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Exploring the cinematic world of Ivann Willig: Inspirations, challenges, and current projects.

By Lucas Marques

1. How did you start your career in film and what were your first experiences?

I can say that my career in cinema started at the age of 5 when I saw my first big screen movie: "Jaws" (1975) by Steven Spielberg. I was so impacted and amazed that, from that experience on, I would live my life as if it was a movie, in search of someday working in this area. It was a long journey and thousands of films until I entered film school and discovered myself as a director. Cinema has never left me, and I have never left the cinema. I don't know how to live without this magic.

The first film I directed was made in college, in an internal script contest, in which my story was chosen: " Elas Preferem Jiló". It is a trashy movie about two xipho-ompal twins who hate each other but cannot be separated due to an inheritance.

The film is so bad and technically precarious that it became a reference to "how not to make movies"... (laughs). But believe me, the film has its fans... (laughs). I have a friend - Daniel Rossi - who elected "Elas Preferem Jiló" as the best film of my whole career (laughs)

Obviously, I don't disown my kid, but I will never stop being impartial. The movie is bad, but I love it and am proud to have made it.

2. What are your main inspirations and references in the creation of your films?

I identify myself a lot with the dramaturgy of Nelson Rodrigues and all his naked freedom in approaching sexuality; the multifaceted richness of Pedro Almodóvar's characters; the genius of Charles Chaplin in brightening up several departments of the cinematographic art (direction, acting, script, original soundtrack); the docility of Steven Spielberg's films; the plurality of Jean-Jacques Annaud the perfectionism of Ridley Scott; the direction of actors by Clint Eastwood; the camera positioning and depth of field in the films of William Wyler; the sagacity in dismembering sagas and family dramas as well done by Danish Bille August; the subtlety of the silences that speak volumes in the films of the irrepressible James Ivory; the sensibility of Ang Lee, and the feminine gaze of the best of all directors, Jane Campion.

3. You have a particular style of period filmmaking, what attracts you to this genre?

I love period films. I feel comfortable writing and setting my films in distant times. I am not at all encouraged to write for the present day. When I set out to make a film set in the past, besides all the visual richness that this requires of the production, art direction, costumes, and characterization, I am deeply attracted to being able to propose a theme from today being confronted with the habits and thoughts of days long gone and, with this, to open space for reflections.

4. How do you approach the development of characters in your screenplays?

I like multifaceted characters who are not one-dimensional, and who can show contradictory sides. It's not about being good or bad, but having thoughts or attitudes that reveal what's in between the lines. Example: I love it when Carolina Kasting's character in the movie "Choices" (2017) reveals that, even though she was a rape victim, she doesn't regret that her mother murdered her attacker but rather that she didn't do it; and yet to hear her say that she loved her father who sexually abused her, that is absurdly painful to hear. It hurts the soul. This kind of behavioral and psychological duality is of unparalleled richness to the character.

5. Among all the films you have directed, which was the most challenging for you and why?

All my films have brought me great challenges in many ways. My third film, "A Idade da Inocência" (2009) with Marcos Caruso, and Roberto Bomfim, among others, put me in a dangerous situation. Those who know my films realize how much I like to use drones in some scenes. At the time of the film in question, there was no habit of filming with drones. Aerial scenes were done by helicopter or ultralight.

For the opening of my film, I wanted it to start with an aerial shot. The helicopter was too expensive for my savings. I appealed for the ultralight. The flight was scheduled with the pilot for a certain day. An hour before I was due to board, the pilot did a flight to test the equipment, which ended up having technical problems at altitude and crashed fatally. I was very shocked by the rescue and saddened by what had happened. I waited a month until I dared to face a new flight attempt. To give up the opening of the film with an aerial shot, no way. I took a flight, on the scheduled day, with the camera in hand, fighting the wind and praying for nothing to fail. All that for art's sake.

6. What are the main challenges you face as a director, screenwriter, actor, and characterizer in your projects?

What a broad and interesting question. Let's go... as a director my main challenge is to assemble a perfect team. I have had audio problems in two films where I had to dub several scenes. This makes me very distressed.

As a screenwriter, the big challenge is to write something that will be approved by public funding. Until today I have never been contemplated in any public contest. I honestly don't know what the jury expects to read, but I know what I want to write and produce, and direct, which is why I always end up funding my films with my savings. I can't resign myself to my art being buried in paper form.

As an actor, the big challenge is to become a good actor...(laughs!!!). Although I have a degree in Scenic Arts and have acted in some plays and (tiny!!!) TV spots, the failure wouldn't let me go. I still haven't fulfilled myself in this area. I want to make movies and I feel that I am more mature to challenge myself in Seventh Art.

