June 17, 2014

Trojan Documentarians Honored

Documentary filmmaking has a long history at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. In 2014, M.F.A. Film Production student Alexandre Peralta continued that legacy by being recognized with the HBO/National Association of Latino Independent Producers for his documentary thesis, Looking At the Stars.

 

The film follows Fernanda Bianchini’s Association of Ballet and the Arts in São Paulo, Brazil and the people who teach ballet for the blind.

 SCA sat down with Peralta to discuss the film and his award.

Congratulations on the grant. What was your reaction when you heard you won the award? They called me and I wasn’t expecting it at all. The call was from NALIP and I said, ‘Oh, if it’s from NALIP it might be something.”

I was so excited. It was a huge surprise. I was on the street and just had lunch and I told my wife we got the HBO grant. She hugged me.

Are you putting the grant toward the film? Yes. It will help finish the film.

Tell us more about the film. The film is a documentary that follows blind ballerinas at the first and only ballet academy for the blind in the world. It’s in São Paulo, which is where I’m from.

We went to São Paulo last summer with a crew from USC. We followed some of the characters, and in the end we focused less on the school as a group but more with a specific character. The main character; she’s the prima ballerina of the school and she just got married. We got the whole story. We went over the summer for 40 days and we went back in November and got her wedding. We got the story of how she lost her sight and how her life has change - including getting married.

What inspired you to make Looking at the Stars? I’m from São Paulo, and it was just a coincidence. The ballet school was just two blocks from where I was living in São Paulo. I’d walk by it everyday, but I didn’t know that it existed and then one day I read an article about it and a light bulb went off. That idea stayed in my mind for a long time. Five years laters I went to really get to know them.

What story are you trying to tell with the film? Being Brazilian, we like to sell Brazil in the same way, like soccer or samba. I hope this is a really truthful story—a different story, out of the many stories we can tell. I think we are representing a small community. We show what it means to be Brazilian, but in that small community. You see the family support, the family values and the culture I guess that’s what makes the story unique. It’s a unique subject, but it’s also São Paulo.

How did your experience with the film change you as a filmmaker? It changed everything. I was more focused on editing, so this was my first time directing. Now I just had to change and think in a different way. I was introduced to a whole new world. Now we are trying to make our film more accessible. We’re doing an audio version with audio description. We’re learning this whole new world of how to make it an experience if you can’t see. And because everything is in Portuguese, we have to replace everything that is said to accomplish that.

What did you learn at SCA that helped you create the film? Before, I came here I had no experience at all in film. I basically learned everything here. If I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have the chance to learn all of this. I think it [the School] really helped defined what I really want to do and I learned so much about storytelling here. Being able to focus on what the story is really about; that’s something that I learned.

What’s your plan for the future? I plan to go back to Brazil and find other stories I want to tell and direct documentaries. There’s something just magical about the whole process of getting to know people. I’m a really shy person, but for some reason I like to hear all of the stories people want to tell so it was just an amazing process to hear their stories.