Augusto Canani found himself submerged in a plight as familiar to independent moviemakers as any other. “Is the risk of losing it all really worth the reward?”
Canani decided that it was. He left his position with an ad agency, a job that paid the bills but ignored the soul, and moved forward with his dream of becoming a moviemaker. Nearly 10 years later, his short film, The Bizarre Friends of Ricardinho, made its debut at the New Directors/New Films Festival at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City earlier this month.
Canani joins the likes of Spike Lee, Pedro Almodóvar and Steven Spielberg as directors who have had their films selected for the fest.
The Bizarre Friends of Ricardinho was one of only 11 short films selected from around the world, and the only one of the 11 from Brazil. The film’s merit stems from its unique blend of art and nonfiction, telling the story of Ricardo Lilja’s new job under the command of an old foe of his father—Ricardo playing himself in a story that illuminates the facts with a mixture poetry and surrealism.
Canani spoke with MM about the film, the future of his career and the insecurities that come with pursuing new endeavors in an age-old dream.
Michael Walsh (MM): When did you first become familiar with Ricardo Lilja’s story and what made you think it would make for an interesting film?
Augusto Canani (AC): I began working for an advertising agency (almost 10 years ago) when I received an e-mail with a list of names entitled: The Bizarre Friends of Ricardinho. I almost deleted it because I thought it was spam, but when I took a better look at it, I was really surprised. It was a very funny list of names that described at the same time real and surreal life stories of friends and relatives of a guy called Ricardinho, whom I had never heard about, who lived in a small southern town in Brazil called Viamão. The list was supposed to be comical (and in fact it was quite comical), but at the same time it was quite melancholic. I saw the humor, but also saw a good dose of sadness surrounding that list. It was something that encapsulated the spirit of the city Viamão: A decaying city with a comic soul and a certain tragic beauty. At the same time that I read the list, I thought it could be a movie and somehow it became fixated in my head. Many years later, Ricardo was working in the same agency that I was working at as a creative. That was when I discovered that the story of his life was extremely interesting as were his bizarre friends. From that moment on, it was a natural consequence that it would become a movie.
MM: Was Ricardo always willing to have his life dissected for the sake of cinema or did that ever take some coaxing on your part?
AC: Let’s say he was slightly “induced.” At first when I told him the idea of making a movie about himself and his friends he did not really understand. He said: “A movie?! Cinema? But my life is so ordinary to base a movie on.” It took a lot of coaxing to get him accustomed with the idea. One thing that Ricardo always knew was how to laugh at his proper self; it is one of his great qualities. His interest in telling his own story grew day by day and more situations of his life emerged as I began to write the script and show him how it was developing. In the end, the willingness of Ricardo culminated when he agreed to play the role of himself and than we had another surprise: His father offered to play his role in the film.
MM: How did you come up with the concept of blending the true story of Ricardo’s life with the art, poetry and surrealism that distinguishes your film from more traditional forms of storytelling?
AC: There exists a good mix of humor and sadness in Ricardo’s anonymous life. This mixture was also very present in his friends’ surreal stories. It occurs naturally. The proper city of Viamão—the birthplace of Ricardinho—is a city that flirts with sadness and a certain comedic surrealism. Perhaps the comedic melancholy of the story exists a little in me, however this quality in the film is intrinsic to Ricardinho, his city and the stories of his friends who, believe it or not, are real. For example, the extremely short tale of the Turtle Nana: One day she ran away from home and returned a year later. It is a very short, absurd tale, with a dose of sadness. And what’s better: It is real. This union of “joyful sorrow” was the major motivation to do the project and write the screenplay (it also helps when you’re listening to Elliott Smith in looping).
MM: How rewarding is the film’s selection for the New Directors/New Films Festival for you considering you left your career with an ad agency to do this?
AC: It’s a great reward. It is a sign that there exists a light at the end of the tunnel and perhaps one day it might be possible to live and support a family with filmmaking. When you leave the financial stability of a steady job to try to realize a dream the risks are quite high most of the time. Insecurity is constant. Being in a festival that helped to launch some of the great masters of cinema is not only a huge honor but a very important step and gives me immense satisfaction knowing that it was worth all the effort up until now.
MM: What image of Brazil do you hope your film portrays and how do you think that imagery will be different from other films depicting life in Brazil?
AC: The south of Brazil is quite different from the center and the north of the country. It is much more melancholic. There is less violence, but much more loneliness. You do not hear a lot of samba and the people are not as cheerful. The colors are less vibrant than in the north. I suppose this wasn’t the moment for us to show some of the plastic exuberance and extreme beauty of our country; we will leave that for another time. We will have to be content with the city of Viamão.
MM: What’s next for you and your career?
AC: In the short-term I am currently in pre-production on my third short film which, more than being a short, is a creative study for my first feature which is in the final script phase. I am extremely excited about the films and will begin shooting the short in June 2010.