In advance of her visit to the Little Rock Film Festival, we spoke with Annie Eastman, director of the audience award winner for documentary at SXSW "Bay of All Saints," about the rigors of shooting in a Brazilian slum, new fundraising methods and the joys of screening at a Brazilian film festival. "Bay of All Saints" is scheduled to play the LRFF 2:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday at Riverdale.
Can you tell me about the film?
Basically it spans six years. I spent that time following three single-mother families who live in a slum in Brazil that is actually built on stilts in water. And during that time they were told the government was going to launch an urban development project that would displace them from their home and provide them with housing projects and restore the ecology of the bay where they’d been living and dumping trash for decades. And the film comes from the perspective of their refrigerator repairman.
You were in Brazil at the time, right?
Prior to making the film, and prior to getting in to filmmaking I lived in this neighborhood for a year and a half and worked as a volunteer for a small grassroots organization that did arts and education projects with kids.
Did you know the slums were going to be taken over like that beforehand?
I stayed in touch with the community and was working on some fundraising efforts for their arts center, and I made a trip back to do some of that work and follow up with it, and that was when I heard that they were planning on displacing the people. So I just decided it sounds like it would make a good documentary.
Can you talk about your involvement with Just Media?
I worked there shortly after I started this film. Daniel Junge had just started “They Killed Sister Dorothy,” which is a documentary film that followed the repercussions of the assassination of a North American nun in Brazil. So I met up with him and he hired me as a translator, and I spent most of three years working on that project with him and making trips to Brazil at various times to follow what was happening with that situation, and I ended up becoming an associate producer of it. From 2006-2009 I worked there as an associate producer and had a hand in other projects as well.
Why do you think that documentary is such an effective vehicle for social activism?
Documentary and specifically observational story telling, it’s not an information-based medium. It’s a medium that influences the hearts and minds of people. It just is more effective. If people can see and feel a situation in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise, it definitely influences and inspires action.
Can you talk about your initial budget and what the Kickstarter money went towards?
This was a labor of love. This is something I took on because I wanted to. During the six years, I funded a lot of it myself, but we also got several grants, and were lucky enough to get some donations from individual donors, but it was very much a shoestring project. When I went to the palafitas to shoot, I didn’t even have a lodging budget. I would stay in the houses of the people I was shooting, and at first that was something I did to save costs, and later it became my preference. I enjoyed being with them as much as possible, whether we were shooting or not. When we got to the end of the project and got our invite from SXSW — there are so many big costs that come at the end of a project, like the original score, and color correction, other finishing aspects that are what we need to do to get the film ready for a festival-type screening. So we used the Kickstarter campaign to cover those expenses, and also we covered travel to a Brazilian festival, and we were able to bring all the subjects in the film to the screening and have them be a part of the Q&A and talk to the press and really be a part of the film’s premier in Brazil.
So you used your own funds for the entire shooting, and the Kickstarter funds came after?
Mostly. We did get a couple of grants and we raised money from individuals, but for the most part I was splitting the bill on a lot of it. A lot of it was travel costs. I went to Brazil 12 times in six years, but once we were on the ground I just wasn’t spending much money and I covered a lot of the craft roles myself to save money, and also because I enjoyed doing it.
So did you pay for your equipment with your own money?
Well I was fortunate to get equipment loaned to me by Just Media, where I was working at the time, and that made a huge impact.
Would you have been able to complete the film without Kickstarter, and be able to go to South by Southwest and the other film festivals?
It’s not that we wouldn’t have bee able to go, but it would not have been done as well as it was. And we certainly would not have been able to bring the people in the film to the screening in Brazil. The film was shot in Salvador, and the screenings were in Rio de Janeiro, and that was a plane ride away and we had to have lodging and all the rest of it.
At the LRFF, more than half of the films are using either Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Do you think that’s going to be a trend for filmmakers, or sort of a model that people are using?
I think it’ll stick around. As long as there are people around with vision who want to raise money. It is such a democratic platform; you don’t have to be born in the right corner of the earth to go on to the Internet and attract a bunch of attention to raise money. It’s one of the things that makes me happy to be alive when we are.
What has it meant for you to be able to produce "Bay of All Saints"?
It’s hard to even describe in words. Every stage of the process has been so gratifying to me personally and I’ve learned so much. Taking on a project that takes this long, it’s taken six years to shoot. I am so close to the people in the film and just the experience of getting to know them as deeply and as intimately as I have, and seeing things unfold over a period of time in a neighborhood that is so otherwise overlooked by outsiders. I mean I just can’t describe how much I have appreciated and enjoyed being able to make the film, and being able to have creative control over it as well. I mean that has been really a gift, a very privileged thing.
Was crime ever a problem?
It’s one of the most high crime areas in the city. I was sort of able to dodge all of that, and only because of my friendship with the refrigerator repairman who kind of serves as the film’s guide or narrator. He is a very charismatic person, very disarming and engaging. He knows everyone in the neighborhood – he knows the prostitutes, he knows the born-again Christians, he knows the drug dealers and the traffickers, and he would kind of let them know ahead of my visit that I was going to be there and that I was going to have a camera, and that they should just leave me alone, and that the thing that I was there to film had nothing to do with them or their crime. For that they always left me alone and I never had any trouble with my safety.
When you were traveling back and forth to the slums, and when you were shooting and editing the film, what kept you hopeful that the film would become a success?
In every minute and in every way I believed in it, and I loved making it. More than anything, it was like whatever is at the end of this, for me, whether it is financial success or social accolades, whether it is none of that, or all, I know at least that I have done this because I have enjoyed it and because I wanted to do it. And that’s really the only reason to do anything, in life, and especially in this industry where things are so uncertain.
You said that “Bay of All Saints” played at a Brazilian film festival. What was that like for you?
That was a moment I had been looking forward to through the whole process. It was so exciting to have people in the film present at the screening. The reception was amazing. The Q&A would go on for about an hour after each screening. People really wanted to hang out and talk and share their experiences. This type of social issue, and land issues in general, are one of the things that Brazil struggles with the most. And the story in the film is just one example of that. It definitely have a lot of synergy and a lot of people form different points of view who are ready now to address this and bring more attention to it.
Where do you see it going after this? In terms of the film and what you’re trying to raise awareness of?
We are working on distribution right now for the film, and we are hoping for a theatrical release in Brazil, and that is something that will certainly help raise awareness for this particular problem. We are working on setting up sort of an outreach campaign and finding specific ways that we can influence the situation. And really the biggest thing we can do is just get people talking about it and thinking about it. In the city of Salvador where it is shot, the local press has never done a story on the palafitas. So if we can release the film in a way that gets people to stop and pay attention, then that will be a big victory in itself.