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January 5, 2007 1:30 AM
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PARK CITY '07 INTERVIEW | Heitor Dhalia: "I have always loved independent films that treated serious

A scene from Heitor Dhalia's "Drained," which is screening in the World Cinema: Dramatic section of the upcoming Sundance Film Festival. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute.

[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance '07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]

Brazilian director Heitor Dhalia's fourth directorial effort, "Drained" is described by Sundance as a "delightfully simple narrative that overflows with metaphors that maintain a singular sense of dark humor." Lourenco (Selton Mello) works in a pawn shop capitalizing on the misfortunes of others and conducting perverse power games. But when the perfect ass and a backed-up toilet grab his full attention, he loses control. Dhalia received a Russian Film Critics special mention for his previous effort, "Nina" at the Moscow International Film Festival in 2004. "Drained" (O Cheiro do Ralo) will screen at Sundance in Portuguese with English subtitles in the World Cinema: Dramatic section.

Please tell us about yourself...

My name is Heitor Dhalia, I'm 36 years old and I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I grew up in Recife in the northeast of the country and I moved to Sao Paulo , Latin-America's largest city, thirteen years ago. I work primarily as a director and as a scriptwriter as well.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker? What other creative outlets do you explore?

My creative process was always connected to writing and storytelling. I was always in love with cinema, and I directed my first home-made short-film when I was eighteen. After that I began working as a scriptwriter. From that I realized that the natural way to go was to become a director.

Did you go to film school? How did you finance your own film?

I never went to film-school, I learned the trade by being on film sets and watching other people do it. I start working as a scriptwriter, after that I worked as an assistant director, and then started to direct. Nonentheless when I decided to shoot my first feature I realized I knew very little about the job... I learned most of my skills as a director preparing to do "Nina." I always had a lot of fun preparing for a shoot, and I'm very connected to this sort of creative process. Having to shoot "Nina" with such a constrained expressionist look made me learn how to bring an overall aesthetic unity to a film.

About financing, that's a question I myself am still trying to answer. "Drained" went through a very unorthodox process of financing. The script was very hard to comprehend while it was still in its paper format, most people found it simply disgusting or impossible to make. For that reason, I could not find any company who would be willing to put money in it. I got together with some producers I really trusted and we all decided to invest some money, about US$150,000 to put the film on the can. I also gained support from the crew, most of which didn't earn a penny and became associate producers. It was a complete madness, but it worked. Once the film was shot and edited, people understood what it was about, and it was instantly well-received.

Please discuss the film itself and how the initial idea for "Drained" came about...

"Drained" director Heitor Dhalia. Image courtesy of Sundance Institute.

"Drained" is based on a book, which told a very fun, dramatic story of a man that fell in love with a woman's ass... As you can see, the book was totally politically-incorrect, and that's what attracted me to it. The main character is a pawnbroker who buys used stuff from various people, and has a nefarious pleasure playing mind games with his customers. And, on top of that, there's a fetid smell that comes out of this bathroom which keeps annoying him. All very tasty... It's a dark humorous tale about solitude and the search of something every human being needs--affection.

The book was introduced to me by my friend, the scriptwriter Marcal Aquino, who told me as he gave it to me [so it] would become my next film. When I heard the title I fell in love with it, and realized he was right.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film, including your influences as well as your overall goals for the project.

I was very influenced by the indepent filmmakers I admire, most of them coming from US: Coen Brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Todd Solondz, Miranda July and the great Tarantino. They inspired me on [my] choice of story, which I thought was fit for an "independent-style" film. I have always loved independent films that treated serious themes with a touch of humour and irony. I wanted to make a film just like that.

How did the casting for the film come together?

Our luck was that our main actor, Selton Mello, who is a very well-known actor in Brazil, fell in love with the book shortly after I decided to shoot it. He called me numerous times insisting that he should play the role of Lourenco... How could I say "no" to that? Selton brought a lightness to an otherwise hated character, which was a key element for the success of the film.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?

When I started to try to make "Drained," I could count with one hand the people who believed in the project. It was very hard to cope with that, people always doubting I would be able to make it. When the project actually hapenned it was almost a cliche--the ugly duckling becoming a beautiful swan and everyone wanted to hop in. The film was a hit, won several awards in Brazilian festivals and got a strong response from audiences and the critics.

What do you hope to get out of the festival, and what are your own goals for the experience?

I expect "Drained" to able to communicate with an American audience. I'm absolutely estactic to be screening my film in a festival whose past films influenced me to make "Drained." I would also love to be able to shoot something in US sometime in the future, and being in Sundance, I hope, will help me to achieve that.

Tell us about the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance, where were you, and how did you react?

I was at a restaurant, and when I first heard the news from my producer Matias I did not react to it. [I] just said "OK, great." Only after a few minutes, my bell rang, and I though "Fuck, I'm in Sundance!" I could not restrain myself.

What is your definition of "independent film?"

Two things: low-budget and creative scripts.

What are some of your favorite films, and what is your top ten list for 2006?

[Favorite] films of All-Time:

"Raging Bull," "Seven Samurais," "Clockwork Orange," "Chinatown," "The Godfather," "Rocco and His Brothers," "Breathless," and in Brazil, "City of God."

[Favorite] films of 2006 (some films were released in Brazil in 2006):

"Volver," Pedro Almodovar
"Me, You and Everyone We Know," Miranda July
"A Prairie Home Companion," Robert Altman
"5x2," Francois Ozon
"Grbavica," Jasmila Zbanic
"Crash," Paul Haggis
"Match Point," Woody Allen
"Wayward Cloud," Tsai Ming Liang
"Good Night and Good Luck," George Clooney
"La Nina Santa," Lucrecia Martel

What are one or two of your New Years resolutions?

My first resolution would be to shoot a film next year. And second, to shoot a film next year.

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