58th Semaine de la Critique | 2019
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Mena lives alone with her daughter Clara. Today is Clara’s seventh birthday. Despite her limited financial resources, Mena still manages to organise a birthday party. But after a phone call from her mother, she becomes distraught and anxious.

Hi Sofia how does it mean to be at the Semaine de la Critique 2019 with Dia De Festa?

It’s an honour. I feel extremely lucky, especially since it’s my first film. So many great directors started their careers at the Semaine. It means it will be easier for me to secure funding for my next film, and that’s a very good feeling. Of course, it’s also a huge boost of confidence and motivation.

Does being at Cannes add any extra pressure on you or are you able to relax? 

The pressure comes from the expectations people create about you and your work. Before this I was the only one pushing myself, so to speak. The moment people learn about Cannes, they want to know what you’re doing next and when. I’m trying not to let this get to me. In the concrete everyday reality, it’s still you doing your work, just like before. And for this to happen you have to shut everything out and just work consistently until you can honestly say you have something good that you want to shoot. My skills as a director haven’t improved just because the film got selected. It’s a first film, a short film, I still have a lot to learn. Before knowing about Cannes, I intended to write and apply for funding for another short film and start thinking about a feature. The plan is still the same.

Can you tell me a little bit about Dia De Festa, what was the inspiration behind this film?

The starting point for Tiago Bastos Capitão, the screenwriter, was the idea of a mother that seems unable to feel joy or happiness on the day of her daughter’s birthday. His writing process was about the discovery of everything that could be behind this premise and this character. I had been doing writing and directing exercises in film school that revolved around mother-daughter relationships. I showed these to Tiago and when I graduated he presented me the script of Dia de Festa. Straight away it had an effect on me and I wanted to do it. It felt like something I knew about and had the sensibility to direct, being myself the only child of a single mother, growing up surrounded by women and no male role model. So then we worked a little bit on it until we got to the shooting script.

"Pick carefully the people you show your work to for feedback when you’re doing a film."

What was the most challenging part of bringing Dia De Festa to life? 

The production phase, shooting itself. It’s tough, both mentally and physically, and this was my first professional experience on set as a director. I think it’s normal to get overwhelmed at times by everything you need to think about and have an answer for, even if you did your “homework” and prepared exhaustively. That being said, it went very well. I had an extremely supportive team that believed in the project and wanted to be there for me, knowing it was my first time directing. The greatest challenge on set was time, as I suspect it always is, and film stock. Because I shot on 16mm I could only do about 4 takes per shot. Of course, this adds to the challenge. And child actors, especially of such a young age, also make you nervous, although they were great. I tried not to think too much about what could go wrong, otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it.

What was the most valuable lesson you've taken from making this film?

To not overlook anything as a “detail”. Everything inside the frame lines, whether intentional or not, has an effect.

Has filmmaking always been a passion for you? 

No, it was a gradual process that began when I was studying Communication in Lisbon. I started watching independent films and attended Film History as part of my curriculum. I remember watching Bergman’s films for the first time and walking out somewhat changed by them. His films made me realise how wonderful and the powerful film could be as medium, and they really got me interested in cinema as an art form. From then on I started watching all the films in a different way, not only as entertainment as I had before. I watched the classics, bought a ton of DVD's, noticed the craft, had more analytical thought, started reading Sight and Sound. But even then I didn’t think or dare to think, that I wanted to make films. I just loved films and wanted to know more and more. Filmmaking still felt like a very distant universe for me. It took me a long time to go from just loving films to thinking “I could do this.”

As I applied for a Filmmaking MA at London Film School I thought I wanted to be an editor. But once I got there I started doing writing and directing exercises and just kept at it.

Is there any advice you've been given that's stuck with you?

Pick carefully the people you show your work to for feedback when you’re doing a film. And then pick the advice you feel makes your film better and ignore the rest. People aren’t shy of giving you opinions because most of the time it has no consequence for them. You’re the one that will have to live with the decisions you made regarding your film. It’s your name on the screen.

Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?

It’s hard because my experience is limited and different people work differently. The only way to learn filmmaking is by doing. It’s a cliché, but it’s true.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Dia De Festa?

I would be happy if people took away something - anything - from the film. That’s the greatest test, isn’t it? If it stays with you after you leave the theatre, it means something happened between you and the film. I wouldn’t dare to guess what that something could be, it’s completely subjective.