SxSW 2019 Interview – AMAZONIA GROOVE director Bruno Murtinho

“AMAZONIA GROOVE is a sensitive documentary about the fascinating musicality of nine remarkable musicians, coming from different backgrounds, with different musical styles, but with one thing in common: all of them living on the banks of the Amazon River, in the state of Pará, in northern Brazil. And when I write “a sensitive documentary” I do mean it.

After spending a few years travelling to the Amazon Forest, researching for the movie, I came to the conclusion that there was way more than just music floating between the tall trees and upon the vast rivers. Hidden within the musicians, I discovered an incredible spirituality and an amazing and genuine mythology, related to the forces of nature, totally unknown – even for some of the people who lives there. After being introduced to such incredible and almost unbelievable stories,  the film concept emerged: a perfect triangle made of MUSIC, NATURE and MYSTICISM. And on the very same day that we came with this fine concept, I told the  DOP and my AD that more than make a movie, we should make a ‘visual poetry’. Today, when I watch it, I am glad to say: “We made it.”” Director Bruno Murtinho on AMAZONIA GROOVE which screens at the 2019 edition of SxSW Film.

Congratulations on your film playing in at SxSW this year! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

Yes, it will be my first time at SxSW and I could not be more amped about it! I have been planning to go to the Festival for the last two years, but there was always some project holding me back.To be there for the first time, with my first feature… feels great! And, yes!, I do plan to attend all the screenings.

So how did you get into this movie-making business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

When I was twenty something I was working as an actor in Brazil, doing TV commercials, soaps etc. When I turned 25 or so, I wrote a short film and showed it to a few directors. They liked it and told me to shoot it and to start directing,  then I decided that I should do a proper film school, save some money and submitted my application to UCLA. I was accepted and next thing I know I was moving to LA. I stayed there for a couple of years then went back to Brazil and started directing commercials, music videos, writing scripts and I was lucky enough to win some awards and for the last three years I decided to focus on feature films.  

How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

The preparation was hard. Brazil is a huge country and the Amazon Forest is way far from Rio, a five hour flight. It took us three years of researching to find the musicians and locations – most of them only accessible by boat. At the beginning we had twenty amazing artists and every time we got there I knew I would have to cut a few and narrow them to nine or ten musicians. Right after we finally locked our final nine characters in the last days of pre-production, the crew arrived at the city of Belém and we started shooting.

Filming in the Amazon is not an easy task at all! The distances, the tropical thunderstorms, the heat, the tides..  in various locations we were totally isolated from the world, but our crew was so united that most of the time all the difficulties seemed smaller than they really were.

During post-production our biggest challenge was to achieve the look that me and the DOP had dreamed for the film. Since we used a lot of different cameras, took us a while in front of the Da Vinci to get to the very final colours and contrasts we wanted.
Today, I am happy that we signed our Brazilian distribution with Pagu Pictures.

Regarding the future, hopefully we will find a good international distribution company during the festival.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

The passion drives me! Also the beauty! The beauty of a frame, the beauty of two actors perfectly giving life to their lines, the beauty of the cinematography. And there is one thing that keeps me going, not only while making movies, but in life, in meditation. I do meditate everyday and I do the best I can to be connected with the subtle energies surrounding me. During any shooting process, specially with  “live organisms” as documentaries, meditation makes me so focused on what I want, that I do not have to waste time on set with wrong choices or misleading possibilities. It also brings me back to my center and by doing so everyone and everything around me falls into this gentle and nice state of mind. “Atma Namaste”, that is my magic potion, my friend!

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

The biggest challenge was shooting in the Amazon Forest! It was truly a tour de force! The environment, the distances and the natural dangers like storms, tides, and animals definitely the nature was the biggest challenge.

The most rewarding moment was for sure shooting the long opening scene of the movie! The long first shot of the movie was the biggest challenge of my life – so far – as a director! It is a 7 minute long shot! My AD and my DOP told me when we got to the location: “We should have at least one day for rehearsals and one day for shooting, but all we got is 6 hours to do both!” They spend a couple of time trying to convince me to do a cover shot, but I was kindly holding my position while the world around us was falling apart: one of the drone pilots was sick, the boat driver cut his fingers while holding the drone, the boat engine broke during the shooting, time was flying, a heavy rain was approaching us… a total mess! I just kept calm, put on some mantras on my headset and told them that we should at least do our best. After four hours, on the very last attempt, we made it! I was so happy and so thankful! We were celebrating like we had just won the World Cup!

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

We shot with five different cameras! We only had money to take one RED to the Amazon which was our main camera. I would love to have two of them but the budget was just too tight. So we ended up taking two more A7SII (Sony), one Ozmo, the drone and a Canon Mark III for underwater scenes.

My main visual reference was the work from a wonderful local photographer Luiz Braga. His colours, his light and his contrasts are simply divine and all the visual design of the movie was inspired in his works! I showed his photographs  to Jacques Cheuiche and he immediately fell in love with Luiz’s light! At that moment I knew we had our visual concept in our hands.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

I am really looking forward to talk and exchange views with the audience after the sessions! I cannot wait to see the reaction of the audience to the Amazon sounds and rhythms. I also think it would be a great opportunity to talk to distribution companies and sales agents.

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

We are going theatrical in Brazil next May through Pagu Pictures’s distribution and we are also waiting to attend to a few more film festivals.

If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

I would love to screen it in two theatres: the main theatre at Belém, capital of the state of Pará so the Amazonian people could watch it and at the Regency Theatre, in Westwood Village where I used to watch movies, dressed as a waiter, during my UCLA days.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive, like talking and text zing, through a movie?

If someone is talking… I would gently ask if can help them in anyway. If someone is texting… I would gently ask if that is an emergency – one never knows.

Depending on the answer, I would either try to help the person or, in the most gentle way, I would ask the person if that is possible for them to talk or text outside the screening room.

Now, if someone is leaving halfway… well, nobody should be forced to see something they do not like.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Only ONE THING? Well… may I fit three things in ONE sentence? If so… “Be humble, study hard and be true to yourself.” But above all, “Be true to yourself.”

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I saw LET’S GET LOST, in the Cannes Film Festival a couple of years ago and I was blown by it! Bruce Weber, the director, told us great stories about the shooting process and as a huge Chet Baker fan I was totally amazed by it. And if you do not mind, I’d love to let you know about my all time favorite movie: LANDSCAPE IN THE MIST, a one of a kind piece of art directed by Theo Angelopoulos, one of the greatest of all time – in my humble opinion.

This is one of the many film titles playing at SxSW 2019. For more information on this and any other title playing in the festival, point your browser to!

Leave a Reply