The biggest challenge I find as a characterizer is to find actors without tattoos and ear enlargements. The generation of actors that was a "blank canvas" no longer exists.I understand the multiple meanings of someone choosing to have a tattoo: beauty, attitude, manifesto, homage, identification, etc, but if a person chooses to follow the acting profession, why not preserve their innocuous body ready to be molded by the character to be created? The characterization that creates and elaborates a tattoo is much richer than the characterization that erases, that hides.

7. How is your creative process to create a film? Do you have a specific method?

My creative process is very simple. I need to isolate myself to write, always listening to my calm, quiet music. My favorite singer - Enya - is part of all my creations, often joined by Sarah Brightman and Deva Premal's mantras. This triad is infallible. The ideas bubble up and proliferate more than Gremlins on a rainy day.

8. You have had the opportunity to work with renowned actors and actresses, how was this experience?

Regardless of being renowned, famous, or not, I had the privilege of directing all the actors and actresses who participated in my films and I am very grateful for all the learning I had with them. They were all a blessing. I believe that it is the director who sets the tone of a set. I have never made a distinction between famous, not famous, and crew. We are all professionals seeking the best result from work that is always done together. Those with more experience end up contributing to a greater fluidity in rehearsals and filming.

I learned with all of them, to listen to their tips, to ponder on questions raised about one or another line of the script, and then it was just a matter of opening the camera and letting them shine.

And, to be very honest, I don't look for famous people to act in my films. I look for excellence in acting. I found in each one of them the delicate brute force of a cut diamond. They are all components of my learning as a director; they are all reasons for the pride, love, gratitude, and respect I have for absolutely everyone.

9. You have already had the opportunity to take your films to several countries, what were the most surprising reactions you ever had?

There are two unforgettable 2017 I was in Los Angeles, competing in the LABRFF Festival (Los Angeles Brazilian Film

Festival) and my film "Choices" being screened on the screen. At the end of the screening, an actress approached me, in tears, thanking me for the film I had directed and also telling me a shocking fact: "I have never verbalized this before, but as a child, I was sexually abused by my father, and finding this topic in your film, treated so delicately, touched me deeply. Congratulations, and thank you for giving us a voice.

We hugged, exchanged contact, and she was joined by dozens (I said dozens!!!) of other people who sought me out to verbalize their child abuse traumas. People I had never met personally, but who had seen the film at other festivals. I became a sort of confidant for these victims. This is the great prize that cinema has given me. The rest is just trophies.

Another defining moment was in 2019, at the same LABRFF Festival in Los Angeles, after being nominated for the third time in Hollywood, I finally came out a winner with my film "Roses"(2019). It was the peak of my career, not only for winning that much-desired award but for all the meaning that Hollywood has in my life, because, since I was raised watching and loving Hollywood movies; the stars and divas of the past who made history in that little land and I was there crying and laughing at the same time, thanking them in English and Portuguese, all mixed, completely shaking. My LABRFF award is my OSCAR!

10. How did you come up with the idea of making the documentary "Drag Star" and how has your experience been with this project?

"Drag Star" came about through Zeca Teixeira who idealized a documentary about a drag contest and invited me to direct. I was surprised by the invitation and immediately felt attracted by the proposal. Next, I invited a director whom I admire completely and knew would add a lot to the project: Lucas Marques, a great friend and a very talented filmmaker with whom I am very proud to have shared this direction. For the production, we called another talented friend, Marcelo César. We assembled a cohesive team of professionals of unquestionable quality and ventured into this very enriching trajectory. In the middle of the way we were surprised by the Covid-19 Pandemic, and for two years we had to wait for better days. We managed to finish the filming as soon as the world started to socialize again, and at this moment we have the film on the editing table.

It was a mega-challenging experience, but a unique learning experience about the politicized world of drag. I fell so in love with this art that, even though there is no more filming to be done for this documentary, I continue to follow this and other contests as a mere appreciative spectator.

11. How do you choose the stories that you want to tell in your films?

I always think of some social theme that arouses my interest to put forward for reflection. From the chosen theme, I start researching the eras that best fit the theme, always avoiding the current days. Particularly, I always end up writing for isolated locations. Farms and ranches help to give credibility to the past, because, in urban centers, hiding the modernity of the present day is unfeasible.

