You are not a soldier: Success Story from Brazil by André Antunes & Maria Carolina Telles
You are not a Soldier is a feature documentary that premiered at Sunny Side of the Doc 2019 during the Global Issues pitch session. Screened for a world premiere in spring 2021, the film puts the drama of armed conflicts and the more intimate struggle for freedom of expression into perspective through the prism of war photographer André Liohn. André Antunes, executive producer, and director Maria Carolina Telles look back on the chaotic journey of production
First of all, congratulations for your world premiere at Hot Docs! Can you tell us the feedbacks you’ve got and if it opens to new deals?
André Antunes (Executive Producer): Thank you! YOU ARE NOT SOLDIER had good press coverage with highlights in vehicles such as DEADLINE and VARIETY. The most evaluated notes were about the originality of the way of portraying aspects of the life of a war photographer, the strength of the images that cause a real immersion provoking ambiguous sensations and the sensitivity in the way directors Maria Carolina Telles and Aleksei Abib approached delicate issues. And yes, it opened new rounds of negotiations with major global players.
Back to Sunny Side of the Doc : tell us what followed on from your pitch and which co-productions and funding partners did you attract since your first international pitch?
André Antunes: After the pitch at Sunny Side of the Doc, we had several meetings with many channels from different countries. It was clear to us that the film we intended to make has a more cinematic profile and that festivals would be important for the film's career. We had the interest of potential partners, but we were able to complete the funding with our partners, SNACK and MISTIKA, and with support for films from the Brazilian social and economic development bank.
Could you summarize the project’s main milestones in terms of production & post-production, delivery & distribution?
André Antunes: This is a project that had a schedule challenge in the post production.
André Liohn has provided us with a huge collection of videos from years of conflict coverage. This is a gift but a complicating factor at the same time as it involves a lot of work and provides many possibilities for the directors to tell the story. In addition, he was still on the field and recording with his family sending us very powerful material.
We went to Sunny Side of the Doc in 2019 with an editing idea and few recordings to make. After the feedbacks, we revisited the plan and reviewed the editing design. We would have to go back to archival material and open up further research to complete the film in 2020. The finishing process, recording of the original score and clearance all suffered as the pandemic began but we completed it to make submissions for the 2021 festivals.
You Are Not A Soldier is directed by Maria Carolina Telles. Do you think that the « famous » female gaze is part of the success of the documentary? And beyond that, is a woman point of view means a fine-tuned approach, with a deeper empathy?
Maria Carolina Telles (Director): I felt like starting a two fold journey invited by an unique asset, into the backstage of war zones and a secret spot of a male lens. Sliding into an open door. And this is a fascinating. I always liked to challenge myself to leave the borders that recruit us between genders as a form of express my feminism. I don’t size myself within a genre framework in my work and it was always interesting to me understanding behavior in cis male anti-heroes, to embrace masculinity, toxic or not, without trying to explain, justify, or condemn them as opposed to my own life experience. Having access to interpret and study a war photographer lens under his POV (point of view) experience from my female collection of values and experiences brings a cut that can be somehow crafted with tenderness as I saw fragility and anguish. I don't know if a man would do that same search. For me it brought reflections on this meeting place of the feminine and the masculine under the complex exercise of paternity as I also allowed this encounter with my own pain of losing my father. It is my own female gaze at a cyclical life experience of a cis man in one of the most dangerous male adventures. As a result, is a sensitive yet brutal statement.
You Are Not A Soldier has been created to have a global reach from the beginning. Tell us how and what was your impact strategy ?
André Antunes: Yes, the global reach was an objective since the beginning. We knew that Liohn is a global character that has been in extreme situations in different countries for some time but we didn't want to address factual issues. We wanted to discover a universal aspect that is common to his profession and that everyone would relate to.
We were embarking upon different plot lines, like fatherhood, Liohn’s character arc, but above everything to investigates the life, motives, conflicts, and perspectives of a war photojournalist who transposes the spheres of journalism. Information and the protection of journalists is an important contemporary battle all over the world and we chose to go further and look for the anguish they find at home with their families and with themselves.
In a recent interview, you said « Information and protection of journalism is an important contemporary “weapon” in the battle that will protect democracy. » Can you explain why and how documentary can face and fight against fake news and dictatorial regimes which often are the authors?
Maria Carolina Telles (Director): The information crisis is one that touches on the prospects for democracy. The rise of propaganda, hate-speech and self-regarding politics with an extremist edge threatens stability and peace in my country Brazil, and all over the world. Journalism is in danger of being overwhelmed by rogue politics and a communications revolution that accelerates the spread of lies, misinformation and dubious claims. I believe we have to rebuild trust in journalism. People have not given up on fact-based communications but they are skeptical about how media – online and offline – are delivering their messages. It is extremely important to bring documentary as an ally into this battlefield of information warfare producing character driven stories to engage better the public with the ones that actually collect information and the facts on the ground in this framework of core ethics – accuracy, impartiality, humanity, transparency and accountability. To make a responsible exhibition of what is behind the scenes of information production. This is investing in democracy.
In your opinion, what are the main difficulties South America, and more specifically Brazilian documentary makers and producers have to face to develop international co-productions?
André Antunes: Brazil does not have co-production partners as easily as others countries that have a bridge in language or in a common history. Another obstacle was the slowness of bureaucracy and the lack of continuity of important production support programs in Brazil to close finance.
But things have changed. The entry of streaming players and the need to adapt to a new market reality where funding needs creativity and partnerships, has transformed the way in which producers operate.
Brazil has an incredible history of filmmakers and an audiovisual production structure that is among the largest in the world. This, combined with a universe rich in art, music, characters, locations, nature and many other aspects that foster stories and potential partners, makes us optimistic about the future.
#StorytellingMatters This conviction will be the central theme to all Sunny Side of the Doc 2021 market activities, helping bring to light stories which question, engage and impact. How is your organisation stepping up to the challenge of fulfilling a mandate for a diversity of voices and a more inclusive pipeline of upcoming storytellers across the entire production process?
Among the company's actions, ELO has implemented and maintained programs that seek to change a reality where only 9% of films premiered in the world are directed by women.
SELO ELAS is ELO COMPANY's label for feature film projects directed by women. In addition to thinking in the project's commercial strategies and distribution, a network of audiovisual experienced professionals contributes with project consulting, aiming to potentialize results and promote gender equality.
As a result of a diversified vision in the team involved, ELO COMPANY has developed and produced projects as the documentary series Brazil of immigrants, the TV Show Trace Trends on diversity and afro urban culture and the documentary The Truth Beneath the Lie that addresses the phenomenon of media misinformation and the way fake news can impact public opinion and, ultimately, the very notion of democracy.
What are your next projects? Can we hope to welcome you once again at Sunny Side of the Doc for another project to be pitched?
André Antunes: We are at an early stage of development of a project that addresses the science behind the preservation of the Amazon rainforest. We are developing a bold pipeline of projects and we hope to pitch in Sunny Side in 2022. Have pitched on SUNNY SIDE had a great impact for YOU ARE NOT A SOLDIER and we want to bring projects that have the strength to make the most of everything SUNNY SIDE has to offer.
Success Story | #SSD21 | Storytelling Matters | Sunny side of the Doc 2021