Fernando Meirelles

Source: Courtesy of Fernando Meirelles

Fernando Meirelles

Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles burst onto the international scene with his 2002 feature City Of God (co-directed by Katia Lund), which earned him a best director Oscar nomination and Hollywood’s attention. He followed it with John le Carré adaptation The Constant Gardener, Blindness, 360 and The Two Popes.

More recently, he directed five episodes of Apple TV+’s Sugar, a private eye story with a twist starring Colin Farrell, and one episode of Max’s adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-­winning novel The Sympathizer.

What is your office like?

I am a partner at a production company in Brazil called O2 Filmes, which functions like a studio. The company has offices and studios in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. I am currently filming in Rio, but I live and spend more time at the Sao Paulo office, which is spacious with contemporary wooden architecture. As an architect, spaces are important to me.

What is the first thing you do when you sit down at your desk each morning?

Mornings are when I have ideas, and the creative process is easier and enjoyable, so I reserve mornings for work that requires ideas or creative input. Bureaucratic work, meetings, I try to leave for later.

What was your first job in the film industry?

After finishing architecture school, I started an independent production company with friends, so I was never employed by anyone in the first 10 years of my professional life. I started by making independent videos, taking turns between camera work, editing and directing.

Who helped you most when you were first starting out?

My father. When I decided I wanted to work in TV and films, a risky option in Brazil in the ’70s, he supported me and gave me a camera and an editing station. With this, I started the production company with friends.

What was your favourite film growing up?

The film that made me quit architecture is Iracema (1975) by Brazilian director Jorge Bodanzky. A mix of documentary and fiction, it tells of a girl who was a prostitute in the Amazon, while also showing how the Brazilian government was opening doors to the exploitation of our forests. It blew my mind to the point of changing my career.

What do you like best about your job?

I love diving into many different worlds and living many lives in one. Each project takes me to a different place or country, with different crews, cultures and topics I know little about and need to learn. Being paid to visit and learn about other people’s lives is a privilege I am thankful for every day.

What will you be doing in five years?

I plan to keep working as long as I am physically able. I have projects planned until 2027. However, I am very pessimistic about our future. I’m afraid in less than 10 years we face the risk of a civilisational collapse, mainly due to climate [change] and all that comes with it. I have four grandchildren, so I am very concerned about their future.

What’s your favourite festival or film event?

I have competed in or participated at all the major festivals, but none came close to the experience of Lapland’s Midnight Sun Film Festival, which takes place in the summer. I’ve also been twice to Telluride. Those are festivals about cinema, not the market.

What is the biggest challenge facing the business today?

The advent of AI [artificial intelligence] is expected to profoundly affect our business. Nobody knows where we will end up, but everyone feels the tremor that’s coming.

If you didn’t work in the industry, what would you do?

I would spend more time planting avocado, guava, sugarcane, coconut, coffee, and lots of tropical trees.

What book are you reading?

Morcego Negro by Lucas Figueiredo about the Collor government, one of the craziest periods Brazil went through, in the ’80s. I want to make a miniseries about this president so I’m reading all I can find about him.

What are you working on at the moment and what’s next?

A feature in Rio for Amazon called Animal Race, in partnership with two other directors, Ernesto Solis and Rodrigo Pesavento. In July, I go to the Amazon to shoot an episode of a series on human trafficking that my son, Quico, is directing for Netflix. Next year, I have two inter­national projects in development.

What is the biggest professional mistake you have made and learned from?

I spent too much of my time managing the company and producing films. If I could go back, I would have used that time to direct. As for mistakes when directing, there are too many to list — they hurt at the time, but taught me lessons.

Who would play you in the biopic of your life and who would direct?

What a question. It would have to be one of those actors who are not handsome or particularly charismatic, who seem like normal people, such as Paul Giamatti. To direct, I believe my son would know how to portray me.