Daniel Rezende may be an unfamiliar name to you, but you’ve probably seen his work. In 2002, he burst onto the scene as the editor for the seminal Brazilian film “City of God”, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. Having established himself as a renowned editor (his other credits include “The Motorcycle Diaries” and “The Tree of Life”), he now takes on a new challenge. The biopic “Bingo: The King of the Morning” marks his directorial debut and was submitted by Brazil for contention in the Foreign Language Oscar race. With his proven talent, it was therefore a pleasure to speak with Rezende about this new phase in his career. Below is an edited version of our interview, which covered a range of topics including the legacy of “City of God” and political correctness in Brazil.
Shane Slater: What made you decide to do this film as your directorial debut?
Daniel Rezende: I was looking for the right project and one of the producers introduced me to an article in a magazine that was about Arlindo Barreto. When I read about this guy who lived many lives in one, I was completely connected to his journey to try to find his place in the spotlight as an artist. But when he does, no one can know who he his because he is behind a mask.
And also there was this relationship with his son. He became this famous clown and could play with every kid but his son. As a father, I grew up in the 80s in Brazil watching morning kids shows. So I could see a good opportunity to look into the pop culture in Brazil but also tell a human story. To try to understand this goal of human beings to get recognition and how to deal with it when you don’t get it.
SS: I noticed you changed the names of the real life characters. Were there major challenges in developing and researching the film?
DR: Well, it was a decision since the beginning. It’s inspired by a true story. A lot of things happened in Arlindo Barreto’s life. But we decided not to be too attached to the real story so we fictionalized everything. We changed the names of the characters and the brands, so we could create our own universe. To make a feature film inspired by a true story instead of making just a biopic. It wasn’t a problem at all actually. It made us free to tell the story we wanted to tell and we could be very faithful to the things we thought were important.
SS: In the film, the lead character stumbles on the role by chance. What was your casting process for your lead actor?
DR: At the beginning of the project, Wagner Moura was attached to be the lead. For four years he was attached and then because of schedules and “Narcos” he couldn’t do it. So then he recommended Vladimir Brichta. I knew Vladimir because he is a well known actor in Brazil, especially in television. But I didn’t know him personally. I went to meet him for lunch and as soon as I started talking to him, I was sure he would be the guy.
SS: Bingo pushes pack against the director and producer’s ideas in the film. How was your actor-director relationship?
DR: We had the best experience working together. I wanted to try to shift things up for him, since he was working on television for a long time. I wanted to get a character interpretation from him that he has never done before. And I never saw an actor go so deep in the process, he completely gave himself to this character. It wasn’t like in the movie where he is never doing what the director wants. Sometimes he would confront me, but he was very collaborative. He was into the project. When he read the script he said, “that’s the role I’ve been waiting for as an artist, so I’ll do whatever I can for the role.” And he did.
SS: You have a strong background in editing, notably with “City of God”. One of the themes in the film is about replicating prior success. How has the success of “City of God” influenced you and Brazilian cinema?
DR: “City of God” influenced Brazilian cinema and my work in the same way. It was my first project as a film editor, so pretty much everything I’ve learned about filmmaking definitely starts with Fernando Meirelles. He is a huge inspiration for me.
I don’t think the way Fernando shot “City of God” or the way I edit influenced me directly for this movie. I think what Fernando taught me during “City of God” was that filmmaking is an organic process. So keep your eyes open all the time, because sometimes gold and diamonds are behind you and on your side but you don’t see them. And he used that a lot in “City of God”. He was less concerned about the script than looking for “gold” and “diamonds” in the process.
SS: We often attribute a film’s success to the director. How would you compare the challenge of directing vs editing?
DR: What I love about editing is I can be a co-author. I can give a lot to the storytelling and not have the entire responsibility. So I actually learned a lot working with directors that I respect, such as Fernando Meirelles, Walter Salles, José Padilha or even Terrence Malick. I learned a lot watching footage and understanding how they would transform a script into images. In this process of directing, of course the responsibility increases a lot. But it’s also about telling a story. As an editor, I was telling a story with footage that has been shot.
As a director, I have to tell a story out of an idea, a script, actors, the resources I have to make the movie. But it’s pretty much about telling a story. And my background as an editor helped me to create the footage that I would need to edit. It’s a big change but I’m enjoying it a lot.
SS: Your film is representing Brazil for the Oscars a year after the controversy surrounding “Aquarius”. How was the atmosphere surrounding this year’s selection process?
DR: What was great about this year was that we had about 23 films and last year we had about 16. So we had more films. We have a couple of great films this year. In my opinion there were probably about 3 or 4 that could be in the spot and I was really happy that the choice was made by looking at the movie and not the politics. They chose the movie that had the best qualities and they all liked it. So that increases my responsibility. We had really good movies this year, but I don’t think we had any that were as controversial as last year. I am really happy to represent Brazil but I also feel a responsibility. Whatever I can do for this movie I’ve done already. The movie has to speak for itself now.
SS: How was the public response in Brazil?
DR: The critics liked it much more than my best expectations. Pretty much all the critics loved the movie. We had some saying “Best Movie since City of God.” What we have in this movie, which was one of my goals, is to try to make a movie that would talk about Brazilian pop culture in the 80s, but to be a universal story that could be seen and understood everywhere.
But for Brazilians, it’s not the kind of movie we usually make. Usually Brazilian films are either comedies or socio-political dramas. We’re not used to looking at our pop culture to make a movie that is deep or profound but also fun and entertaining. So people liked seeing a different perspective from Brazilian cinema.
SS: Are you planning to focus on directing now?
DR: I don’t want to close my doors as a film editor but I am focusing a little more on directing right now. I’m developing a new movie back in Brazil, which is an adaptation. We have very famous comic book characters that every single person in Brazil knows. And I’m going to direct the first live action movie about those characters. It’s going to be a family movie. I’m really excited about it.
“Bingo” has a really strong connection to my childhood. When I read the story, I remember as a kid watching this famous clown on TV and always wondering what was outside the frame. What happens after the camera shuts off. But then I decided to make an adult movie. A very deep, dark, fun movie. So right now, I’m going back again to my childhood but looking with a kid’s eyes.
SS: Have children’s tastes changed since then?
DR: Oh definitely. One of the things that also made me want to make this movie, was to talk about the 80s. An era where, good or bad, we had this politically incorrect way of life. Nowadays, because of social media everything has to be politically correct. So I think we’re talking about two extremes. When I did a first screening before the movie was released, one girl who was 16 or 17 watched the movie and said, “I understand my mom more now.” You don’t see a kids show with a sexy female singer dancing in front of kids nowadays. Especially in Brazil with all this culture of censorship towards art because of nudity. So I think the movie talks about this in a way that makes you look at how we were and how we are right now.