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"If you can make sure that everyone is on the same page, the better your chances are to produce and create most fluidly. That is the beauty of the collaborative process: all these beautiful, creative minds, working together to tell one story."

João Côrtes

João is the son of a music producer and a school coordinator. He started his acting career in theatre at the age of 12. Back then, he also drew the public's attention for his participation in a series of commercials by the operator Vivo, launched in 2013. His performance was praised, and he began getting invitations to play significant roles on a few famous TV shows in Brasil. Apart from his acting success, João was always keen to experience new stuff and, in 2018, he participated in the second season of the talent show 'Popstar', becoming then the runner-up in the competition. His success on the show led him to become the presenter of the third season. In 2019, João surprised his fans once again when turning his focus to the 7th art. 'By Those Hands that Lead Me' is his debut feature film, premiered at the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival, in Canada.

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By Those Hands that Lead Me

Country of origin: Brasil 

Narrative Feature Film 

'By Those Hands that Lead Me' tells a slice of Amora’s life: A 22-year-old girl, born out of two artistic parents, that becomes an orphan when she’s very young. Amora goes thru the challenges of becoming an independent woman, having to deal with the pain of her loss.

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We have seen so many actors who've made a successful transition to the director's chair in cinema history. In the end, both crafts are not so different. One could argue a maestro should know how to play music, and a musician should be eventually able to coordinate the band. In the film world, this metaphor is not so accurate because a director should be able not just to direct the cast but also to understand a bit about every other department such as editing, sound, colour, etc. João felt ready to give that jump, and we were curious about his work approach as a recent director. Mostly regarding the most challenging task for a director: managing the crew's creative process. According to him "I think, as a director, that communication is key. Actually, not only as a director but as an artist. You have to be willing to open yourself up to your team. Let them know what you're going for, what kind of movie you want to make. At first, you need to be very clear about where you want to go and what's on your mind. What you imagine in terms of concept, feeling, message, storytelling... And if you can pass it on to your cast and crew, if you can make sure that everyone is on the same page, the better your chances are to produce and create most fluidly. That is the beauty of the collaborative process: all these beautiful creative minds working together to tell one story. But for that to happen, they all need to be connected".

Have you ever seen that act where the guy gets a bunch of plates spinning on the ends of sticks? Now imagine doing that while having twelve people screaming at you, balancing a budget, and chasing the sunset. That's directing. We have a sense of how high the stress levels can be. What makes all of it worse is the added stress of not knowing if and when you'll work again. There are a thousand reasons that your movie can lose money that have absolutely nothing to do with you. Guess what? Each of these reasons will always be the director's fault.

 

João seems to be ready for the challenge. Everything was new for him on this project, and he seemed to handle the pressure quite well. When asked about it, his relaxed attitude reveal the spirit of a leader. "Well, this is my debut film, so everything was new! I feel like it's a combination of many things. Time is one of them. If you have enough time to read the script, to discuss it with everyone, to study and prepare it, etc.  That will help to ease the pressure. Also, you have to choose your crew wisely. Work with people that will add to your project. Smart people that will listen. In that sense, I chose people from different backgrounds. My 23-year-old brother, Gabriel, was the cinematographer, one of the actors - Bruno Suzano, is 26 years old, not very experienced as well, but a huge talent. And at the same time, the soundtrack was composed by Ed Côrtes who did the soundtrack for the City of God, Lord of War, etc. The editor of the film was Federico Brioni, who worked on big projects like 'Coisa Mais Linda', for Netflix... So to have that mixture gives you balance, and it helps a lot. But most importantly: You need to trust your instincts. Wildly. You need to trust yourself, as hard as it may be. And trust the feeling that led you to that position. And it's an exercise to keep coming back to the core of what you first imagined, even with all the millions of things that you'll have to decide and take care of. As a director, you are a leader. In my case, I was the writer and director, so I knew what the film should look like and how each scene should feel like I had to stick with that and take everyone with me. Stand your ground".

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In a time when everyone wants to be the next great filmmaker, the task of standing out can seem daunting. For first-time filmmakers, the challenge is bigger since their style is not defined yet. For João, keeping it fresh and original comes with several components in the process, but mostly with the cast collaboration. As he says "Actors to me are the real source of originality - the source of freshness. I genuinely believe that if you have a great cast of dedicated, intense, powerful actors, you have 75% covered. My greatest pleasure as a director is to work with the actors, to really allow them to play with the scenes. That can bring some really interesting, unpredictable flavours. In this film, I had the luck to work with some incredible and experienced actors, like Neusa Maria Faro - one of the greatest Brazilian actresses. A dame of the theatre, having done more than 30 soap operas; Daniela Galli - award-winning actress; Fernanda Marques - a brilliant actress who played the lead, and right after the film, got cast to a big soap opera in Rede Globo. They all brought such colourful performances. Also, I try to be honest with my scripts. When I over complicate my ideas, I come back to simplicity. Just being truthful to what subjects I feel like talking about. And keep connected to that. If it comes from the heart, it's valuable. And I really like plot twists and creating unexpected turns or endings. There's nothing like surprising faces in the audience!

When making an independent film, there will be several factors throughout the journey that will be beyond your control. Budget constraints and lack of experience will make it seem impossible to predict, let alone determine the quality showcased in your film. The key here is to prepare rigorously; what you lack in funds, you must make up for with time. The reality is that cheap and quick cannot produce high-quality outcomes. João produced his feature film 100% independently, with his own money, counting on the help of partners and friends. As he says "We faced big challenges on the way, and I've learnt a lot in the process of writing and directing the film. As a writer, I was anxious to finish the script. I wanted to see it ready, and it just doesn't work like that. It takes time. Every scene, every character's development needs to be matured. The story needs to be well tied. Organize table readings, let everyone talk about it, and share their opinions. Critics. Advice. Listen. Then, you can take what's right for you and throw away what's not. And as a director, I think the main failure was not to have enough time to prepare, not only the actors but the crew. I understood the value of time. In pre-production, time is everything, so everyone can get to set feeling ready. Also, choose your crew very carefully. You need to trust that each head of department will be able to create that specific world, from the big decisions to the small and delicate adjusts. These are the people that are going to deliver the film you dreamed of. Not only that, but you need people that are easy to work with. People you're probably going to spend months with. One wrong person on set can destabilize the whole crew. Trust me."

When asked about his career goals, João is ambitious but seems to be with his feet on the ground. He told us "I think that, as a young filmmaker, my long-term goal is to be able to keep doing films, and living out of them. Sounds obvious, but it's not. The idea is to gain recognition and visibility with the first projects, do the networks, understand how the industry works, find right partners, maybe even sponsors so that you can do the next one. And the next one. And keep growing. Challenging myself. Exploring the genres. I would love to write/direct for all different styles of movies. And what I love the most: to direct actors. The possibility to meet and work with other actors. After all, I am an actor as well. I have a career as an actor in Brazil. So there's also the ambition to act in my films! Write the parts that I never got the chance to play. Give opportunities to the many talented artists (cast and crew) I see around me. That's the plan. To build that empire of good, original, solid work". 

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