[Colorado-talk] Fwd: [nabs-l] Fwd: Blindness - Movie Director Fernando Meirelles interview

Arielle Silverman arielle71 at gmail.com
Thu Nov 20 02:29:10 UTC 2008

Quite an interesting characterization of one of the NFB's biggest

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Corbb O'Connor <corbbo at gmail.com>
Date: Thu, 20 Nov 2008 00:37:31 +0000
Subject: [nabs-l] Fwd: Blindness - Movie Director Fernando Meirelles interview
To: National Association of Blind Students mailing list
<nabs-l at nfbnet.org>, vabs at nfbnet.org

In the interest of equal opportunity of opinion, I forward this
interview to you.

Corbb O'Connor
studying at the National University of Ireland, Galway

Begin forwarded message:

From: LPovinelli at aol.com
Date: November 19, 2008 10:06:23 PM GMT
Subject: Blindness - Movie Director Fernando Meirelles interview

Blindness - Fernando Meirelles interview

Interview by Rob Carnevale

FERNANDO Meirelles, the Brazilian director of City of God and The
Constant Gardener, talks about his latest project Blindness, the
controversy surrounding it and why Stevie Wonder was involved in one
of the most expensive jokes he's ever played.

He also relates how the film has become an overwhelming success in his
own country even though American audiences turned their backs on it,
and why author Jose Saramago was reduced to tears after seeing the film.

Q. When this came back to you after the success of your other movies,
did it feel like kind of a reward for those successes?
Fernando Meirelles: You know, it had nothing to do with the success of
my other movies because when [Jose] Saramago sold the rights to Niv
Fichman, the Canadian, he didn't know I was going to direct. They
first developed the script and then they tried to think about the
possible director. They said they thought about me first, but I don't
believe it. Saramago didn't know I was going to do it. They just told
him later.

Q. How disappointed were you not to get the rights initially?
Fernando Meirelles: I just moved on very quickly. There was another
book that I was interested in, from the same publisher, which was City
of God. So we talked about the other one and started negotiating about
City of God. So, it wasn't a big deal. At that point, I'd been doing
commercials for nine years and I really wanted to move on because my
life was very boring. So, I just bought City of God and started
working on it.

Q. Did you talk to Saramago about the book?
Fernando Meirelles: Actually, after I signed on to the project I went
to Lisbon to meet him and I had a lot of questions. We met for dinner
and I thought he was going to answer them but he didn't want to. He
said: "It's my book and this is your film, so let's not mix them up…"
I really wanted to know a lot of things but in the end I think he was
right. If he'd told me something about specific characters or events
in the film I would try to follow whatever he'd said and not what I
was thinking. I would have been a bit divided. In the end, I was happy
that he didn't want to talk about his book.

Q. Did you mention any of your casting ideas, such as Julianne Moore?
Fernando Meirelles: No, not at that point. His idea for the doctor's
wife was Susan Sarandon, who was also on my list. But we wanted an
actress who was a bit younger. We needed her to be 10 or 12 years
younger. There were three things he asked us: one, that the film
should be spoken in English, so it could be very international; he
didn't want the story to be set in a specific place, it should be very
generic; and the dog with the tears, he said he wanted a big dog. So,
we had a big dog but he hated it [laughs].

Q. Has he seen the film and does he like it?
Fernando Meirelles: He saw it right after Cannes. I took the film to
Lisbon because he couldn't come to Cannes. I showed him in a very bad
cinema screen in Lisbon and when the film finished he wouldn't say
anything. He was sitting next to me and he wouldn't talk! I was sure
he hated the film and didn't know how to tell me. But then the lights
came on and he was crying. He said he was as happy to see the film as
he was when he finished writing the book. Actually, my son was seated
in front of us, so when the lights turned on he turned his little
camera and then at night at the hotel he put this video on YouTube.
So, if you go to YouTube and put in Saramago, Blindness and maybe my
name, this is the first thing that pops up. There's like 200,000 hits
already. My son's footage is more successful than mine! But it's a
very moving moment because I was so pathetically nervous next to him.
I was sure he hated it. But then when he said he loved it, I kissed
him. I don't kiss people a lot. But I kissed his head because I was so

Q. How did he feel the film worked compared to the book, because the
book is more of an allegory and the film is more naturalistic?
Fernando Meirelles: He said he liked it. He said they were different,
because they had to be as there were different sensibilities and
different people telling the same story. But what he liked about it
was that the spirit of the book was totally respected by the film. I
came from Lisbon yesterday and the day before yesterday, we had dinner
together and he presented the screening. I didn't stay to see it but
before I left I went by his house to say goodbye and he was so moved.
He said: "Fernando, yesterday I watched it again and it's a great
film." He talked about the violence in the film and he really loved
the texture of the tension… Again, he was very, very happy, so that
was good news for me. But, again, he didn't like the dog. And that's
an important thing to me because I had read this interview and among
all his characters that he'd written for this book, he was asked which
was his favourite and he said: "I could kill all my characters but the
dog of tears." So, for him the dog was really important and that's why
it was the only character he had something to ask for. And I missed it!

