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British Shorts Berlin 2019
Ben Holman
This Is Bate Bola

Festival Screening / Documentary Special

Documentary / Animation / Experimental

Sat 19.1. 18:00 / Sputnik Kino 1

Straight from the favelas, this is the Rio Carnival that you have never seen before.

Hi Ben, thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?


It’s all going great thanks and thank you for having me!


What does it mean to be at the festival with This is Bate Bola?


This was a passion project until the very final stages of post-production. Nye (my co-director) and I made this film with our own time and money with very limited resources and a lot of dedication. I even took out a bank loan. So each time a festival recognises the work it is particularly satisfying. The 12th British Shorts Film Festival in Berlin is a prestigious event and it’s an honour to be a part of it.


Tell me a little bit about This is Bate Bola how did the film come about?


The film is about a relatively unknown aspect of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival called “Bate Bola”. Rio has between 300 and 500 'Bate Bola' groups, or 'clovis' as they're also known, but even the people of Rio who aren’t from the areas where it takes place know little about it. It's this beautiful and amazing tradition, but very few people make the effort to discover more as it has a reputation for being violent. I think a lot of that comes from people's prejudices about favela communities, which are usually poorer and darker skinned than the rest of Rio.

Whilst living in Brazil on and off for twelve years I just saw this “Secret Carnival” as an explosive event that looked like a Brazilian, Baile Funk version of George Clinton’s Funkadelic. There’s a mixture of play and menace and they seem like masked visitors from another planet and I wanted to share with as many people as possible. I met another filmmaker, Nye Jones, who was just as passionate as I was and who had started taking photos of some crews during previous carnivals, so we just grabbed some cameras, some nice lenses and made our film!


You've has a great festival run with This is Bate Bola, what has it meant for you to get the type of response you've gotten for the film?


The humble origins of the film have made the great festival run special, but it’s also very gratifying because of the subject of the film. The Bate Bola crews are made up of people from poor neighbourhoods, who have a lot to deal with and are largely marginalised by the rest of society. They often feel invisible for most of the year. Perhaps this is why they save up and sometimes invest up to two month’s wages in their carnival costumes and display. It is a moment when they are able to grab everyone’s attention and they feel like stars. It’s actually kind of ironic that in order “to be seen” they have to put on masks.


However, they still get little respect and recognition in the local media. But, through the film, the Bate Bola crews in the film are now reaching a global audience has made both us and them very happy. We plan to launch the film online on the Boiler Room platform “4:3” in time for this year’s Carnival. When that happens, I hope that their fame and their art will spread even further.


Any nerves ahead of your screening?


Not really. but Nye and I were very nervous about showing the film to the main crew (“Melhor Que Tem” – “The Best There Is”) that feature in the film. Thankfully, they loved it and it turned into quite an emotional evening with a lot of tears.


What was the biggest challenge you faced making This is Bate Bola?


The shoot was crazy and chaotic and so we weren’t able to capture every element that we planned. That said, we were able to go with the flow and find many “happy accidents”. However, creating a coherent narrative from the footage whilst maintaining the freedom and chaos with as little VO as possible was a challenge. They say that the last 10% of the edit often takes 50% of the allocated time… and that was certainly true in this case.


How different was your approach to this film than your previous films?


In the edit, I found that the glue that would hold together all the disparate moments of magic was the sound and ultimately I think it was the sonic element that led the edit as much as anything. Pulling together the soundtrack with the ambient elements and sound effects meant that before we even got to sound mix that there were parts of the film that had up to 16 layers of sound.


Thankfully we were also working with my long time musical collaborator Ben Lamar Gay, who is a musical genius. He’s from Chicago, but we met each other in Rio, where he also lived for some time, so he was able to completely understand the project. His compositions were also deeply layered and actually based on slowed down Bossa Nova musical progressions. His music is also often rooted deeply in folklore and story telling, which was perfect for this project. The depth of his work always brings an emotional nuance that elevates my films and creates a strong emotional centre to compliment the images.


Have you always been interested in filmmaking?


I always enjoyed making things, but it was watching music videos on Top of the Pops in the 80s that got me first interested in film. Still, now, I love nothing better than when music, image, story and timing combine to produce magical cinematic moments like Tony Bennett’s “Rags to Riches” at the beginning of “Goodfellas”.


As a filmmaker how important is the collaborative process for you?


Collaboration is everything and it elevates your work. We were lucky enough to have talented people like Ben Lamar Gay on the soundtrack, James Lyme of Scramble Soho on the sound mix and Marco Bortolino making incredible posters as he has done before for us. Co directing this film was a challenge and it wasn’t always easy, with a lot of back and forth. Ultimately, however, it was productive and I think Nye and I pushed each other to produce some of our best work.

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With documentaries, I believe that collaboration with the protagonists themselves is also essential. It’s important to me to find subjects who also have some motive to make an awesome film and so it doesn’t feel exploitative in any way. Not only does that feel morally better than using people’s lives as entertainment in some selfish pursuit of fame, but I think you usually get much better results


Since your debut how has your style as a filmmaker changed?


It has definitely evolved and become refined, but I don’t think it has “changed” dramatically. I like to think that I have developed “a voice” but I think my priorities are the same. Good looking, ambitious films with strong soundtracks and an emphasis on time spent on location more than the equipment I use. I like small crews that enable intimate filmmaking so that the viewer can get under the skin of the subject and be a part of the action


What is the best advice you've been given as a filmmaker?


Be nice, be yourself and enjoy it! It’s a great job to have.


What are you currently working on?


I have a couple of feature length projects in development at the moment that are both around the idea of culture as a means of resistance. They are also both set somewhere hot with a great music!


And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?


Brazil is going through a particularly difficult time right now and is perhaps more divided now than it’s ever been. The rhetoric and media there, (just like in the UK sometimes), is full of hatred, bigotry, preconceptions and lazy stereotypes. But perhaps as much as anything, this hatred comes from a fear of the unknown.


I hope that our film takes the viewer into the unknown and reveals the beauty that that we found there. I hope that people will take away an appreciation for this amazing culture and that it may even make people address some preconceptions that they may have had about these marginalized communities or even about other people closer to home.

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