Ricardo Couto is a 22-year-old student from Valbom (a small city in Gondomar, very close to Porto). The short film “Terra Mãe” is his first work, and was one of the films presented at Fantasporto 2016 by the award-winning film school ESMAE. As a young artist, Ricardo believes that filmmaking might be just one of the tools he’ll use to satisfy his “creative urge”.
You started by studying Journalism but later switched to Cinema…
“I graduated in Communication Sciences, specializing in Journalism, in Porto at the Faculdade de Letras, and later did an internship at Público [one of the most prestigious newspapers in Portugal]. However, I felt that journalism didn’t allow me to be as creative as I wanted to be and as knew I needed to be. I felt I needed to go a different path to find a place where I could be creative and express myself. I decided to do a Masters in Audiovisual Communication, specializing in Documentary Film, at ESMAE in Porto. It was at that school that I ended up working on the project “Terra Mãe”.”
ESMAE won the 2016 Fantasporto award for Best Film School! You must be proud to be a part of this school!
“I believe it was a fair acknowledgment of all the amazing work the teachers do in supporting us. An award that celebrates the whole school, all teachers, and students, is a strong public statement of the school’s creative diversity. We have room to experiment and, therefore, fail, so everything becomes more challenging and rewarding at the same time, allowing us to break the norm and make an impact, leave an impression. That’s the merit of this school: to put teachers and students side by side, committed to free creation.”
Speaking of challenges, what was your biggest challenge with this short film?
“Terra Mãe” is my first work, so the whole creative process was challenging. This project was part of an artistic residency during the course in Documentary Film, so I ended up facing this challenge in a carefree way; I felt free enough to experiment and create without worrying so much about the final product. None of us in the team were worried about creating something perfect for screening or for winning awards at a film festival. We simply wanted to create, freely. And the process was very enriching for all of us because we all had different ideas and approaches. Making all those different approaches work well together, creating a common piece without compromising each other’s individuality, was incredibly rewarding. All the good things that have happened to us since then has been a very special reward for our collective efforts. After we finished the film, we felt its significance was so strong that we wanted to share it with more people. It’s been amazing to be able to screen our short film and to hear people’s comments and reviews. It has made us grow as creatives.”
And how did the idea and the story for “Terra Mãe” unfolds?
“The movie documents the daily routines of a family at a small and isolated village in Boticas, Trás-os-Montes [in the Northwest of Portugal], and it has a somewhat poetic dimension to it. It explores the reality of this family’s daily life as a reflection on the character’s relationship with time and how their identity is closely linked to two focal areas: the family and the land. That identity is more than something that is passed on from generation to generation; it shows many signs of resignation to the passing of time.
The idea for this project comes from observing this reality on the field and reflecting upon it. Our team members found that the dynamics of this community life was unique, almost like every little piece rhymed with one another. There was a strong community conscience based on the idea of family. Several of those dynamics caught our attention, from the fight between the bulls to how the itinerant commerce handled the distribution of merchandise. These different flows, as if they were small travels into this place’s daily life experience, seemed to generate from the same place: the village. It was our wider perception of this social dynamics that allowed us to identify a sort of poetic starting point and to bring our vision to reality. Almost by chance, while we were conducting our research, we found a wonderful family that worked as the perfect window through which we could take a peek into this very dense and rich routine.”
This first project definitely made an impact! Do you see yourself continuing to work in film in the future?
“In a near future, I want to work in Documentary Film for sure. Right now I’m working on my second film but I don’t think I plan my future around a specific creative outlet. As an artist, I want to keep creating, so I look at choosing an outlet as a means to an end, as the best way to shape and materialize an idea. So the future will depend on the ideas that come along and the kind of media I’ll believe is the best to convey the message at that time. I rely solely on my imagination. In time, it will determine what I should do professionally.”
You’ve been to Fantasporto before, as a spectator. How was it like to be there as a participant for the first time?
“I spend a lot of time in Porto so Fantasporto is like meeting an “old friend” in the city’s cultural scene. The festival has a long tradition of bringing to Portugal some of the most remarkable filmmakers in the world. It gives us access to a complete cinema experience and in the city, there is no other event of its kind. The festival is part of Porto’s cultural heritage and it should be celebrated and preserved. Screening “Terra Mãe” at Fantasporto was very special to me and to the whole team. We frequently attend the festival as viewers and now we had the chance to sit in that same room but to watch our film on the screen.”
Of course, all artists have their unique creative process, but I’m always curious to know how you’re influenced by other artists in your field. So, if you had to choose a mentor who would he/she be?
“That is a tough question, especially for a young artist like me. Even though I have only directed one film, I feel that most of my actions are a mixture of all the impressions I have from all the films I’ve watched, through their aesthetics and through their authors as well. I feel very strongly for Andrei Tarkovsky, mostly for his position as an author, focusing on each artist’s subjective and unique touch. His book “Sculpting in Time”*, to me, is like a treaty that takes the reader into reflecting on the cravings and eagerness to create that eventually shape the artistic sensibility.”
Keep an eye out for Ricardo’s work. I’ll keep you posted for upcoming news. What are your thoughts about independent filmmaking and the industry in Portugal?