"When I think of any artistic movement in Salvador, I automatically link it to Bel Borba." An airport taxi driver delivers these words to the documentary crew in the video above as they cruise through the streets of Brazil, picking up speed as roads become highways. A few seconds later, we see Bel at work, fixing brightly-colored broken tiles to the surface of yet another project. Bel's work is everywhere in this 500-year-old city; he's known as the “people’s Picasso” and his work doesn't disappoint. We asked the filmmakers, Burt Sun and André Costantini, about art, inspirations, and how they first came under Bel's spell. Their e-mail responses are below; scroll down for more video.
HP: How is public art celebrated in Brazil?
BS & AC: At least in the city of Salvador, it is very welcome. In the case of Bel Borba, his art is literally everywhere and when we interviewed people on the street they felt that work like he does "completes the city." There are some publicly sanctioned commissions, but the majority of art that exists on the street, just shows up there. This gives the city character and depth and is a reflection of the culture. Ironically, some of Bel's works that were done guerrilla style are now protected landmarks.
HP: When did you first encounter Bel's work?
BS & AC: Six years ago, [when] Burt moved to Salvador, Bahia in Brazil. He saw Bel's work in practically every neighborhood and knew he just had to meet the artist. Burt had received support to make a book about urban art in Brazil and was interested in focusing on Bel's work. What was intended to be only a book, changed the moment Burt met Bel. Bel's personality and connection to his community and his city combined with the constant drive to make art made him the perfect subject for a documentary film. Interestingly enough, one of Burt's long time collaborators, André Costantini had expressed an interest in making a feature documentary film on an artist, the previous year. André flew to Brazil and the second day they met started filming.
HP: Why did you decide to "compose the film like a piece of music" and do you think you achieved this goal?
BS & AC: We went through the process of interviewing tons of people from museum directors to his mother. We found it helpful in getting a clearer perspective of the character but decided that we would let the thing that inspired the film carry it through and thus we focused specifically about the idea of Bel telling his own story, his relationship with the city, his capacity to transform things and Bel here and now. Once we committed to that idea, we thought about how to adapt a structure to the film. We thought about operas and musicals; interludes, overtures and the like. There are certain themes that repeat, yet the character develops along the way. The idea of specific moods we wanted to create helped to dictate our choices, musically and visually.
Ultimately, this is a film about an artist by two artists. We set out to use a very lyrical approach to tell the story and based upon what we have been told by audiences, we have achieved this goal.
HP: What artist or art work has influenced you recently?
BS: Andy Goldsworthy's works transform the natural world into something truly profound. This is especially evident through viewing the documentary film about him and his work "Rivers and Tides."
AC: American photographer, artist and filmmaker Gordon Parks. He was an inspirational artist who not only overcame prejudices because of his race, but was an exceptional photographer, writer, film director and musician. He did everything from follow gangs in Harlem for stories for "Life Magazine", shot fashion for "Vogue" and directed "Shaft".