Q&A: Gabriel Mascaro & Rachel Ellis on the Lyrical Meditation of ‘August Winds’

In a tiny coastal village in Brazil, Shirley and Jeison pass their time working on a coconut plantation. Outside of work, he dives for seafood while she sunbathes and dreams of being a tattoo artist. Their restless yet tranquil life is provoked when intense tropical storms approach, washing ashore a corpse. Drawing on his documentary roots, Gabriel Mascaro deliberately eschews a traditional narrative in favor of an atmospheric and lyrical approach in August Winds. Weaving the textures of the landscape with superb, natural performances, Mascaro delicately reveals a thoughtful and sometimes humorous meditation on life and death.


As the director/co-writer(s), what inspired you to tell this particular story?

Rachel Ellis (co-writer/producer): The idea emerged during a trip along the North-East Coast of Brazil, when Gabriel and I came across numerous abandoned mansions that had been besieged up by the sea. In one particular town—which ended up being our main location—we discovered a small cemetery was slowly being washed away, along with the bones of the deceased. It was an incredibly powerful image.

On talking to the residents, we discovered how they dealt with this reality as part of the natural cycle of life and their relationship with nature. Thus emerged an idea to use this very special geographical space, its memories, way of life and relationship with nature to reflect on life and death using two protagonists who would deal with these themes in distinct ways.

Gabriel Mascaro (director/co-writer): We started to write about abandonment, memory, loss, possession, the waves, the sun, the salt, and the brick and mortar of the ruins. I felt, however, that my challenge was how to create images out of something that is invisible: the driving force of the wind. This apparent impossibility spurred my interest.

I discovered the Dutch documentary filmmaker Joris Ivens, who made his first work about the wind in 1965, Pour Le Mistral. In his last film, A Tale of The Wind, Ivens, with grey curly hair, appears asserting that to film the impossible is the best thing in life.

This influenced me greatly, and in August Winds I incorporated a character who I play in the film, a researcher who obsessively records the sounds and reverberations of the winds of the Intertropical Convergence Zone. The film ended up becoming about what remains, what is transitory. The symbolism of the wind is pervasive, propelling a narrative that is permeable and free.

Gabriel, you have a documentary background; this is your first fiction film. How did you incorporate documentary techniques in to the film? The film is very observational at times, and meditative.

Gabriel Mascaro: I prefer not to talk about fiction and documentary as distinct. All of my previous work as a documentary filmmaker and as a visual artist has been contaminated by ideas and approaches that others may consider as within the realm of fiction. Whilst I recognize August Winds as a fiction, I also recognize the numerous moments that the film draws on my documentary experience, on real people and encounters. At the core of August Winds are ideas about the wind that transit time and space in a way that contaminates the very nature of the film. I like to think of the wind blowing us in directions and towards ideas and considerations that we don’t expect it to.

With the exception of Shirley, the lead character who wants to be a tattoo artist, none of the actors in the film are professionals, and are all from the small village where the film was shot. In the original script there was quite a bit of dialogue written for the non-actors, and we worked with some improvisation exercises and studied the scenes carefully. With Dandara, who plays Shirley, it was a very different process. Initially, Shirley’s character was very small and we were only going to film her for two days. She ended up filming twenty. She spent time living in the house where her on-screen grandmother (Maria) lived. It was then that we understood how this character would react in the environment and could be incorporated into the film to represent an external reality. By the beginning of the filming, Maria was calling Dandara her granddaughter without distinguishing between reality and fiction. When these boundaries are broken, what is real flourishes, and what is not becomes real.

We also had an extremely small team and a flexible production schedule, with the idea of being able to allow the camera to capture the real time and events occurring in the village in and around the fictional events that we imposed.


How did the two of you write together—was it back and forth, or were you in a room together? Rachel is also the producer, so I imagine she had a strong hand in crafting the film. How did you both balance your roles?

Rachel Ellis: We work very closely together; developing ideas together is a natural part of our relationship as director/producer in all of the films that we work on together. For me, being involved in the development stage of a project is one of the most enjoyable parts of being a producer! Being able to jointly write this script was a particularly special experience. We developed the script very closely, discussing all the ideas and contributing alternately. It was a very short script, too, as we both agreed that the scenes would serve as platforms for other, unplanned for, and unexpected interactions to occur that could be used during the editing process and that would influence the script itself during the shooting. In a sense my idea of how a film should be produced in the practical sense is very in tune with what Gabriel aspires to creatively as a director. This process is very rewarding.

What can you share about your atypical casting process?

Gabriel Mascaro: We went to the village and spread the word that we were looking for people to act in the film. Nearly all the inhabitants turned up for the tests, except Geová, who plays Jeison. Two days later he came to look for me, apologizing for having missed the tests and asking if there was a part in the film for a singer. I asked him to sing a song to the camera. As soon as he finished, I invited him to be Jeison. Dandara lives and works in Recife, and some friends told me about her. As soon as I met her I knew she was Shirley. She was the only actress I talked to about the role. The other characters I invited directly to participate after doing research in the village.


Do you have one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers, either documentary or narrative?

Gabriel Mascaro & Rachel Ellis: Be open to incorporate things that happen that are not necessarily planned for or expected. When filming your original idea, try to understand how the accidents that happen can contribute to developing and innovating your initial idea further. Have as flexible a production schedule and crew as possible.

What do you want HIFF audiences to take away from your film?

Gabriel Mascaro: This is a very difficult question! A good film for me is a film that is able to stimulate people to reflect about different people and places and how we view them. It is important for me to challenge peoples’ expectations and aesthetic experiences, I hope this film manages to do this in a small way.

August Winds will have its U.S. Premiere in the Golden Starfish Narrative Competition at HIFF 2014. Find tickets. Follow August Winds on Facebook.

Gabriel-Mascaro-headshotGabriel Mascaro was born in Recife (Brazil) in 1983, where he still resides and works. Spanning cinema and the visual arts, his work has been shown at many prestigious art galleries and exhibitions. Mascaro has written and directed four feature documentaries and two shorts that have screened at film festivals all over the world, including Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Oberhausen, Clermont Ferrand, Leipzig, CPH:DOX, Visions du Rèel, Buenos Aires, Miami, Cartagena, Bratislava and others. His work challenges the line between documentary and fiction and explores the negotiation of power relationships in their most diverse forms. August Winds is his first feature fiction.