Interview #30: Alexandre Moratto

The origins of Alexandre Moratto’s debut film ‘Socrates‘ is something of a unique story. Although executive produced by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener, The Two Popes) the crew was made up of 16 to 20 year olds from impoverished communities around Brazil as part of a project supported by UNICEF.

Tales Ordakji & Christian Malheiros

The film tells the story of a 15-year-old living on the outskirts of São Paulo’s coastal region who, after the death of his mother, is forced to survive on his own.  It is released in Curzon Cinemas and on digital platforms on 4th September. We caught up with the Alexandre about the film…

How did the film come about? Particularly in relation to the crew coming via a UNICEF project? 

The film came from a personal place. When my Mother passed away, I felt compelled to express everything I was feeling at the time, but I didn’t want to make an autobiographical film. I went back to the UNICEF supported institute I had volunteered at as a film student, and I felt inspired to make a film with them and work with the local community. 

What sort of roles did the individuals from the project undertake?

Everything! They went out and knocked on all the doors to get us partnerships to make the film happen, for example getting us free transportation and discounted catering. And then, creatively, I co-wrote the script with a young woman, Thayná Mantesso, who was studying at the Institute, who helped me make the film very authentic to the world it represents, because it’s the world she knows. The young students also found all the locations and did all the casting. I just made decisions, but we discussed everything together, and they brought me everything to look at, they were amazing. 

What sort of issues did it present?

It was an adventure! One day one they didn’t know how to use the clapper, and by day 30 they were successfully negotiating rates, rules, and running the set – I loved seeing their transformation. 

What advantages did it have?

It certainly made the whole film more sincere and authentic because we filmed in their neighborhoods and in their homes. They were so lovely and patient to let us into their homes.  

Where did the inspiration for the script come from?

The inspiration came from my Mom’s death and the very difficult, isolating circumstances I was facing at the time. And also from my experiences as a volunteer in Brazil in these communities. It was a junction between two different worlds and experiences, but ultimately it all came from things I had felt or seen.  

How did you go about casting, in particular the lead role? Christian Malherios [who plays Socrates] gives quite an accomplished performance…

We auditioned over 1000 young men and there’s no way we could have passed up on him, he just had so much talent, charisma, and great instincts. He listened to us and took direction very well. It’s not surprising that he’s become a major young celebrity in Brazil, with Socrates and all the awards and with his lead role in a major Netflix hit series (Sintonia). He’s a trained actor and lots of local theatre people kept mentioning him when we were casting. He’s not a passing popularity, he’s a person who knows everything from Ibsen to Shakespeare and studied theatre since he was 10 years old. He’s the real deal. Tales Ordakji is also terrific and was studying at the same school. Theatre actors are so talented and smart.

I felt there were elements of ‘Moonlight’ in certain themes. Socrates most certainly has its own identity, but was that in any way an influence or a touchpoint?

We completed filming Socrates before Moonlight was released, I didn’t even know it existed. Moonlight was not an influence at all, but I do think it’s a great film. 

What was filming in Sao Paulo like?

We filmed in Santos, coastal region of São Paulo. It was very hot and sprawled out, and we were shooting in challenging locations, but I thought the local communities were so warm and flexible with us.  

Fernando Meirelles is an executive producer on this film. How involved was he in the production?

His company did our finishing and distribution. I grew up watching his work, Fernando is a warm and kind person and a real inspiration. He’s a producer of my new film as well. So is Ramin Bahrani, who discovered me and nurtured me since I was 17 years old and helped Socrates come to life. Chop Shop and 99 Homes are two of my favourite movies.

What sort of distribution does the film have?

That I know of, we have US, Brazil, UK, France, and German distribution — theatrical and digital. 

What are you working on next?

I finished filming my new feature the day the quarantines started, I feel profoundly fortunate. I’m in the editing phase right now. It’s been made under total secrecy with a big streaming company, and I’m not prepared or able to announce it yet.  

Our sincere thanks to Lizzie and Sue at Porterfrith for arranging the interview and to Alexadre for his time.

Socrates is out on 4th September.

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