Luciano Moura is a Brazilian film director, based in Rio de Janeiro. He has worked on many Brazilian TV shows and commercials, and his short film, The Residents of Humboldt Street did the rounds of film festivals around the world and won many awards. His debut movie, Father’s Chair, produced by Oscar-nominated director of City of God, Fernando Meirelles and stars Brazil’s biggest star, Wagner Moura, who is slated to play the villain opposite Matt Damon in Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium.
Father’s Chair premiered internationally at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and in India at the Mumbai Film Festival. It’s the story of a man, who has a difficult relationship with his family, going on the road to look for his missing son. In his interview, Luciano talks about the tricky relationships between fathers and sons, working with Fernando Meirelles and Wagner Moura, and the challenges the Brazilian film industry faces.
Your movie revolves around the relationship between a father and a son. Did the story come out of your relationship with your father or your son?
Luciano Moura (LM): (Laughs) It came from my relationship with my son. When you see the movie and if you have a son, you’d understand what I’m talking about (laughs). I mean, like all fathers, I’m very afraid of letting my son go and live his own life. I want to be there for him forever and it’s really hard to avoid the fact that he’s growing up. It’s a difficult situation, but I have to deal with it. In general, we try very hard to avoid certain moments in life and try to put them off for as long as possible. We try to control our life but life doesn’t work like that (chuckles). The movie was my way of exploring this relationship.
In the movie, Wagner’s character, Theo, has put his career before everything else. His family and his relationship with his son are falling apart, and he reacts very badly to these problems, and tries to control them. And one day, his son goes missing. Then, he has no choice but to deal with this. So he goes on the road to find his son, but he discovers another boy in place of his son – the son he never knew he had. At the same time, he also starts discovering himself, and realises that we can’t change life the way we want to... we have to change ourselves instead.
What’s your relationship with your son like, and how has it made its way into the movie?
LM: (Chuckles) My son is about 15 years old now, but when I started to write this story, he was about 10. I didn’t know this feeling so well at the time but I was still afraid of it. That’s because I think relationships are important everywhere in the world but the first two relationships you ever have as a child - with your father and your mother – they define you as a person. Those relationships change your life and are the most wonderful and important relationships, but also the hardest to let go off.
I mean, personally, even after he’s grown up, I don’t have a bad relationship with my son, but it’s always difficult to understand how to go about it. You have to deal with a lot of responsibility as you grow up and raise children, as you try and understand what’s the right way to go about things, what are the wrong ways to avoid. And the thing is, nothing works (laughs). Things always keep changing and you just have to go along with them and discover on your own how to go about them. You just have to (laughs) pray, and hope that you are pointing your children towards a good way but the fact is, you can’t ever be sure what the good way is (chuckles)! This is how I feel about raising my son and I made the movie to talk about this.
What did your son think of the movie?
LM: He was fine with it (laughs). He liked it because he knows that it was based on him, or at least inspired by him, because in his case, he thankfully didn’t run away (chuckles). So I think he’s kind of proud of his father at the moment.
You’ve made a documentary before, and you’ve also directed many commercials. Was a feature film a natural transition?
LM: Yes, in fact, I always wanted to do a feature film. And after my short film, The Residents of Humboldt Street, travelled the world and won awards, I thought of getting into features. But Brazil was hit by a huge financial crisis at the time, and I had to postpone my plans. When I finally started making my movie, all my experience came in handy. The good thing about shooting a commercial is that you only shoot two times a week or six-seven times a month, so you have to prepare a lot for the shoot. You have to know the equipment, know the actor and know how to direct a set. Because there’s a sense of urgency, you become very fast. That’s helped me in making a movie.
The biggest difference in the two mediums is.. (chuckles) there’s a lot more people. They are many more people and big sets and lots more work. I mean, we had only six weeks of shooting and we had to cover 38 locations. To do that in that much time, and still telling the story in exactly the way you have planned it, you need to have done most of the planning before the shoot. And on the shoot, you just shoot objectively. You cannot have doubts when you are on the set. So preparation helps in shooting precisely what you want and also in cutting costs.
