Gabriel Martins and Maurílio Martins

Shooting a film in your own neighbourhood with your neighbour as the lead and the local shop as the decor. After two short films shot according to the above principle, this is Gabriel Martins and Maurílio Martins’ first feature film No coraçao do mundo. “And we are far from done in our neighbourhood.”

They share a surname and come from the same neighbourhood in the Brazilian city of Contagem. However, they are not related and only met during lectures at university. “Pure coincidence that we hadn’t met already”, says Gabriel Martins.

The two are unabashedly lyrical about their neighbourhood, even though it was pretty boring and sleepy when they were growing up. “There was nothing there, the roads were just dirt.” A screening of Robocop (1987) on a big screen at the football stadium was one of the biggest events of Maurílio Martins' childhood. The neighbourhood didn’t have a video library either so for other cinema they only had TV to turn to. American box office hits such as Stand By Me (1986) and Home Alone (1990), that was it. Until the advent of the internet that is: “Suddenly you could download anything, that was truly amazing.”

Scripts on the bus

Gabriel Martins and Maurílio Martins were both captivated by cinema as a medium and went to study in Belo Horizonte, the nearby major city. Every day they took the same bus to university; an hour there, an hour back. Plenty of time to come up with scripts. They developed both the short films set in their neighbourhood in their ‘mobile office’.

While shooting their first film they could still walk the streets relatively anonymously with their single camera. People were sympathetic, but things only really took off when a whole crew turned up to shoot No coraçao do mundo. “People were offering help on all sides and the bar was even opened especially for us so we could relax with a beer in the evenings.”

“Before we started shooting the neighbourhood had only ever been filmed by news crews. The issues were always the same: poverty, crime and our dirt roads”, says Gabriel. “Now the neighbourhood transformed into a film set for a month. The inhabitants saw that not every filmable story had to be American. No, they can also be set round the corner with your own street and bus as the backdrop.”

Shopping centre

The neighbourhood was already close-knit, but the film only made it more so. Gabriel Martins and Maurílio Martins can hardly show their face without people asking about the film. The shooting raised the inhabitants’ self-confidence. “We show that the neighbourhood is home to people with beautiful, complex characters, not just criminals.”

Crime does play a major role in the film, as does the neighbourhood. After all, crime is a crucial part of the inhabitants’ survival strategy. This the filmmakers don’t deny. “We reveal that things aren’t as black and white as current president Jair Bolsonaro likes to portray them”, explains Gabriel. “He continuously categorises people. A criminal is a criminal and must therefore be eliminated. While a lot of people in our area augment their meagre official wages with income from the grey economy. There are many intermediate forms and we think it’s important to show these.”

There are many intermediate forms between criminal and non-criminal.” – Gabriel Martins

Gabriel Martins and Maurílio Martins aren’t quite sure why, but the Brazilian city of Contagem seems to be particularly ‘cinematic’. Arábia by Affonso Uchoa and João Dumans - that was part of the Tiger Awards competition in 2017 - was shot a few kilometres away.

Contagem as an example of average Brazil? Perhaps. In any case the two makers talk at length about how their city has changed. The big, bad outside world increasingly encroached on their sleepy commuter town. More and more people moved there, dirt roads were paved and small homes replaced by larger ones. There is more work now in Contagem so it almost isn’t a commuter place anymore. The icing on the cake is the shopping centre where half the city’s public life now plays out.

Film on the square

The two directors hope to be able to bring the film back to the neighbourhood. Maurílio has already held a few screenings of the short films in his garage. The two hope to screen No coraçao do mundo on the central square. A bit like back in the day, when Maurílio saw Robocop. First of all though, the big screen at IFFR awaits. The filmmaking duo will be visiting the festival for the first time and were delighted to find out they can bring some of the crew to Rotterdam too. “That almost never happens.” When asked what they intend to do with a Tiger Award, should they win it, they briefly go quiet: “Uh.... to be quite honest we need the money for the  film. We still haven’t paid all our bills yet, haha.”

Photo in header: Gabriel Martins (L) & Maurílio Martins (R) © Joke Schut