“California” will premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival on April 16.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
MP: “California” is about a girl named Estela who lives in Brazil in the mid 80s. Estela goes through the troubled phase of adolescence. Sex, love, friendships — everything looks too complicated. Her personal refuge is her uncle Carlos and the trip to California, where he lives, is her biggest dream. But everything falls apart when he comes back weak and ill. Between crisis and discoveries, Estela has to face a reality that will definitely change her way of seeing the world.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
MP: My own memories of adolescence. I wanted to make a film about my generation, how we had our first love and sexual experiences when AIDS was discovered. We also had a special political moment in Brazil with the end of 20 years of military dictatorship. But the film is not about politics or AIDS: It is essentially about a girl becoming a woman. I wanted to explore this bit of time between a girl’s first period and her first sexual experience.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
MP: I wish people to be touched by the film and think, “I identify with that girl, or that boy. This is not my story, but at the same time it feels so familiar.”
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
MP: The soundtrack! I had to clear 15 songs altogether and most of them were international. Songs by The Cure, David Bowie, New Order, Joy Division, Cocteau Twins, Siouxsie and The Banshees. Some of them were very hard to get, especially “Killing an Arab” by The Cure and “Five Years” by David Bowie.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
MP: In Brazil, most of the films are funded either through direct state financing or tax refunds to investors. This was the case for “California.” We were financed, mostly, from BNDES (a federal development bank) and SABESP (State of Sao Paulo’s water company).
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
MP: The best advice I got from my producer. He said, “Don’t try to make a film that will fit other people’s agendas; make a film you would like to watch, a film you will be proud of.”
Worst advice: “You can trust the weather forecast!”
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
MP: Remember this is a man’s world, so if anybody tells you your film or story or subject matter don’t matter, be suspicious.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
MP: I love the films by Sofia Coppola, Chantal Akerman and Agnès Varda. I also admire Kathryn Bigelow and Nora Ephron, but to name only one, I’ll go for my affective memory: “Big” by Penny Marshall. This is a film that I love and it was the first time I realized there were women directing fiction mainstream movies. Up until then I thought women directed only documentaries or arthouse films.