Pedro Costa: the trembling moment

The internationally acclaimed, Portuguese film director, Pedro Costa was back in Japan with his new film Colossal Youth (Juventude em Marcha). He continues to make independent films with the people in the poor ghetto neighborhood of Fontainhas (mainly immigrants from Cabo Verde) outside Lisbon, which area he situated both his two previous films Bones (Ossos) and In Vanda's Room (No quarto da Vanda). In Colossal Youth, he follows Ventura who wanders the deserted and half demolished town like a half ghost after the residents have been moved to a spiffy project the city prepared for them. The director has a calm air and speaks quite casually about his work.

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What are your plans for this trip?
I went to Osaka for a screening and to speak to an audience. And still have some interviews and another screening at a strange sound thing. I think it is In Vanda's Room with DJ's at some strange festival, with some strange sounds at a club somewhere.

How do you feel your film being shown in a club instead of a cinema?
Why not? (laughs) As long as people come.

After Colossal Youth, what are you working on now?
Well, now I am editing a film I made, actually, a little bit here. The last time I was here, I was with Jeanne Balibar, the French actress. She came to play and sing here, so I shot her at some concerts, and we are editing now.

Was there anything between Tarrafal (short film after Vanda's Room) and Colossal Youth?
Yes, I made two films. Tarrafal, and I made another one for a Korean production, for Cheongju Film Festival. Every year they make 3 short films so I made one last year.

Can we start from the question of why you decided to make Colossal Youth continuing with what you've done with your two films prior to that?
Well, after I made In Vanda's Room, there was a strange situation for the people there. They were suddenly being removed to this housing complex, these social houses, social projects and plus that, my desire to, it's started as an old idea to make a film about the foundation of the place, the Fontainhas neighborhood; about the first men there, the first shack, the first barrack, and making something around that. This all came about, because they were moving to a new place. They were a bit lost. They were feeling a bit lost. So we filmed the right, ideal moment to do this project.

Is this new area they moved to far from Fontainhas?
No, it's not very far. But the city council did everything possible to make the access difficult. It's not very far but they have to take two buses. It's really on top of a hill. No, it's not really a hill, but it used to be a dump before, so they built houses there. Of course, they had no buses. No transportation. So they made special buses but it's not really easy to get there. It's not far, but it's tricky (laugh).

That was done on purpose?
On purpose, yes, but that's the history of mankind. (laugh) People who've had these kinds of difficulties will always have these difficulties. If it's not money, it's transportation. If it's not transportation, it's something else. Nothing is easy for the people in Fontainhas.

Then, Fontainhas is completely gone, demolished now?
Yes, last time I was there, it was last week, actually. They are starting to build the foundations for a sort of speedway and an enormous shopping mall. So it took a long time for them to start building, or to start doing something on that place because it has been a jungle for 4, 5 years.

Does this film complete the string of common subjects you?fve been following on Fontainhas?
No, not really. Because, of course I have three films. Well, I made three, and three is a magic number. (laugh)

And people say it?f s a trilogy.
What if I make a fourth film? What would you call that? A quatrology? (laugh) I don't even know the name. No, actually, I've already made two films. Tarrafal and the other one so, we'll continue and I want to actually. I already have a project with the same guy, Ventura. Probably, Ventura and some young guys from the neighborhood. Well, children almost. It's not yet totally solid in my head, but I will do it.

So, after Colossal Youth, were you asked to do these short films, because you had chosen the subjects, or did you have ideas to eventually make them into feature length films?
Well, I made Tarrafal, 3, 4 months after editing Colossal Youth was finished. I got a call first from this foundation in Lisbon, saying they were planning on producing and financing some short films for what they call an omnibus. 6 films, 6 directors, all gathered under the same title, the State of the World. So they asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. I knew at least three of the directors. I'm close friends with them. One was Wang Bing, one was Apichatpong Weerasethaku from Thailand and the other was Chantal Ackerman. And I said yes, I like them and yes, the State of the World, we'll do the state of Fontainhas, so you already know what I will make, and they said sure, and then I got this call from Cheongju, Korea. And they thought of me for another short film. So we began with the short film on the state of the world, and went a little bit more with things we had started with the other short film.

Do they connect?
Sure, actually they do, we started with this small idea for one of them, and the other short we got some more ideas and we thought, oh, this could be a feature. And actually, now, I have this idea of bringing the short films, plus, making some more things, and doing it together as a feature film.

So it's a complete film, yet it's also a study?
Yes, it's a little bit like all the work we do. They are in some way finished but every film is a beginning of a new one, so yes, they are connected, it's the same people, it's the same place, it's the same memory, it's almost the same script. Because our script is that memory. A memory of the place, a memory of the people. So it's very easy that a film can show us the secret key to open the next one.

Before, I asked you why you started filming. But again, why do you continue to follow these people?
Well, I don't really ask that question myself. But a lot of people do ask me, and the only answer I have is, why not? (laugh) Of course, this is not enough. (sigh) Because I have no desire really to move anywhere else to make films. Unless somebody asked me to do something completely different. But now, I feel we've made this road together now. Three pictures and the shorts. It is beginning to have this, stupid perhaps, responsibility to be there with them. Especially now, because it is a moment where big changes are coming from all sides in their lives. They feel they are losing something. And I feel that I should try to help them see what it is that they are losing. Try to make that uncertain feeling into a film. And so, you could say they are essays. Essays on, a sort of research of what they are losing, what they expect from the future, the probable horizon for them, and for me also, because it's the work that I do.

And you must also share those memories by now.
I begin to share. Well, even if I can't be like them, from a completely different background. I'm not from their social class. I'm not “black”. But we have this common past now, yes. Well, ten years, something like that is already something, I'm also engaged in a lot of other things with them. I mean, I belong to the association there.

Anything political?
Well yes, everything is. But yes, there are 2 meeting points there. There are a lot of meeting points in the neighborhood. Every street corner, and there's the café, the bar and then there's the association place. So people talk a lot, about everything. Politics. Just about simple daily life problems. Housing problems, problems with schools, problems with drugs and all sorts of things. And sometimes I feel I have to do some things also. I try to organize this sort of cinematheque, videotheque for the young kids. Because I have communications I try to ask all the DVD editors to get me whatever, not only cartoons or films, like Chaplin films, Buster Keaton or whatever. It's quite important because it's a tough job. They start seeing films with guns and stuff very early so if you try to show them some Chaplin films, it probably changes something when they encounter something they are not used to. And all sorts of things. I'm of course, there, if there's a marriage and I will be there filming the marriage.

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