EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of several interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.
“Only When I Dance”
(World Documentary Feature Competition)
Director: Beadie Finzi
Synopsis: Tears stream down young Isabela’s innocent face as the slender, gazelle-like girl is told she needs to slim down even more if she wants to turn her passion into her career. Like Isabela, Irlan’s strictly regimented days leave him no time to be an average teenager. Isabela and Irlan are ballet dancers. And though they have the talent, they don’t look like all the others. Ballet has long been the rarified and elitist domain of the white upper class, but these two black high schoolers from Rio de Janeiro’s working-class favelas are determined to succeed in this physically and emotionally demanding discipline. Director Beadie Finzi’s inspiring documentary trails the dancers and their tough-love mentor from Brazil to New York on one critical, competition-fueled year in their lives. [Synopsis courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival]
Please introduce yourself.
Hello, my name is Beadie Finzi. I’m a documentary filmmaker based in London. I am also the director of a film foundation, the Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation who fund docs and support documentary filmmakers. I live very happily indeed surrounded in a sea of films and filmmakers, of both my own and others documentary film projects!
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
My careers adviser took one look at me and (kindly) suggested I wouldn’t cut it as a management consultant – which is what I was thinking about in my second year. She suggested I try a spell in local radio. I loved it and headed straight into docs as soon as I left college and have been happily working in the genre ever since.
What prompted the idea for your film and what excited you to make you undertake it?
I was approached by producer Giorgia Lo Savio about four years ago – she really wanted to make a dance documentary in Brazil. She’d knew I was interested in dance and had just completed working on Unknown White Male. We talked long and hard about what a narrative would need to contain to sustain a long form film. But then spent the next three years trying to find the right characters. Giorgia would send me sample tapes of kids from different social projects. When I finally saw Irlan and Isabella, I knew they were the ones.
I had made some dance films before, so I knew what I was looking at in terms of the talent. And the kids were both so charismatic, so charming. It all came together with the right characters at the right stage of their careers. Once we had those kids in front of us – it was just a matter of how quickly can you get me out to Brazil with a camera. So there was a lot of preperation and pre-planning involved but and then we had the whole movie shot in around 10 months.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film.
I already have an ideal narrative arc in mind when I start shooting, of what the key beats in the story should be, where the dramatic tension will rise and fall in the timeline. I then go about getting the key building blocks of the story secured on camera while waiting for narrative events to escalate.
This sounds very deliberate but then the deal with documentaries is you must be both patient and persitant. To develop your relationships with your protagonists so they are ready and willing to give you the strongest and most intimate material. But also be very flexible and keep calm if events do not fall as you imagined.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Having to start shooting when we had no production finance in place. That was, and always is very tough. Right from the get go you are having to make comprimises about the film just to get material in the bag. That means snatching at shooting rather than taking your time. Not using the best equipment, working with a very small team. Its the same for everyone.
How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
Success is usually defined in our world of documentary as a succession of festival appearances and perhaps some prizes, getting your film on the premiere TV station in a territory, perhaps a fig leaf theatrical release.
This is all good and true but I have to confess for me, the most meaningful moments for me always come on location. You’re are in the field. You’ve just bagged an incredible moment on camera. Perhaps a character has just confided in you, has recounted an extraordinary story. Goose bumps came up on your skin as they talked. You know that footage is like gold, that it will connect and move people. That is what it is all about for me. Its why I keep going back.
What are your future projects?
I have promised the kids not to start filming again this year as I have been away a bit too much. So I am going to quietly do some development and be ready and rearing to get back in the saddle in 2010.