Congratulations to the #VOFF 3 Winning Film: Pray

Be afraid. Be very afraid – The call to action heard by hundreds of film makers from around the world to join us in the largest online film festival. Last night in London the winner to our third festival was announced in front of a gala full of excited patrons. Sharing the venue with the closing night of the 22nd Raindance Film Festival was a huge honor for us, and an absolute delight. With that said, we’re excited to share with you all an interview with #VOFF 3’s winner, Cláudio Ellovitch, who directed PRAY. Congratulations!

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Why did you shoot Pray?

I believe that simply answering the “whys” of a particular question implies that there is such a thing as a rational and conscious cause to human endeavors and behaviors, when that is not really true. PRAY’s plot (as in its narrative chain of events) is probably one of the best examples of what I am trying to express here: “Why does the Monk character eats the bird fetuses inside the mystical egg?”“Why does the shamanic ritual involves the grey creatures biting people on the streets?”“Why the energy birds that emerge from the books on fire clash before flying off together?” It’s natural to ask those types of questions, but I think that we should embrace only the questions and not the answers. Answering the “whys” limits possibilities.

I can think of a number of  possibilities to answer the question above: 1) The project that became PRAY found me when I wasn’t looking for it (or maybe I was?); 2) I’m the only director in the world that could make this film as it exists (I’m not being conceited, I just don’t think it’s possible that anyone else would have taken it in the same direction as I did); 3) It seemed like a good opportunity for my career, to grow as artist and work with talented people; 4) It became a complete obsession to me and I just had to shoot it; 5) I had to try to express how I see the world and connect with it; 6) I wanted to make a film that I would enjoy watching even if had nothing to do with it… There are many other possible reasons, I can’t even see them all myself, but I can feel them. And in the end it all comes down to this: having a felling and going with it. Because all the answers to the “whys” may be either real or illusions, the important thing is that we believe in them.

How is it to produce a film in Brazil? Were there any particular challenges, when producing Pray?

It’s tough. As a general rule people here are very close-minded and for the kind of films I have made and want to keep making. I have enjoyed more success on foreign countries than I did in my own. And it is not just me, for other filmmakers I know here it’s the same. The greatest example I can think of is José Mojica Marins (a.k.a. Coffin Joe) who is respected all over the world as an inventive and unique filmmaker, but in Brazil most people only regard him a sort of folkloric curiosity.

In the case of PRAY, it only happened because a foreign producer (Stephen Cheng, from Hong Kong) believed in me more than any Brazilian producer I have ever met.

So we had an idea for a film, a first draft of a script and a budget, the first REAL budget I ever worked with. Then it was very hard assemble a crew, because a lot of people we met thought we were insane… Some people even dropped out of the film very near the end of pre-production! And we worked with a very short pre-production period because we had a deadline to shoot the film dictated by the investors, so that was a big challenge.

What we do have in Brazil are great artists and great locations, so that helped a lot to overcome the problems with the crew and schedule.

Other great challenges of the making of PRAY were language and cultural differences: Neither the producer nor the main actor (Amit Desai) spoke a word of Portuguese. Most people from our cast and Brazilian crew didn’t speak English. Then came post production, which happened mainly in Hong Kong. Even though most people in HK speak English, they do it with a very heavy accent that made communication difficult for me. Plus, a lot of cultural differences took place causing misunderstandings and even real clashes between different people from the crew, including myself.

More often than not, we were all able to understand each other through the language of cinema and the whole experience of making such a multicultural film was very positive. PRAY was a very difficult film to make, but it amazingly turned out extremely close to my original intentions and pre-production studies. It really was the case of writing straight with crooked lines!

What value do you see in the support from #VOFF and Viewster on top of the prize?

I value #VOFF and Viewster’s support immensely because the $70k cash prize (a very great prize, by the way) is going to the people and the company who invested in the film and not to me personally. I hope that this prize will become an incentive for them to finance other films for me to direct, but I can’t really count on it. What I can count on is the fact the being the director (co-scriptwriter, co-editor, production designer and music supervisor) of the film that won such an important and disputed festival will open up some new opportunities to get my next projects off the ground. Really, there were so many great films in #VOFF 3 that I find very hard to believe that producers and investors aren’t going to be watching who gets chosen by the Jury to be the number one…

The fact that Viewster is taking me to London to receive this award is a great gesture. It’s like I’m getting introduced to a community I’ve always wanted to belong to, but so far I had to watch from a great distance. All articles, stories and posts written about my work help me move closer to my grand goal at this point in my life: to direct a feature length film, and do it in my own terms.

