With insight and good humor, director Marcelo Gomes returns to the rural Brazilian city of his youth in Waiting for the Carnival, a documentary that introduces viewers to Toritama, a.k.a. “The Capital of Jeans.” Across garages and backyards, the town’s self-employed inhabitants toil over denim and zippers around the clock every day—except for the annual carnival season when they try to take a well-earned break. But in this thoughtful and provocative film, Gomes wonders: Are they shrewd entrepreneurs or slaves to capitalism? Below, we chat with Gomes about his transition from narrative to documentary features and how his country has reacted to the film.
After directing two fiction features —Once Upon a Time Was I, Veronica (2012), an official selection of the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival, and Joaquim (2017)— what made you shift gears and try your hand at a documentary?
I have always been fond of documentaries and used to direct some for TV in the 1990s before doing my first fiction film. Waiting for the Carnival offered me the possibility to return to a landscape of my childhood and reflect about the transformation of Brazil. And the documentary format suited me better to reflect about the past and present of this region. It has been very gratifying to experience the freedom that a documentary research process can offer.
Waiting for the Carnival was produced and filmed before Jair Bolsonaro’s election. Has it already opened in Brazil and, if so, how have both the public and the government reacted to it?
Our documentary opened in Brazil in April and it won the critics’ award at Sao Paulo’s Documentary Festival (It’s All True), the most important in our country. I also received Special Mention by the Jury. Shortly after, it had a theatrical release in July in more than 20 cities. Sofar, it is the second most watched Brazilian documentary of the year. The documentary has triggered very interesting discussions about the labor and pension reforms that are being implemented by Brazil’s current government—cutting off basic rights that were the result of decades of union negotiations. When I arrived in the city of Toritama, I was surprised by a fact: the working conditions in the backyard factories reminded me of England in the 19th century when they were in the midst of industrial revolution. But I would soon discover that they represented the future and not only the past.
What excites you about bringing your film to the Chicago International Film Festival?
It is my first time, so I am very excited to feel the energy of the city and to meet the audience of the festival. This screening also represents the North American premiere for our film that will have distribution by Icarus Films.
How have audiences responded to your film?
The issues raised in the film are more universal than I ever thought. In any place in the world people identify with the” uberization” of their working conditions. All the lines between our work hours and our personal time have blurred. We work non-stop hours because new technologies and smartphones have created the false illusion that we are more free and more independent than ever. But the result is totally the opposite. Every presentation of the film triggers the same question: do we live to work or do we work to live?
What other films are you excited to see at the festival?
I am looking forward to seeing many documentaries and feature films I have been reading about. I especially look forward to see Patricio Guzman’s new film, The Cordillera of Dreams.
What do you hope audiences take away from Waiting for the Carnival?
I will be happy if the documentary triggers a reflection about the use of our time and about the importance of having the right balance between life and work.
Waiting For The Carnival screens October 24, 2019 @ 1:30pm with Director Marcelo Gomes and Producer Ernesto Soto in attendance. Buy tickets here!