May 2003
City of God : An Interview with Co-Director Katia Lund and Author Paolo Lins

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

City of God: An Interview with Co-Director Katia Lund and Author Paolo Lins

Still doing well in theaters after being shunned by the Academy voters for a nomination for best foreign film is the well received, top ten mentioned, violent and engrossing film City of God. While in New York City for a benefit for We In Cinema, non-profit acting school in a favela in Rio Brazil, blackfilm.com got a chance to speak to Co-Director of City of God, Katia Lund and the author of the book, Paula Lins to discuss merits of the films.


WM: there are over 300 characters in the film. How challenging was it to get all the parts in?

KL: Really, this was like the most pleasurable experience Iíve ever had because these kids wanted so much to tell the story and they wanted to be a part of this so they would come to the set with so much energy. We did worry about differentiating each character from the other so that you would get a real sense as to who each person was and making them real. Like the character Lil Ze, for example, we wanted to humanize him in some sense so we created that scene where he asked the girl to dance at the party so at least you have an understanding whatís makes him human. We tried to differentiate the characters as much as we could. But it wasnít difficult it was a wonderful experience.


WM: Did any of the kids come from the non-profit acting school you started a few years ago?

KL: This non-profit acting school started as way to find the cast for ďCity of GodĒ, but we decided to give it a different name so that it wouldnít be a test to see if someone would get into the film. It would be a school for acting and at the end everybody would get a diploma and we would worked on a collective set of collaboration instead of competition so we created the name We In Cinema and the entire cast from ďCity of GodĒ is from this school.


WM: Paulo, the film is based on the book you wrote and it took you 8 years in writing it. What was your inspiration for the story?

PL: I grew up in City of God and I saw these things happened. The book came from an anthological project that was done by woman named Alba Z. and I was working for her doing research. Before that I was already writing poetry and writing songs and the book came out of a project where I wanted to talk about my own life.


WM: As you did research on the various groups named in the film, was your life ever threatened?

PL: I never received any threats to my life. The reality is real but the story isnít completely real. He mixed the facts, he created some characters, he based some characters on people he knew. Everything in the film is possible, is reality, and in that sense, is real.


WM: How challenging was it writing in characters as a composite of some of the real life individuals who were in these gangs?

PL: It took 8 years leading up to that. I wrote the book several times.


WM: Was it your intention to place yourself as the photographer in the film?

PL: No, the photographer is not me. Actually, Fernando Meirelles, the co-director, was the person who put that in the film because in the book thereís no one who goes from start to finish. The only unifying factor was this one point of view and that would symbolize me and a photographer friend and we sort of these characters to come up with the narrator in the film. Rocket could have been me, or it could have been many other people who found a way other than crime.


WM: Why do you this film has been embraced by so many people across the world?

KL: I personally think that this story is similar to what happens in New York City or what happens in Paris and the hate that you get when you create exclusion or you create this sort of situation, itís happening globally between the 1st world and the 3rd world as well. Itís a relationship that is universal.

PL: I think about the moment that we are living today and the current situation, and the racial tension that exists. I think about the types of attitudes that have led to nowhere except to strife and difficulty and stuff. People are starting to realize that these attitudes do not fit anymore and doesnít make sense.


WM: Whatís the ultimate message you want people to walk away with once they see this film?

KL: This film ends in 1980 and the documentary I did is about what happens today. So those kids at the end of ďCity Of GodĒ are in power now, but what Paulo says in his book and what we have been saying is that the route that our community has chosen which is exclusion, and repression and separation leads to an endless cycle and unless we back up and look for a different route which could be sitting down at the table and listening to the other side and creating partnership. Unless we find different routes for our behavior, weíre headed down a dead end.

PL: Our current president (of Brazil) said that the best message about the film is those children going towards a dead end at the end of the film because if they were older, then it would be too late. But they are younger and we could still reach them and other kids. So we have solutions, but we need to accompany these kids and provide them with an education and opportunities, and create political mechanism to include those children.


WM: What can say about the music in the film?

KL: A lot of the music in this film is already in the book and it was a very strong influence in that decade. I think Brazilian music is so rich and those composers, which many of them didnít know how to write music, shows you the creativity of Brazilian people.

PL: I co-existed which that music while growing up in that era. Those were the songs that were successful at the time those stories were happening.


WM: Is there anything you want to say about your cast and any particular actor?

PL: One of the actors started an acting school about 15 years ago. He was living in the area while growing up and started working with kids hanging by his doorstep and they would start doing theater on the street there and the school grew out of that. Now itís very successful. Many of the main characters of the film, like Shaggy and Benny, came out of that school. That proves that if we invest in these kids and we give them an opportunity to work and we allow their potential to bloom, then we can change whatís bad into something good.


WM: Whatís next for you?

KL: My next project is a documentary that Iím doing about rap in Brazil and Cuba and the United States. Iím directing with a Brazilian rapper, a Cuba rapper, and Fab Five Freddy from the United States. Iím also developing a script with Fab Five Freddy about a U.S rapper who goes to Brazil and discovers whatís ďrealĒ and how he evaluates the whole hip-hop movement in the U.S because hip-hop in Brazil is very socio-political. The same cast of this film is shooting a miniseries currently. Itís 4 episodes every year in October for childrenís week. The good thing about this is that the cast continues to work and gain exposure. Weíre writing the next episode.

PL: I will write a book about slavery in Brazil starting from the 1500s until today. Africans Brazilians donít have grandparents and great-grandparents, so they have lost some history as to who they are. I want to recompose a family from Africa to Brazil.