What does digital platforms mean to you, both in the distribution your work and in the process of discovering new opportunities?

We live in a digital world. As much as some people like to hang on to the nostalgic idea of films getting watched only in theaters, that couldn’t be farther from the actual reality today in 2014. Entertainment in the most technologically developed countries is synonym of online content. The digital platforms have the tendency to grow in importance for audiences and serious filmmakers over the next few years because there is so much stuff online that people get literally lost, without any clue to what to watch, surfing endlessly through a sea of cute cats and porn. Filmmakers want to find their audiences; and audiences are looking for films that are worth their time online. The digital platforms are where they’ll meet.

Filmmakers are also always on the lookout for new partnerships: a prosthetic make up fx artist, a musician who creates OST, an actor to star in his/hers next film… Where do we find such people? Film festivals, yes. Where else? Digital platforms that hold short films are great for showcasing talent and finding new partners and opportunities.

Why did you start directing?

Once more I don’t think I can give a simple answer to a “why” question. It wasn’t really a choice; so many things in my life led me to this path that I can’t pinpoint a moment when I said “I’m going to be a director”. I think I have been directing films all my life; since I was a child playing with my action figures, writing and directing puppet shows for school or drawing my comic books. I was directing films in head without any camera throughout my teenage years (while writing scripts and short stories). It wasn’t a conscious decision. I even tricked myself into thinking that I was going to do advertisings for a living, because nobody takes people who want to be artists seriously in Brazil. The general notion is that you’ll starve to death if you try to be a filmmaker here, and that is really not far from the truth. Working in advertising led me to photography, digital manipulation of images and also animation, that ultimately became very important to what I do today.

If I can’t answer why I started directing, maybe I can try to explain why I didn’t quit. Filmmaking led me to some real problems in my life: I was embarrassed to talk to (have real conversations with) my father during a period when I really needed his financial support; I got into many different quarrels with wife; I got very near bankruptcy; got alienated from other people who deemed me a self-centered, unrealistic, stubborn SOB. Is that reason enough to quit? Probably so, and I was seriously considering quitting filmmaking for good. But I couldn’t do that… It was just too painful – the idea of not doing another film ever. So I kept at it.

Can you reveal any information on your next projects?

I’m currently seeking finance for a feature length film. I have two scripts in development: one is an adaptation of a Brazilian comic book character: Eugênio Colonnese’s “Swamp Dead Man” reimagined in my own style. The other one is a secret for now, all can say is that it’s loosely based on enigmatic piece of fantastic literature.

What I’m really looking for is to design a whole world, almost as if we were dealing with science fiction, but the catch is that it’s not about the future: all takes place in mindscapes. Characters, props, sets, lighting, wardrobe… All goes through a filter of the mind; a very twisted mind.

Any of these two projects would give me a chance to that.

What do you say about winning the largest online Film Festival?

It’s a great honor. I’m especially happy about the film getting selected by this particular Jury. Viewster has done a great job putting together these exceptional people with such great backgrounds. I had a strong feeling that if somehow PRAY got voted into the shortlist this Jury would value it for what really is: an attempt to be more that simple entertainment; 15 minutes of an audiovisual experience that is able to touch peoples psyche in a primal way, beyond conscious analyses. It was very bold of Viewster to stand by this Jury’s decision and give this award to a film with graphic violence, some nudity and a lot of disturbing imagery – all serving an unconventional narrative with unusual aesthetics.

Of course I didn’t win this award by myself, so I wish to thank all the cast and crew, everybody that voted for PRAY and the websites that published stories about it, creating awareness of the work we have done. Plus, I want to thank my wife for putting up with me during all this time.

I have invested 2 years of my life into this film and it’s great to feel the recognition of this tremendous effort. PRAY is a film that got turned down by some of the more traditional festivals because of some old fashioned rules that don’t really apply to the world today… and that was very discouraging, but this award is a great boost of confidence to the artists involved in the making of it.

I believe that Viewster is in the forefront of a new breed of film festivals because it’s very democratic and inclusive in their choice of accepted entries, but at the same time, able to keep the standards very high. The viewers that were able to follow #VOFF 3 got a real treat with an array of really interesting films from around the world. The filmmakers who submitted their films to it and got selected had a chance to show off their work to a very large audience, much bigger than that of traditional film festivals. And to have people watching our films is the whole reason we make them. There is was film for every fan of the genres covered in this edition.  Everybody won.

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Stay tuned for more photos, and videos from the awards announcement party in London! Join us in the coming months for our fourth VOFF titled, ‘Share it Forward.’ More details can be found here.

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