INTERVIEW: Daniel Ribeiro: On The Way He Looks
In 2011 a newbie 29 year-old Brazilian filmmaker Daniel Ribeiro showed his 3rd ever film ‘I Don’t Want To Go Back Alone’ at a Film Festival in Cardiff and won THE IRIS PRIZE, the most prestigious award in the world for a LGBT short film.
It included a package worth £25,000 which is enough for the winner to make his next short film. Daniel Ribeiro however went one better than that and he used this as the seed money to convert his film into a full length feature. Three years later and he’s back in the UK and his compelling story about Leo a remarkable blind gay teenager coming out and falling in love has worldwide audiences falling over themselves singing their praises for this enchanting and awe-inspiring tale.
Riberio has achieved his success without even a hint of the usual stereotype gay characters or the cliched plot lines that so bedevil too many gay films. Instead he shows a remarkable maturity in making a gay love story that unlike others doesn’t start simply because of ‘the way he looks’. It’s an uplifting and bewitching tale that makes you feel good about both yourself and the next generation too. It’s extremely optimistic and happy so it was not surprising that when we finally tracked down Daniel Ribiero recently that we found out that he is exactly like that too.
RWD: Where did the story come from?
DR: I actually wanted to make a film about where sexuality comes from. And I thought when was the first time I was attracted to another person, and I remember it was a very visual memory. And I started asking all my friends and all of them also had visual memories of their first sexual attraction. And then I thought how does a blind person attract to another body, and in particular a gay blind person.
RWD: Did you know any blind gay people?
DR: No. I was just completely fascinated with how a blind person is first attracted and falls in love with another person whether it be a boy or a girl. Although in fact the aspect of Leo’s blindness wasn’t my main focus in writing his story, as I wanted to talk more about how gay men discover their sexuality and so the visual aspect was in fact more secondary to me.
I wanted to focus on the universality of Leo’s situation of him accepting who he was and falling in love for the first time. I wanted to created a film where being gay wasn’t an issue and where Leo didn’t question his sexuality at all, which is the way it should be in life. After all, a straight person never has to question their sexuality as not only does it is comes more natural to them, but they are positively encouraged by everyone and everything in their lives, which is the exact opposite for most gay teenagers.
RWD: Leo’s mother is very protective of him, maybe overly so, and she treats him gingerly with kid gloves, yet he has this remarkably open relationship with his grandmother
DR: Your parents are always worried about you, but your grandparents have done their child rearing and no longer need to cope with the daily pressures of protecting and worrying, so they are more relaxed. Everybody tends to be very protective of Leo, not just his mother but his best friend Giovanna too because of his disability. His grandmother however doesn’t she see him as a disadvantaged person but as a competent and well-rounded young man whom she wants to nurture and love. She is actually very independent like him, and can see and appreciate him for who he really is.
RWD: You tackle other serious subjects such as bullying, yet without making light of any of these topics, you finish your story on a very happy emotional note.
DR: Gay films don’t usually end on a happy note, because we do have these all these issues like homophobia, and violence against gay people in Brazil and throughout the world. However the reality is that there are many more happy love stories ready to be told than there are about people just being gay bashed. I think it is very important for young people growing up who are constantly surrounded by a daily onslaught of bad news, that they need to know that you can be both happy and gay. As in fact that is the reality for most of us most of the time. I particularly wanted to make a film for young gay kids to show how positive life can be. I also focused on the universality of it because I also wanted straight people to realize and appreciate how happy we are too.
RWD: So I take it that you had/have a very happy life too then? (laughs)
DR: (laughing) There is a lot of me in this film. It does indeed mirror my own experience at school where I met and fell in love with my first boyfriend at 16. It was very natural to me, and my parents were very accepting. It does happen to a lot of people too you know; I just think it should happen more.
I hope this is a theme that empowers young gay people who so often afraid of showing who they really are. I want to say to them that life is short not to be true to yourself and not to be who you are. It’s so terrible that gay youth have such a rough time in their teen years when they are discovering their sexuality and they should be enjoying this time and not be so frightened and scared. I hope this movie helps encourage them
RWD: You have been enjoying an unprecedented success with your film and been travelling with it all over the world Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel… last week Wales… and tonight you are in Clapham! Have you had different responses to the movie?
DR: Even though they are vastly different cultures the reactions are always the same. It’s a universal story: growing up, first kiss, falling in love; gay or straight, everybody’s been there. Gay audiences however tend to me more engaged in the film and appreciate all the minute nuances more.
RWD: Aside from the fact that the boys are so adorable too! Anyway, I’ve counted that you have a staggering 17 Awards so far, and as we just announced in THEGAYUK you have been selected as Brazil’s official submission for a Best Foreign Picture Oscar Nomination. You must be pleased as punch?
DR: Asides from the great honor of a potential Oscar Nomination, I am particularly proud of the TEDDY AWARD for BEST LGBT FEATURE at the BERLINALE this year as in previous years it has been won by so many of the great gay filmmakers that I so admire and it made me very happy to get this particular recognition.
RWD: I shouldn’t let you go without mentioning the great soundtrack you put together, who planned all that?
DR: Actually is didn’t start coming together until we had finished shooting and had started the editing. We tried a track or two, and it worked. There was no big plan, it was more like an accident.
RWD: Well, a very happy one, So what’s next for you?
DR:Well the movie opens in the UK on October 24th and after I have finished globetrotting I want to go home to Brazil for a rest before starting my next project.