Sundance Film Festival 2021
Short Film Grand Jury Prize Nominee
& Enock Carvalho
Inabitável / Unliveable
In Brazil, where a trans person is murdered every three days, Marilene searches for her daughter, Roberta, a trans woman who is missing. Running out of time, she discovers one hope for the future.
Hi Enock & Matheus, thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Matheus - I have been working a lot as an editor, editing films and trailers, at the same time that I am developing some projects together with Enock in our production company Gatopardo Films. We’ll open very soon a laboratory for the development of short films in Brazil, named CurtaLab. Also, we’ll be running the first edition of Cinema of the Present, a brand new film festival in our town. Besides everything, we are writing our first feature film. At the time left over, I like very much to watch films and series.
Enock - As Matheus said, we have been very focused on developing new projects. While Unliveable is running around the world (virtually and in-person), we are writing and planning the next year (I mean 2022). Putting yourself in isolation forces us to think about the future and what we’ll be able to do when all this is over.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
Matheus - Unfortunately, I lost my father to Covid-19 during the first months of the pandemic in Brazil. It was and remains a very difficult time for me, especially when it comes to reframing many things and adjusting to life again without my father. I spent a lot of time not trying to think about anything, but it is impossible not to think that these times of crisis are responsible for awakening interesting ideas for new projects. I think that the mourning, added to all that isolated time at home, helped us to focus efforts to plan and produce our projects. That is what has moved me and I am sure that my father would encourage me to continue working this way.
Enock - Yes. These are very difficult times, especially for Brazil, where the whole country is out of control. There is a lot of sadness, pain, losses, and it all seems like a déjà-vu, our country has this thing of repeating very violent cycles throughout its history. In the midst of all this, I can see stories to be told. It is basically what I have been doing lately.
Congratulations on having Unliveable selected in the International Shorts Section at Sundance 2021, what does it mean to be part of such an amazing line up fo short films?
Matheus - Sundance is one of the most important film festivals in the world, great films have premiered there. Having a Brazilian film as part of it is very rewarding and happy. Unfortunately, Brazil has been dismantled in many areas and Brazil's culture has been constantly attacked by the government of Jair Bolsonaro. Hundreds of projects are at a standstill, no one is filming, the production companies are going through very deep financial crises.
Amid all those absurd news it is important that something like this happens, as it proves that cinema made in Brazil is powerful, universal, and has the strength to figure in the selection of all the major festivals in the world.
Enock - It is a great honour to be part of the official selection at Sundance because great names that have been part of my education as a film cinephile and filmmaker have gone through it. Unliveable is a film about current Brazil, about the violence that still makes many victims daily in our country, but it is also a film about hope, about maternal love.
"I remember that at the beginning of 2015 we considered making our first short film together."
Unliveable has already won multiple awards During its film festival run including Best Film Award ( Critics Jury ) at Festival of Gramado, what has is meant to you to get such a great reaction to your film?
Matheus - Unliveable was selected for many Brazilian festivals in 2020, received several awards, and now begins a new phase more strongly internationally. It is amazing to see how the public reacts to the film. I think that the fact it deals with this feeling of fear, hopelessness for the future, and constant threat to life generates an identification.
What inspired you to want to tell such a powerful and important story?
Matheus - Brazil is the main inspiration for the film. There is a strong tradition among Brazilians to ignore the news and science. The black population is murdered every day in the suburbs, the LGBTQIA+ population is constantly threatened, the government of Jair Bolsonaro does not care for our lives.
Enock - Basically, we want the future to be better. We want there to be life for people like the characters in our film. It's sad that in Brazil we need to talk about it that way.
Do you think Unliveable can add to the growing conversation about trans lives & experiences in Brazil?
Matheus - When we deal with this matter in a film and expose all these sensitive issues, I think it can automatically be used as an instrument of debate. The purpose of cinema is not to change the world, but it can and must dialogue with the subjectivity of people, their deepest feelings, and act as an instrument of transformation.