I firmly believe in the learning potential that cinema provides us with. Cinema is not only a tool for escapism and entertainment. One of its greatest functions is precisely to provide opportunities for reflection, debate, and knowledge about the most diverse subjects, and when the focus is on the social problems related to prejudice and preconceptions, and then cinema reaches its greatest magic. And this reach is universal.

12. What are the elements that you consider most important in a movie?

To be simple and direct: script, conflict, and performances. Having quality in these three elements, you will have a much better chance of getting a great film, even with limited resources. This is why I love old movies from Hollywood's Golden Age so much. In the 1940s and 1950s, great movies and great stars were made because of their performances, based on great scripts. Nowadays visual effects and frenetic editing take the lead in blockbuster movies, which I also consume from time to time, but which do not perpetuate, in my affective memory.

13. The films "Choices", "Roses" and "Between Glances" are period films. What were your biggest inspirations to portray the eras in which these films are set?

In "Choices" I think it is evident that my greatest inspiration came from the work of the profound Ingmar Bergman, more specifically "Autumn Sonata" (1978), not because of the period itself, but because of the structure of the narrative.

The photography of "Roses" came from the inspiration of David Lean's open-plan films with great landscapes and photogenic clouds: "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) and "A Passage to India" (1984) are just a few examples.

The color palette of the costume and art direction of the film "Between Glances" (2020), has been inspired by the films "Amélie" (by Jean-Pierre Jeunet - 2001) and "Far From Heaven" (by Todd Haynes -2002).

14. How do you approach the creation of sets and costumes in your period films?

Since I always want to set my films in times long gone in past, obviously I will need to do some reliable research to create the costumes and art direction to match the era being portrayed. In my last three films, I could count - and I will continue to count - on the priceless talent of costume designer Natália Zincone. She has a vast knowledge of all eras and knows where to find everything I need. About the costumes for "Between Glances", for example, all the pieces of the costumes came from São Paulo. Everything was adjusted according to the measurements of the actors, who tried on all the clothing possibilities during pre-production. Once the costume is defined, it is only left under the careful care of the costume assistant Luana Willig (my sister who also helps me in the production, continuity, and everything else I need!).

As for the specific objects, I usually find them at antique fairs and antique stores. Generally, they end up increasing the cost of production, since they are objects that are rented for significant daily rates. But every film deserves this kind of attention and care.

15. How would you describe your career so far? Do you realize that your films have received many awards?

Thank you for mentioning it (laughs!!). That immediately brings me back to Elizabeth Taylor. Sorry for the lack of originality but I need to copy the same answer Liz Taylor gave when asked if she didn't think she already had too many diamonds: "Too many yes. Enough, never". (laughs)

Having come this far, I consider my career up to this point to be one of complete fulfillment. My last three films have already passed the 200 awards mark - all together - and, more than this, my greatest success is undoubtedly the many friends I have made throughout the various festivals I have attended in person. Professionals in the area with that I have partnered in new projects have become eternal friends.

If Cinema cannot be made alone, then I want to ally myself with the best. And when the best ones become my friends, then success is translated into pleasurable work.

16. What are your plans in terms of cinematographic projects for the future?

While I am not directing again, I keep myself busy writing new scripts. At the moment I have seven scripts for short films and one script for a feature film ready. At any moment we will be back on the road. I am always hopeful and positive.

I also want to get back to acting and it is very likely that soon this will happen under the creative process of the director who has his signature and unmistakable style, Lucas Marques.

I hate shelved projects and my drawer is already heavy... (laughs!!).

17. What would you say to young filmmakers who are just starting and want to follow in your footsteps in the film industry?

I think the best way is always knowledge. Be curious. Watch hundreds, thousands of films. Have references to learn how to build your style. Don't just settle for academic teaching. Practice, make mistakes, try other ways, but don't give up, and don't fall apart with the countless "no's" that will come your way. Focus on your dream and know that the achievement depends first of all on our persistence and a lot, a lot of effort. The art of filmmaking is the art of perseverance.

18. What is the question that you always wanted to answer, but were never asked?

(laughs) That's a great question. Let me think... There's a question I've already been asked in an interview created by film critic Marcos Lago and that was never published and it was a question that left me moved: "If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to the boy Ivann?"

I would say to the young Ivann: "you will learn to see life peculiarly as if it were a movie; a movie written by you but directed by God. You will experience all genres; drama, comedy, suspense, romance, action, adventure... and when you are hit by misfortunes that lead you to hopelessness, learn that forgiveness strengthens love. Life is fantastic and you will live each instant intensely, but never, ever forget to be the protagonist of the ‘movie’ of your life”.


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