The only Brazilian selection at AFI FEST 2014 presented by Audi, Gabriel Mascaro’s AUGUST WINDS encapsulates the spirit of innovation and experimentation that characterizes many of the films in the World Cinema section of this year’s festival. AUGUST WINDS is a lyrical journey, set on an island off the coast of northeastern Brazil, where a young couple contemplates the nature of death after discovering a skull floating offshore. Having previously directed documentaries, including HOUSEMAIDS and HIGH RISE, this is Mascaro’s first foray into a fictional film, and his eye for capturing natural surroundings blends with an engrossing and meditative narrative. The film is a poetic look at the realities of coastal life, revealing an eccentric cast of characters, many of whom were non-professionals.
AFI talked with Mascaro about the film.
AFI: How has your previous work in documentary filmmaking informed your first narrative feature, both stylistically and in terms of the shooting process?
GM: It is difficult for me to talk about fiction as something homogeneous. All of my previous work as a documentary filmmaker and visual artist is contaminated by shared narratives – by performance, dance. Similar to the way the film is about the wind, it is difficult for me to demarcate with precision these frontiers in the film. The wind often blows us in a direction that we least expect it to.
AFI: The gorgeous natural landscapes and settings dominate the narrative. How did the environment inspire the look and feel of the film?
GM: A few years ago, during a journey along the coast of Pernambuco, in northeast Brazil, I came across several abandoned mansions that had been destroyed by rising sea levels in the region. We started to do some research into the phenomenon and how, in less than 30 years, beachside paradises had been turned to rubble and ruin by the sea. We discovered a cemetery that was being engulfed by the sea, which struck me as a very powerful image. With this in mind, the script began to take shape. I started to write about abandonment, memory, loss, possession, water, the sun, the salt, the cement. And behind all of this, an invisible force – the wind. My challenge was how to create images of something that is invisible, the invisible force of the wind. This apparent impossibility spurred my interest. The month of August emerged as a solution to part of this challenge as it is the month when the wind joins forces with high tides and creates the most damage during the year, turning this invisible force more palpable.
AFI: What do you think about the innovative cinema that is springing from the northeast of Brazil? What is it about this particular region that inspires great artistry?
GM: I think that in this region there are a lot of creative people from different art fields (music, film, fine arts) playing together and generously open to the interchange. There is not a strong industry yet, and it makes the region a bit delayed in regards to high technology compared to São Paulo and Rio. But on the other side, this lack of an established industry makes the context more open for innovation, experimental projects and risks.
AFI: As the only Brazilian selection in the festival, how is AUGUST WINDS representative of Brazilian cinema in its present state? Are there past filmmakers or styles that have influenced you?
GM: I am very influenced by the Brazilian film IRACEMA: UMA TRANSA AMAZÔNICA, directed by Jorge Bodanzky and Orlando Senna. The film was finished in 1976 and prohibited from being released until 1980. But this film particularly is touched by documentary filmmaker Joris Ivens, who made his first work about the wind in 1965, POUR LE MISTRAL, and his last, A TALE OF THE WIND, in 1988 in China. Ivens, with gray curly hair, playing a character, asserts that to film the impossible is the best thing in life. In AUGUST WINDS, in part in reference to Ivens, I play a character who obsessively researches the sounds and reverberations of the winds at the Intertropical Convergence Zone.
AFI: The actors seem to be a mix of non-professionals and professionals. What was the casting process like, particularly in finding and casting the central couple?
GM: With the exception of Shirley, the young woman who wants to be a tattoo artist, none of the actors in the film are professionals. They are all from the small village where the film was shot. We went to the village and spread the word that we were looking for people to act in the film. Nearly all the inhabitants turned up for the tests, except Geová, who plays Jeison. Two days later he came to look for me, apologizing for not having turned up and asking if there was a part in the film for a singer. I asked him to sing a song to the camera. As soon as he finished, I invited him to be Jeison. In the original script there was quite a bit of dialogue written for the non-actors, and we worked with some improvisation exercises and studied the scenes carefully. With Dandara, who plays Shirley, it was a very different process. Initially Shirley’s character was very small, and we were only going to film her for two days. She ended up filming 20. She spent time living in the house where Maria, the actress portraying her character’s grandmother lived. It was then that we understood how Shirley would react in the environment and could be incorporated into the film to represent an external reality. Dandara spent a week helping Maria go to the bathroom, preparing her food, putting her to bed, getting her covers when she was cold, listening to her stories. Very soon Maria was calling Dandara her granddaughter without distinguishing between reality and fiction. When these boundaries are broken, what is real flourishes, and what is not becomes real.
AUGUST WINDS is featured to in the World Cinema category of AFI FEST 2014.