Q. Did the criticism from blind groups in America take you by surprise?
Fernando Meirelles: It was not a surprise because when we were
preparing the film and they read the story was going to be shot, they
[The National Federation of the Blind] wrote to us and said they
didn't approve of the project and they'd only approve if we sent them
the script so they could revise and correct it. They were very bossy.
So, we politely answered that they could have their own opinion, etc,
etc, but it was our film. So, as promised, before we released the film
they told us they were going to demonstrate and they carried out
demonstrations in front of 75 cinemas, which is quite a big thing. To
be honest, they missed the point completely. They thought the film
tells the audience that blind people can't be adapted, that blind
people can't work because they're stupid and aggressive and it has
nothing to do with blind people. It's about human nature. It's about
people just going blind and losing their humanity. It's a totally
different story.

Q. Did Stevie Wonder give you any feedback about it as you use one of
his songs?
Fernando Meirelles: Well, that was actually a little joke that
happened when we were shooting. We were waiting to shoot the scene
where Gael [Garcia Bernal] was talking on the microphone to attract
everyone's attention. But before doing that, he had the microphone in
his hand and so, for fun, started singing Stevie Wonder [I Just Called
To Say I Love You]. I thought that was funny and maybe we could shoot
it. I wasn't sure I was going to use it but we were laughing a lot, so
finally I decided to use the joke and we bought the rights. That was
the most expensive joke in my life. They charged us $50,000! But we

Q. You say the story in the book and the film is about human nature.
So what does it say about the human nature of a group that protests
against something before it's been released?
Fernando Meirelles: Well, what we found out about this group is that
this organisation don't really work for blind people. It's more like a
PR organisation. They want to promote the idea that there is an
organisation for blind people. Other organisations have training for
blind people for adaptation or school. They don't have that. It's just
a news agency and it's about promoting the idea that blind people can
adapt. That's fair. But I think their decision to protest before
seeing or hearing the film was really a mistake. Saramago's reply was
quite aggressive. He said something like, [with regards to human
blindness] there's some people who can see but are blind, and some
blind people who are really blind but can see how stupid somebody can

Q. Is this the first film you've made that's not been praised by the
international press?
Fernando Meirelles: Everybody can have their opinion. We've had some
good reviews. The Guardian here, and the LA Times gave us a good
review. It was really divided. But it's a difficult film. There's
people who love the book and those who can't read it to the end. The
good news is that the film in Brazil is doing really well. We did an
investment to do 300,000 tickets because it is a hard film to sell.
So, we did 95 prints and we thought we were going to do 300,000
tickets. The Constant Gardener did 500,000 in Brazil, but this is a
harder film so we thought that maybe it would do less. But now the
film is now going to go to 900,000 and we might make a million. And
that's with no investment. It's all word of mouth. We released eight
weeks ago with 95 prints and still have 95 prints going on because the
cinemas are still packed. So, audiences are responding very well… in
Mexico as well.

But in the US the film didn't work at all. I don't know why. They
released it four weeks ago and now we have only 80 prints left. The
American audience wasn't interested in seeing the story. They opened
very wide and on the first weekend, the audience didn't show up. They
saw the trailer, saw the posters and decided they didn't want to see a
depressing film. So, they didn't go. If the film hadn't been so
successful in Brazil or Mexico I'd say it was a problem with the film.
But I'd say it's a cultural thing. Maybe the election is really
creating a tension. In this financial crisis, people are losing their
jobs, losing their houses and losing their investments. It's not a
good moment for dark stories… because in the same week that we
released Blindness, Beverly Hills Chihuahua opened on the same day and
was a big hit!

Q. The blindness camps sounded like an interesting part of the
process, which you took part in as well. What did you discover about
yourself while doing that, because it makes you confront one of every
person's worst nightmares?
Fernando Meirelles: You know, we had groups where we blindfolded
people for hours and did different exercises. In every group, there
was always two or three people who, at some point after two or three
hours, would sit down and cry. They really, really couldn't go on –
but we wouldn't let them take off the blindfold. Somebody would go
there and say: "No, let's keep going." But for me, it was the
opposite. It was so comfortable and so cosy. I remember I did it
twice. The first time we did a lot of things and we were taken to a
restaurant, we were served and we had to eat while blindfolded. After
lunch, the guy said we could remove our blindfolds but I didn't want
to. I think I stayed with the blindfold for another eight minutes. It
was so pleasant being with myself. It's so good because when you're
talking to people you don't see their faces. When I'm talking to you
[now] I have expressions, I'm trying to engage you. But if you can't
see, it's much more free. It's so liberating.

Another thing I've found, which is so interesting, is that when you're
blindfolded and you're talking to somebody the conversation goes to
places that it would never go if you could see the other person's
reaction. You start talking about very intimate things. It's such an
interesting experience. I recommend maybe Sunday morning and spending
the day in a blindfold. It's really, really interesting.

Quite apart from his incorrect characterization of our objections to
his movie, Mr. Meirelles proves in this interview that he knows
nothing about the National Federation of the Blind and what we do. We
operate three model training centers in the United States that offer
the best available rehabilitation training to help people adapt to
blindness, and we are very involved in mentoring blind youth and
encouraging them to participate in careers that are falsely thought to
be closed to the blind. And those things are just the tip of the
iceberg. In our sixty-eight years of existence, we have done more good
for blind people than any single organization that claims to "work for
the blind." This is because we are an organization of blind people,
and blind people are in the best position to know what blind people
truly need. The biggest problem that blind people face is the public
misconceptions and misunderstandings about blindness and blind people,
so public education is a critically important part of our mission, but
it is not true to say that we are simply a "PR organization."

— Chris Danielsen    Nov 19    #

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