any medium.