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CIRCLE Interviews: Meet Barbara Cunha, CIRCLE 2020 Participant

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

Barbara is a Brazilian filmmaker who studied with Béla Tárr and post-graduated in Studies of Image. Her projects seek to understand women in contemporary society. She directed several shorts, TV series and one feature film.

Currently, she develops her first fiction, Child Bride, selected for Torino Film Lab. Apart from CIRCLE, her feature documentary God is Woman was selected for Documentary Campus.

Q: Please introduce yourself and your project briefly.

A: I am Barbara Cunha, filmmaker and producer, partner at 99 Produções, an independent film production company in Brazil.

Barbara Cunha, photo from private archive

I've directed some shorts, TV series and the feature doc Prison Flowers (2019). My projects address feminine issues and seek to understand women in contemporary society. God is a Woman, my next documentary, follows Alexya Salvador, the first female transgender religious leader and politician in Latin America.

Q: Why this film? What is your most important motivation?

A: I started this film because I've met Alexya, my main character, in a previous work that was investigating transgender childhood. She was a mother of two trans girls. As a mother, she inspired me in a rare way teaching freedom to her girls, teaching them to be themselves. Also, as a religious leader, how she deals with gender and sexuality is quite inspiring. Religion and gender is a mixture that I never imagined together in the same narrative. My main motivation is to understand new and possible ways of freedom in different realities.

Q: What is the biggest challenge in making this film?

A: The biggest challenge was to follow her path for a long time, in a pandemic situation. To be free, to be critical towards religion. And to make Alexya, my main character, a strong and fierce woman that performs to exist, to forget the camera and show other layers of herself, not only her strength.

Q: What would be the most frustrating/troubling part of filmmaking (as a woman)?

A: To have a voice and be heard. To get funds. Not to be caught within the spiral of the impostor syndrome…

Q: And the most rewarding one?

A: To tell a story in a different way; as a woman, I want to transgress the hegemonic male gaze and try to see a transgender woman with generous eyes.

Q: How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your work as a filmmaker?

A: It has been hard. I am still shooting sometimes, but I need to have even more money to use the current protocols to our security. Alexya got diagnosed with Covid-19 (outside the shooting, in her private life) and she spent 3 weeks in the hospital but eventually got better. It was quite scary!

Q: What inspires you the most in your creative journeys?

A: To understand women in contemporary society. How can we tell stories and make structural changes. To make intercultural exchanges and discover other female filmmakers, writers, etc.

Q: Can you compare your experience at CIRCLE with other similar platforms that you have been part of?

A: Not really. Being in a group of women supporting each other is really powerful and inspiring.

Q: What were the most important benefits from being part of CIRCLE program?

A: Listening to other women and their stories.

Q: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

A: I don't know if I can choose only one. "L'une chante, l'autre pas", by Agnes Vardas maybe? She is the one that was always with me; I understand feminism and the role of women in films through her films. But also Jane Campion, Claire Dennis, Ava DuVernay, Céline Sciamma, Sophia Coppola. Lucia Murat…

Q: Do you have a favorite documentary film? Why is it one of your favorites?

A: Recently I was quite moved by For Sama by Waad Al-Kateab. From Brazil, for sure all Eduardo Coutinhos's films, especially A Man Marked for Death. Hearts and minds by Peter Davis. 13th by Ava DuVernay… But I have a long long list…

Q: What is the most important thing for you as a spectator? What do you search/expect to find in films?

A: I love films! Mostly a great storytelling that hooks me. A beautiful cinematography may help. A compelling character.

Q: What advice do you have for other (female) directors?

A: Read great books, watch loads of films, be curious, study if you can, go to film festivals, film markets, labs, and make new films!

Film still from Cunha's project God is a Woman

Next Friday, we are meeting with our Slovakian-Dutch Patirica Drati and her project Becoming Ema.

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