Sheffield Doc Festival | 2019
Maíra Bühler: "In São Paulo crack cocaine addicts are called zombies by the major media and common sense, and zombies are monsters, savages."
LET IT BURN (Diz a ela que me viu chorar)
82' | 2019
As much as their trajectories may have been different, the fate of all of them, until then, is the same: to be held hostage by their own addiction. Confined in a building located in São Paulo, a group of crack addicts struggle to rebuild their own lives as they go through the difficult phase of detoxification. While some view the situation with good humour and optimism, others have seen better days.
Hi Maíra, thanks for talking to TNC, congratulations on your recent award, how does it feel to win the Olhar de Cinema?
I was very happy about it, OLHAR DE CINEMA is a very nice place to premiere in Brazil since it's the selection is very high quality. I respect the program and its importance nationally and internationally that has been increasing each day. Manly now that we have a political crisis here, and I think OLHAR is one of the few places where we can get together and talk about art, film a politics freely. The award gives visibility to the film, so, I couldn't be happier.
Diz a ela que me viu chorar (Let it Burn) had its UK Premiere at the Sheffield Doc Fest in the Doc/Expose section, what has it meant to you to have your film in the UK most respected documentary film festival?
I'm very happy about it, it's nice to understand that my film makes sense outside Brazil. I think we are dealing with universal human experience that can happen anywhere. Also, crack cocaine in particular (and drugs/addiction in general) is everywhere. I've been in True/False in the US where people would come to me and share their own experience whit addiction after the film, saying that my work really touched them. I've won awards in France (Cinéma du Réel), Uruguay and Brazil. So, I'm glad the film goes into peoples hearts.
Has the reaction to Diz a ela que me viu chorar (Let it Burn) surprised you?
Can you tell us a little bit about Diz a ela que me viu chorar (Let it Burn), how did this film come about?
I'm an anthropologist and I have always been worried about when people call other people "non-human". In São Paulo crack cocaine addicts are called zombies by the major media and common sense, and zombies are monsters, savages. The problem is that when people deal with other ones in these terms, human rights are not respected and that allows all kinds of violence towards the most vulnerable part. We have a colonial past, we know that genocide hides behind strange "arguments" that take away from the others their human rights. So, the idea of making this film was to build contra-narrative, other kinds of images and feelings around crack cocaine.
When did you first discover the Parque Dom Pedro otel?
In downtown São Paulo there is a neighbourhood called "Crackland", where the crack cocaine users get together. That's where I started my research and constructed bones with people, even before the existence of this hotel. At the beginning of 2014, the municipality started this "Damage Reduction" program, inviting these people to live in social hotels and have access to public health, social assistance and work. I was there, walking around crackland, researching for the film when this program came across and some of my friends/characters decided to move to the hotel. I just followed them.
"The presence of the camera on the set was always very evident, we used to boom and tripod so that the cinematographic apparatus was all the time a mediation between us."
When did you realise you wanted to make a documentary about this unique place?
I knew since the beginning that I didn't want to reaffirm stereotypical images of people that uses crack, lying on the streets with no faces or subjectivity. I knew I wanted to do an intimate portrait and I had to find a way. I knew my film was about faces in a context where people usually have their faces covered by banquets or blurred on the TV screen. I knew also that I wanted to do a film about subjectivities in which characters had the right to emerge. So I thought that being inside would be a nice dispositive to reach my principles.
What was it about these lives and experiences Parque Dom Pedro that connected with you as a filmmaker?
My work as a filmmaker is filming humanity. I connected with them because we both have emotions. We both want to leave and not to die.
Diz a ela que me viu chorar (Let it Burn) is pure fly-on-the-wall documentary filmmaker, what made you want to film it in this way?
I was interested in filming life and this was the best way I found to do it. Life was on the screen when the characters played their own roles. This game was being built over time with them, during which I shared part of what I had filmed and they could see themselves. These were choices made together. This is a vulnerable population living on the threshold of life and death and there was a sense of urgency at the moment of filming, the urgency to be heard, to be filmed and to be somehow eternalized on the screen. They appropriated the camera and our relationship as an instrument of memory and communication with me and the outside world.
The presence of the camera on the set was always very evident, we used to boom and tripod so that the cinematographic apparatus was all the time a mediation between us. I think it's important to say that in no time the camera was hidden in the set. On the contrary, it was from its evidence that we constructed our film together with the characters. Another important thing to remember is that there are some explicit mentions in the film about my presence at the hotel, such as at the moment of the elevator and the fight, moments of breaking the fourth wall indicating our presence there, which I also think important because the idea was not to hide, it was just leaving them as protagonists.
Did you have any apprehensions about approaching the residents to be in this film?
I was very connected to them and I felt safe when I was there.
What was the most challenging part of bringing Diz a ela que me viu chorar (Let it Burn) to the screen?
I think the hardest part was to deal with the vulnerable aspect of the characters and to understand ethics - what to show, what not to show, how to show. The editing in this sense was crucial. I took a long time to be sure of what I wanted.
What is the most important lesson you learned from making this film?
That caring about people is my way of caring about cinema. That I should learn with people I film and construct something that is faithful to what I had on the set.
Your film also highlights the recent closing of the Parque Dom Pedro how devastating do you think these closures will be on the residents?
Very devastating. Most of them are living in the streets and had a regression on crack use, losing jobs and access to treatment. I could find some characters and they were very emotional about the film because they remember when they had a home. Also, the state has increased the violence in the area, and a couple of weeks ago a woman that could have been one of our characters, was killed with a shot in the back of her head by the police.
As you probably know we have a President from far right and he has changed the drug politics in Brazil. Now there are no "damage reduction programs" and people can be interned against their will into clinics subsided by the government, most of them religious and with reported cases of torture, slavery similar work and abuse.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Yes. Since I was a kid.
How has your approach to film changed since your debut?
I come from anthropology and the kind of film I make is the result of the encounter that I have with the people I film. In this sense, a cinematographic experience is also, to some extent, an ethnographic experience. At the beginning of my career the main element of this relationship with characters was talking - so my first films are interviews films. Lately, I have been able to be together in silence, look, and listening - a kind of sensorial coexistence mediated by the camera. That also brought more than one character to the screen at the same time. Each movie is a movie, a different adventure.
Has there been any advice you've been given that has really stuck with you?
I always remember Pedro Costa saying that in any reality there is fiction, there are delusions and how this constitutes the film. On Let it Burn it was very important to think about it and to open myself to the inventions my characters do of their own character.
Do you have advice for any fellow filmmakers?
That's a hard one. Something that works for me will not work for other people the same way. I'm afraid my advice is not good for anyone but me. But basically what I think is that to make a film you should open yourself to the process and not be afraid of being affected and changed by it.
And finally, do you want people to take from Diz a ela que me viu chorar (Let it Burn)?
I want people to understand there are life and love and fear and humour and pain everywhere. Even where we usually think there is only death. In our times that hate is in the cover newspapers around the world, I think we have empathy, be touched and transformed by each other.