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

Chris Foster cjfoster2000 at gmail.com
Thu Nov 20 04:37:02 UTC 2008

Hi Arielle,
Thanks so much for sending the forward.  I hope that everyone who got the
message read the forward all the way down to the end.  For someone who
criticizes us for protesting something we've never seen, this director sure
has a lot of nerve characterizing our organization as a big PR firm.
Obviously, he is the uninformed one.  What is also very disturbing are these
"Blind camps" that were mentioned in the interview.  What were they supposed
to accomplish?  How can anyone truly understand blindness after an hour of
sleepshade training.  That's nothing.  And with the negative ideas that
obviously went into the book and the film, it really isn't a surprise that
the director and the author don't understand why we in NFB find this film so
worrisome and hurtful to everything we endeavor to do every day.  This
should be a message to all of us as to how much more work we all have to do.
Thanks, Chris Foster 


-----Original Message-----
From: colorado-talk-bounces at nfbnet.org
[mailto:colorado-talk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Arielle Silverman
Sent: Wednesday, November 19, 2008 7:29 PM
To: NFB of Colorado Discussion List; Colorado Association of Blind Students
List; Arizona Association of Blind Students List; nfbaz-talk at nfbnet.org
Subject: [Colorado-talk] Fwd: [nabs-l] Fwd: Blindness - Movie
DirectorFernando Meirelles interview

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
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

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 moved.

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
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 paid.

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 be.

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
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

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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