Enock - When a trans person disappears in Brazil, we immediately get on our alerts. It is a danger signal. We try to imagine the fear and despair of this search for the daughter who suddenly disappeared, meanwhile we try to represent the situation of our country, also thinking about the future. The film offers much to discuss the experience of trans and black lives in Brazil.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently on Unliveable?
Matheus - I think this film was a great gift for us. We had a very committed team and cast at the helm of this project, which allowed us to do everything the way we imagined since the script. I don't think I would do anything different.
What was the biggest challenge you faced making this film?
Matheus - I think the biggest challenge was the issue of violence against the LGBT population sensitively and responsibly. I am gay, black and I include myself in this fight, but the violence to which I am subjected every day does not compare to the violence suffered by non-cisgender bodies. Because of this we had consultancy with several trans women who did read the script and collaborated with the approach we would like to propose. It is a film made through many hands and I think that is one of it great qualities.
Do you think filmmakers should push the boundaries of the films / stories they want to tell?
Matheus - I think that all the themes, approaches, points of view, and ways of making a film are legitimate. Cinema is also an art of otherness, of speaking about the other from a personal point of view. At the same time, I think that exceeding the limits of your experience requires care and responsibility. Talk about what you want, but take the risks for that too.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
Matheus - During my teenage years, my parents owned small video stores in Olinda, my hometown. I worked in all of them and accompanied them in deciding which films to buy, watched everything, and formed a large part of my cinematography in that period. Just when I met Enock and we started dating, I realized many points in common in our taste for films and set out to produce our first short film. This partnership continues today.
Enock – I always had a very strong approach to the arts of plays and films since childhood. In my youth, my cinephilia guided me to filmmaking. I started as a critic during the Journalism College and ended up as a screenwriter and director.
You have made 3 films together and you are working on your debut feature film together, how did this unique collaboration come about?
Matheus - I was a film student and worked as a video editor at an advertising company in Recife. I met Enock because he worked as a journalist for an online journal and studied journalism. We fell in love, we discovered many common interests concerning the films that formed our cinema and we decided to start producing the first short film (“Room for rent”, 2016). Today we are married and have our own production company, Gatopardo, where we produce our projects and work as a trailer house specialised in producing content for the releasing of Brazilian films.
Enock - Matheus and me were united by the cinema, I say that literally. I remember that at the beginning of 2015 we considered making our first short film together. We gathered strength, resources and a team. In October of the same year we were shooting the film, which premiered the following year and had a beautiful career in festivals in Brazil. Here we are a few years later and three short films directed together. And yes, we are already preparing our first feature film, directed, written and produced by us.
Has your approach to co-writing and directing changed much since your debut?
Matheus - I think we both found the best way to work together. We found, for example, that Enock likes writing and directing actors much more while I usually arrive later in the scriptwriting process and I'm more connected to the technical and mise-en-scène aspects of the film. I think that together we managed to do incredible things, but at the same time we didn't limit ourselves to that and we also thought about scripting and directing projects on our own.
Do you have any advice you would offer someone about to undertake their own debut short?
Matheus - I think the main thing is that you have to be completely in love with the story you want to tell. That is where the most genuine and true thing in a film is born and this helps in all aspects of film production, from the moment of filming to screening it at festivals. The other tip is: watch movies all the time. They are a fundamental part of any filmmaker's vocabulary.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Unliveable?
Matheus - I hope the public understands that Brazil is unfortunately no longer the happiest country in the world, that lives are constantly being threatened and killed just because of who they are and that it is difficult to stay alive and healthy with Jair Bolsonaro in power. There is a death project underway in Brazil. I think our film works as a message in the bottle, addressed to a still very uncertain future, but that captivates us with a hope for better days. I think in general it is what the whole world is feeling and needing so I hope the film captivates the audience about this hope of surviving in such difficult and uncertain times.