When you were writing did you have Wagner Moura in mind? Were you worried if Brazil’s biggest movie star would work with a debutante director?
Yes, of course. He has the same look and age as my character and he’s also, obviously, a very, very good actor. So he was always my first choice, although yes, I had my doubts if he would accept the role since he’s such a big star in Brazil. But you know what’s the best thing about him? I sent the script to him through a common friend and after he read it, he rang me and said he loved my film and he wanted to do it! He didn’t behave like a star and go through an agent to get to me. And then of course, he really did do the film, because he loves honest stories. He portrayed the character in a very honest and powerful way too – he gave me many different levels to play with. We rehearsed a lot and discovered the character together. It was incredible to work with him since he really made the character bigger than I could imagine.
What was the contribution of your producer Fernando Meirelles, the director of Oscar-nominated movies City of God and The Constant Gardener?
LM: I’ve worked with Fernando’s production company, O2 Films, as a director on the HBO show, Sons of Carnival. I’ve also directed an episode of another show, Antonio, for them. I’ve worked with him for nine years now. And so, since the very beginning, when I wrote my first draft, I hoped that he would produce my movie. I went to him with the script for that and also because I wanted his opinion on the script as a director. And Fernando was very, very helpful. Not only did he produce my film but he also helped me sift through everything I had written and help find the core of the story, but in a very gentle way. He’s a gentleman that way, but he’s also a very clever producer, I have to say. One of the moments I was very happy and glad was when I showed my first cut to him. He really liked the film and that was a huge compliment to me because he’s one of the greatest directors from Brazil.
There are far more Brazilian movies making it to film festivals over the world, than ever before. Do you think Brazilian cinema is coming of age?
LM: You know the Brazilian industry is like a wave – we have a big wave sometimes and a very small wave at other times (chuckles). It’s an inconsistent industry. But now, from the last four years, we have more Brazilian films and have started to do better. Some films like Elite Squad 1 and 2, which starred Wagner, got through to 12 million people in Brazil, which is a record. But we’ve been making many comedies for quite some time. It’s because HBO Brazil, which is the biggest TV channel here and has a lot of big budgets and deals with actors very professionally, is making a lot of comedies which get watched a lot, and because of that, movies have followed the trend too.
On the one hand, it’s a good thing because it makes the audience like Brazilian films and come to the theatres, since we don’t have much of a movie watching tradition. But on the other hand, the movies are rubbish! They are all of the same style, one silly comedy after another. So the big challenge now is to get the audience to come to the theatres and watch other kinds of films. Yes, the industry’s surely doing better than before – you can actually call it an industry now – but the box office gives us no money. The films are mostly funded by the government, but hopefully as more and more movies become hits, we’ll get a lot more financing into the industry.
What’s next for you? Do you plan to continue doing films in Brazil or are you Hollywood bound?
LM: I do have an American project in the development stages. It’s based on a book, 'The Boy Who Fell Out Of The Sky'. We are still trying to flesh it out so I’m not sure when it’s going to happen. But I do have scripts that I’m trying to make in Brazil also. Another thing that I’m looking to do is Brazilian TV since it’s really getting stronger every year, and has much more funding and better production values than before.
If I do go to America, I don’t want to go there just to do a regular film and make a film to make a film, because then my movie will also look like a copy of any other American film. If I direct a film there it would have to be to my liking and my style. And (chuckles) that’s always difficult. But Hollywood can wait... I have a lot of great options to do something more serious in Brazil too.
Nikhil Taneja is doing a series of interviews with directors whose films featured at the 2012 Mumbai Film Festival. Coming up next is as a conversation with Sundance Winner, Mads Matthiesen, director of Danish film, Teddy Bear.