Interview: Gonçalo Almeida, director of award-winning “Thursday Night”
Born in Santiago do Cacém, a town in the Setúbal district two hours from Lisbon, and currently based in London, Gonçalo Almeida won the award for Best Portuguese Horror Short Film at the 11th edition of MotelX, Lisbon’s International Horror Film Festival.
In this interview, Gonçalo talks about his influences in filmmaking, what drives him to do his art, and his dreams and future plans.
You started your career in graphic design, but you ended up making films, at least for now. Was this where you wanted to go, or is it just another creative outlet you wanted to explore for now?
“I wanted to pursue a career in film, and that’s where I want to be. When I was younger, I never thought I would make movies one day. I always enjoyed drawing, so I chose graphic design to try to have a profession. However, I never liked it very much.”
You left Santiago do Cacém for London to study at the London Film School. Was studying film in Portugal out of the question?
“It was not a thought-out decision. My brother was living in London and suggested that I join the London Film School. At the time, I was not in a very good position in my life, so with his help and my parents, I decided to take a risk and go to London.”
In your Facebook page bio, you say that you care about what you don’t understand, about the unknown. Is this what drives your art?
“Yes, without mystery or abstraction, cinema or music don’t make sense to me. “Realism” is an idiotic invention by unimaginative people.”
At the end of the short film’s presentation, during the Q&A session with the directors, I remember you answering the dreaded question, “what will you do if you win” and you said if you did win, you’d be appreciative. Still, the €5,000 money prize wasn’t all that mattered. What does matter? What makes you want to continue to work in film?
“I think money is obviously important, but it shouldn’t be the end goal. Cinema is an expensive art. It’s not like painting a painting or writing a song. It takes people and equipment, and it takes money for that. I think I’m moved by the mystery and the infinite possibilities. I fear it, but I’m curious about it at the same time.”
After seeing the shorts on this competition, I had a feeling there was going to be a technical tie between your film, and Guilherme Daniel’s “Depois do Silêncio” (which ended up having an honorable mention from the jury). You confessed that the idea for “Thursday Night” was a bit rushed, but you still managed to create an original narrative, casting dogs as the protagonists (who weren’t always the most obedient actors). Do you feel that if you had kept working on it, you would have ended up with a better film? Or it would’ve been a too overthought piece?
“When I started writing the film, I thought I would do something simple, honest, and unpretentious. If I had more time, the script would have grown, and the film too, and I think that wouldn’t have been good. More and more, I like to see short short films that aren’t 30-minutes long and don’t try to give me a moral lesson in the end.”
In your acceptance speech, you said that you were heavily influenced by three directors, including Alejandro Jodorowsky, who was with us in the closing session. Who are the other two filmmakers? Which of their movies do you watch over and over again?
“David Lynch and Takashi Miike were the other two names that crossed my mind at the time, despite respecting and following other directors, some who have already passed, like Georges Franju who made my favorite movie “Les Yeux Sans Visage” (“Eyes Without a Face”), and others who are still alive.
Nicolas Winding Refn is one of the most interesting filmmakers for me, not only for his talent but also for his role as an ambassador for cult cinema that never had the respect or recognition he deserved.
[As for my favorite movies] David Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” Takashi Miike’s “Audition” (tied with “Gozu”), and Jodorowsky’s “Holy Mountain.”
Although public recognition isn’t everything, do you feel it brings you more opportunities? The fact that “Thursday Night” won Best Portuguese Horror Short Film at MotelX is important this early in your career?
“At this point, all these things are important. It’s important to know that someone likes your job. Everyone needs a pat on the back from time to time to continue.”
Another one of your films, “Phantom,” will be shown at Queer Lisboa in September that also takes place at Cinema São Jorge. What are you working on now? What are you planning to do next?
“Phantom” was filmed in London before “Thursday Night,” and I finished it at the same time, that is, this year . At the moment, I’m filming a feature film in Alentejo, once again with the same team from London, but now with Portuguese members on the team and a Portuguese cast.
After this film, I’d like to make an animation that I wrote a few years ago. I’d also like to return to Gambia in Africa, where I made a documentary last year to continue filming on the same subject. On top of all this, I’d like to make more music than I do. I’d like to draw more and get a more stable job, so I don’t wake up every day thinking about what I’m doing on this planet.”