Filmmaker Interview: Alê Abreu (Boy And The World)

Cuca’s cozy rural life is shattered when his father leaves for the city, prompting him to embark on a quest to reunite his family.

The young boy’s journey unfolds like a tapestry, the animation taking on greater complexity as his small world expands. Entering civilization, industrial landscapes are inhabited by animal-machines, with barrios of decoupage streets and shop windows, and flashing neon advertisements that illuminate the night. The story depicts a clash between village and city, hand crafted and mechanized, rich and poor – and throughout the tumult, the heart and soul of the people beats on as a song. The film’s music is on equal footing with the stunning visuals, a soundscape of pan-flute, samba, and Brazilian hip-hop mixing with the whirling carnival colors and exploding fireworks.

Brazil’s ‘Boy and the World‘ is now released in North America via GKids, with its Academy Award animation chances running strong. With that, we decided it was time to speak with the film’s Director Alê Abreu on the film’s origins, music, release, and more. In NYC at the IFC Center. Find tickets HERE

What was the first element of what would ultimately become ‘Boy and the World’ that occurred to you? Was it a particular character, theme, or something else entirely…?
The boy came first. I found him scribbled in an old sketchbook of mine while I was doing research for another film. And everything kept emerging from that drawing. The main thing that emerged was a new way of drawing. I was guided in making this film by a child’s vision. I wasn’t exactly imitating the drawing style of a child, but I began to seek to draw with the same freedom of a child. Not judging my own work. From the boy, other elements began to emerge — backgrounds, animals, new characters, and soon a story.

Why did you decide to set the film in a mythical country as opposed to your native Brazil, or perhaps somewhere else on the planet?
“Boy and the World” emerged from the research into a documentary I was working on about Latin America. So initially. the film was a very rooted in location — a story somewhere in Latin America. But as we began to dive into the story through the boy’s eyes, the freedom that this brought me kept distancing me more and more from reality. We also noticed that the story was becoming more universal. So we decided to abandon Latin America and imagine that we were on another planet. This gave us even more freedom. We were able to invent flowers, animals, fruits, cities, to have two moons. but all of the social and political aspects remained there, in the background of this fable.

Speaking from an animation point of view, can you talk a little about the legacy of animation in Brazil? What animators or artists from Brazil inspired the look of this film? What animators or artists elsewhere inspired the look of the film?
At 12, I did an animation course where i discovered independent films like “Fantastic Planet’ and “Masters of Time” by Renée Laloux (French/ Belgian – 1973), the second one a collaboration with Moebius. It was as if a door had been opened. I had fallen in love with animation, with its artistic possibilities, and I decided that that was the type of film I wanted to make.

With regards to Brazil, when I began working in animation, you could count in the fingers of one hand the number of filmmakers doing animation. Mainly shorts. Brazilian animation basically survived through the advertising industry, and there were about half a dozen large studios doing different types of animation. Speaking of Brazil, that’s probably where most of my influences came from. But a lot of time went by and things changed a great deal. “Boy and the World” is my sixth film. My second full-length. Over the last 25 years, I have experimented with many different styles, and for the first time I feel truly satisfied with something I’ve done. It is as if every film I’d made up until now had been ‘training’ for the making this one. I can no longer parse out this or that influence in my style.

The film is described as “personal”. As this can mean anything, big or small, how does its personal nature coincide with your own experience? Was this always your intention or did it organically occur during the creative process?
I think I partially answered this when I spoke of the character of the boy. I think the greatest challenge in a film is not to lose, during the long and hard years of production and all the mishaps along the way, that initial motivation that gave us energy to begin the film. The reason why we decided to make the film in the first place. Especially with “Boy,” the greatest challenge was to stay close to the boy’s vision. I needed to allow myself to b e guided by the character I had created. Letting his personality be projected onto the decisions I made. There comes a moment when a director is no longer in charge, he must simply listen to what the film is doing and allow it to come to life before him.

As GKIDS, once of the more respected animation distributors out there are distributing the film in North America, can you describe how your affiliation came about? How did GKIDS approach coincide with your own vision for the film and its audience?
I was fortunate to partner with GKIDS. They discovered the film when I submitted it to the NYICFF (New York International Children’s Film Festival). GKIDS’ has a lot of independent films in their catalogs which engage children with a lot of respect and intelligence, while honoring their sensibilities.

As the film as made prominent festival appearances, I wonder, what has been the reaction from audiences in Brazil?
We have a very faithful group of fans in Brazil, especially through the social network. The film managed to be seen by 35,000 people in Brazilian theaters, but the video clip by the rapper Emicida, who features in one of the songs, has had over 600,000 viewers.

As music plays a (most) prominent role in the film, I will leave this question open to you: What would YOU like to say about its soundtrack and use of music?
Music already played a central role in “Canto Latino,” the animated documentary which gave rise to “Boy and the World.” The idea was to tell the story through the lens of the protest songs of the era. I think that musical spirit permeated the creation of “Boy.” I used to draw entire stretches of the film absorbed in these songs. Then the film began to take on a more universal quality than just the history of Latin America, and other references were brought in, such as Sigur Rós (the Icelandic band). The idea for the flute came from one of their songs. Gustavo Kurlat and Ruben Feffer, the creators of the soundtrack of the film, were very successful in juggling so many references. Emicida arrived toward the end, when the film was almost ready. We thought we needed a song with lyrics, which could be a counterweight to the film’s abstraction, and we also wanted somehow to create a dialogue with those protest songs I mentioned. That’s how we decided to go with rap music, which is a contemporary form of protest music.

What has been the most exciting experience for you in the life of ‘Boy and the World’ (so far)?
The emotional reaction some spectator have when they watch the film is something that really moves me. I’ve witnessed scenes like a child sitting alone in the theater for a long time after the credits rolled, crying. I constantly receive messages from people who have been very moved by the story. I’ve discovered that this is a film that sparks debates between adults and children, parents and their children, in the theater after the screening — this makes me very proud.


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