In 2002, Fernando Meirelles‘ “City of God” became a $7.5 million foreign-language hit in North America, managing a bunch of Oscar nods with it, including best director. Six years later, longtime Meirelles collaborator Paulo Morelli is releasing a companion piece to that film, “City of Men.” Largely based on characters and some storylines developed in television series loosely spawned from “God,” “Men” largely uses the same cast as the series, which ran four seasons on Brazil’s TV Globo (and was released on DVD in the U.S. in fall 2006). But apart from the setting, “Men” has no actual plot connections to “God,” as Morelli’s film follows the friendship of two favela teenagers. indieWIRE talked to Morelli about the film, which is being released in 77 locations across North America this Friday.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
When I was a child, I used to sit in my grandpa’s lap every evening, and he would tell me stories – sometimes he would read a book, other times he would describe what Russia was like before the revolution. And I was visualizing all of it… I believe that it was there, in his lap, that I learned to love stories, and developed the skills to imagine scenes in my head. Maybe this was (unconsciously) where my love for cinema began. When I was 12, my father, a lawyer, received an 8mm camera as a payment. My first camera! The whole world opened up before my eyes. Then later I went to college to study architecture, and I met friends that loved cinema as much as I did. Today, this love continues to grow.
Please discuss how the idea for “City of Men” came about.
After the series’ (“City of Men”) second season, we became aware of a very important issue, which was the lack of fathers in the favelas. We realized that when these children grow up without a father, they project fatherhood onto the most powerful person in the favela, the one who has money, girls, gold chains and famous brand sneakers – in other words, the drug dealer. So we decided to make a film about how the lack of fathers affects these communities.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
In order to make a film about this issue, I felt it was important to focus in on the friendship between two young men who were on the verge of becoming men. One is searching for his father, and the other has a young son. The decisions they make at this pivotal moment in life embodied the larger community issue of fathers in the favelas.
How did the financing and casting for the film come together?
The cast was already formed during the TV series, and the film was financed using a Brazilian law called “Audiovisual Law“. Through this government law we made a deal with Fox Film and TV Globo, our co-producers.
Who or what are some of the creative influences that have had the biggest impact on you?
I believe there were three major influences for me. First, the Russian silent filmmakers Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Dziga Vertov. Then, Italian movies from the 60’s and 70’s directed by Fellini, Scola, Antonioni, Bertulocci, Pasolini, Visconti, and De Sica. Finally, British/American cinema from John Ford, Billy Wilder and Hitchcock to Woody Allen, Scorcese, Stephen Frears and Stanley Kubrick.
What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker? What is your next project?
I am working on seven new screenplays. Some of them I would like to direct, and the others I will produce. These 7 stories range from comedy to social drama and political drama, and have a common theme, which is the legacy of Brazil through its cultural heritage.
What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?
The first company Fernando and I founded in 1981, Electronic Eye (Olhar Eletronico), was the first independent production company in Brazil. We were young guys with no family or kids, and in way we were free to create whatever we could imagine…and we did. For some years we made irreverent TV programs.
Then, we had kids, and we needed to make money… so, we went into advertising. But we never lost our ambition to make feature films. In the late 90’s, finally we started making short films, and then feature ones.
During all this time we felt absolutely free to make the films we wanted to make. We felt we were – and still are – independent.
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
Follow your dreams.
Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of.
During the time we did a TV series, I made dozens of philosophical interviews with regular people in the streets. My award-winning short film, “Tombstone (Lapide)”. – My first feature film, “The Price of Peace,” a period drama set up in the 19th century. My second film, “Speaker Phone (Viva Voz),” an urban comedy. Most of all, “City of Men.” The screenplays I’m working on now.