A Conversation with 2015 Academy-Award Nominee Daniel Ribiero


November 18, 2014 | BY Hong Kong Tatler

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” I recently met with Brazilian film director Daniel Ribeiro, who is a living example of this quote. The 32-year-old is not just another director; his film The Way He Looks has just been nominated for the 2015 Academy Award’s Best Foreign Film. The story speaks on a universal subject of love, but the protagonist is a teenager who is blind and a homosexual. The film was interesting but what impressed me was how Daniel has 'prepared' for his rise to the top, of course with a little luck on his side. The movie has taken him from South America, Europe, Asia, and North America, yet he managed some time to sit down and discuss his latest project with me.

Joanne Chan: Did you do a lot of research before embarking on a movie in regards to a blind teenager?
Daniel Ribiero: I basically imagined everything. I did some basic research at Institutes for blind people to support what I have imagined and to check for information. I also went to the braille library for two days and learned how blind people are being guided to walk. I would not say though that I have done a huge amount of research on being blind. What I wanted to express through the film is a universal message: that we are all the same. It is not a story about being blind. It is about a person’s coming of age, and wanting his own independence and the feeling of his first kiss. 

JC: How long did it take you to produce the movie?
DR: From when the script was written, it took me four years to get the funding, and two years to update the script. I was working on and off on the film. From making the film to the premier of the movie, it took 14 months. It was fast. I need to plan everything very precisely and to work very diligently in order to keep it within the budget.

JC: How did you fund your movie?
DR: In recent years, the government has created new mechanisms for funding to go into the arts and films. Revenue from profit making television stations and films go into a pool of funding, and taxpayers can pay a percentage of their tax directly to the movies. For example, in 2013, the Brazilian government has injected USD$500million into the arts and film. Funnily, there is more money to make movies than the demand for them.

JC: How did your movie get so big resulting in a nomination for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Film category?
DR: My partner and I studied the film industry and how a movie can get onto the international stage. After I wrote the script, my partner and I applied for the government funding and produced the story into a short film. We felt that the story and the film had an edge and is competitive. We knew that we did not have the international connection and decided to send the script to a few international film sales agencies and started a relationship. We hit it off with a German agency who marketed and distributed our film and entered it into competitions. Luckily, our film got two awards from the Berlin International Film Festival therefore we got to travel everywhere with it. From there, we decided to turn it into a full-length film. At that time I was editing TV shows. Again, we applied for government funding, and with the money, I was able to stop working my full-time job that pays the bills and concentrate on producing the film. We had a plan but it was not a sudden success either, it took us eight years to get to where we are. But we still consider ourselves very lucky and luck is something you cannot plan. 

JC: Why are you interested in movies?
DR: I am interested in telling people about homosexuality, that homosexuals are regular people. I want to create my own version of what homosexuality is all about. The way I portray them allows the movie and the subject to reach a larger audience and especially for people who do not know anyone who is gay. I also think that films are very important to culture; it reflects and is the face of a country and culture. Some people argue that money for the arts should go into medical and education. But I feel that there should be a balance and government funding should be allocated to all aspects of society.

JC: What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
DR: I think people should choose their story carefully. They should be passionate about films and the subject matter. Producing a movie especially when you are starting out is a long journey. You will be spending a lot of time working on it, dealing with the subject matter, and being challenged and criticised along the way, as such you would have to defend your own movie. That would also give you a bigger chance in acquiring funding. 


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