Pedro Costa: the trembling moment

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So you're also helping them to maintain history/myth through coming generations as well, for their story to remain.
It's not easy. It's work. It needs time. It needs patience. A lot of headaches. But you've seen Tarrafal. We didn't know what to do with this 15 minute film. And suddenly, there was this idea of doing something about very simple problems, a problem about this guy being expelled from Portugal, which is happening in Europe. I don't know if it's happening here. You want to get rid of, perhaps Koreans or Chinese. But in Europe, it is the Africans and Ukrainians. Like, enough of them and gangsters. So I have this young guy who came to the association who got this letter from the foreign office saying you have 20 days to pack. He was completely in panic, and I said, let's make something around this. He said, I don't know if I have the head to that, the mindset to make a film, when I'm so worried, and let's try to do it. And the first idea we had was, let's try to make it in 15 minutes, what can I do, could I go around? It's a beautiful idea. I could go around the neighborhood like it was my last day, saying goodbye to my friends and family. I think it was a marvelous idea. 15 minutes. It would be a very nice long film. Let's just make something shorter. Let's say goodbye to your mother, because his mother is a part of his life. So we sat his mother down, and himself, and they started talking and we sat there for a week, everyday, and on the third day, they got to something, the mother thought about the story, you see again folktales and mythology, the story she remembered from her childhood, the devil had his way of passing an evil message. The devil appeared in the village and passed this message. You had to pass the message to somebody else unless otherwise you die. It is common. It probably exists here in another form. So, but what was wonderful was that she connected this evil message to this letter, and that didn't come from me. It was a simple association. It was an evil letter from the foreign office. The evil message. So there it is, a folktale mixing with a very concrete political social problem, made in a very simple way, as this guy saying goodbye to her mother. And that's what we did and I thought it was wonderful. You're talking about today, what is something important and at the same time, you're going back to everything that composes her, their culture. So again, it is really rewarding and it's a collective work where the idea associated, sometimes very nicely associated, actually, can become very solid. Very solid. A small 15 minute film can be very solid for me. And it has everything a film should have. Very human, it's very important in some way, it's very serious, there's something very serious, and especially they say what must be said. I'm not putting words in their mouth and I'm imagining things. I'm just there to guide them. Don't go too far that way, or don't go there lest we lose ourselves. I'm just an outsider. I'm just a spectator. But more than a director. I'm the first audience they have. I'm just there to say, yes, I think it will be nicer that way. Of course, I can be wrong but I still have that power.
And then the artistic point of view of your camera positions? What choices do you make with your camera positions?
It's not very instinctive. Now it comes with time, comes with... It takes a long time to find a position. It takes time to find the right words. I'm always saying this because it depends, my films depend again on them, human beings, human beings in space, it's not like composing a beautiful frame. It's important to be balanced. If it's beautiful, great. It's important to have some balance, but a long time to achieve. When we start the scene, it is just two guys on the pavement, I move around a little bit. I have 1, 2, 3 weeks to find my place. It can be just moving 3 inches. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is a bit far from what it is supposed to be. Here to here, and I didn't see it before. But I have to see it. He's doing something and the other guy will be acting some other way, so probably I will go like this, but here to here, it takes me one month.

When you look back on it, what do you think you were looking for, although the positions may be vary. What, all in all, were you looking for?
Why do you ask me this questions? (laugh) I'm not Chaplin. (sigh) I don't know. The truth? It's very difficult. Ask him. There's no best way in the world to see something. The only place, the only point in space you can see something, no, when you feel that all your force is inside the frame, it really comes together, you have the microsecond, you think, you have the same place.
I also tend to choose, to find, I would like to think that I am finding a place where fragility is something very important. Because I am working a lot in fixed shots. I'm not moving the camera a lot, because we don't have a lot of means. Sometimes I can do some small movements but otherwise I like to keep it simple. This idea that the shot is fixed and it doesn't move, I really don't think it exists. When you think of the films of Ozu, for me, is the biggest. Ozu for me is the guy who trembles a lot. Not only film people are trembling but Ryu Chishu or the girls are trembling. They just do this, and the whole film trembles. That's just my thing, so it moves, it's not fixed, it moves, so there's this really fragile place where your trembling eyes meet. And that frames your frame and it should be fragile, should be human. All the greatest filmmakers and photographers and painters tremble a little bit with this fragility. It's almost a nervous thing. It's not that steady. Actually, when it's steady, it's bad.

Did you feel that way with the Straub-Huillets?
In the Straub-Huillet films, I feel their life, the way they work. It's all about that. Not losing the idea that, with them, it's even more difficult with the rooms, with people like that, they even find the fragility in empty spaces, something I cannot do. In those rooms, you see something, there's no one, but you're moved to tears because someone was there. That's very difficult. It's like the end of Tokyo Story. You see the father and the mother in the beginning and they go visit their daughter in Tokyo. You see the house, and you see the father and mother, and you see their place in space, and at the end of the film, you see the same place but there's only the father. And there's no mother, but there's the space of the mother. And that's so difficult. Capturing the place of the human being in space, what he had left, an echo of his voice, his presence in the shot. That's amazing. That's a wonderful thing, a film. (laugh) It could be.

Well, I look forward to your next film.
If the gods and money help me. Because you need a little bit of money.

How about the difference between video and film?
I use video as I was making film. I don't think there is a difference. If, you are serious. With video, it's stupid to shoot the ocean, the mountains, or nature. It will not be good. There's no definition. All the leaves, are better still in 35, even in photography, in film film not digital. Not yet. Otherwise, I will face a wall, for me it's a good tool, the way we do it, we do it as we have a big 35 camera, the same approach, the same idea, the same attitude, and that's expensive so we have more time. I prefer to have more time, especially with them, because they cannot be rushed. It would be stupid to work with these people and say, come on, come on. Because they don't know how to do certain things, and they have to find a way.

But to work for a period of a year and a half, you need a budget.
I do need a budget. Basically, to pay people. Everybody gets the same. Me, the sound, my friend, Ventura, everybody. Every month. Like in a factory. So basically, that's the money. The rest is tape. The sound is recorded digital. We have no tapes anymore for sound. Even with cameras, I will start with HD, cards, memories, so basically the budget is for people eating and this kind of thing, and post-production, which is an expensive thing, of course, but normally I make some phone calls. I made this so do you want to help me see this? A little bit from here and there, and I can do the sound mix. That's what is still expensive.

What the budget for your short film Tarrafal, for example?
Oh, not much. In Euro, it was 15,000 Euro. It was small. It was just for us. Of course, there's post-production afterwards. And it was supposed to be done in 3, 4 days. I just took the money and we managed to be there for one month. But nowadays, all of them are so used to it that one guy can hold the mirror or hold the mike. And in the short film they act and once they are out of the frame they are holding the microphone.

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