The way Daniel Ribeiro looks

brasilobserver - Nov 11 2014
Daniel Ribeiro during the filming session (Photo: Guilherme Freitas)

(Leia em Português)

Director of the film ‘The Way He Looks’, speaks about the discovery of sexuality in adolescence, the progress made by the LGBT community in Brazil and defines himself as an optimist: “for all that is negative in the world, there are many more positive things”

By Guilherme Reis

The year of 2014 will surely go down as a special one in the promising career of Brazilian director Daniel Ribeiro. After all, it has been almost six months since he presented his first feature film, The Way He Looks, to the world. The film has been warmly received by critics and audiences and in addition to receiving a host of awards at the Berlin Film Festival, it has also been chosen as Brazil’s candidate for the 2015 Oscar in the category of best foreign film.

In late October, the film was released in UK cinemas during the BFI London Film Festival. Daniel was here to attend the festival and talk with the public about his work. A day before flying to Belgium for another series of commitments, he met the Brasil Observer at his hotel for an exclusive interview so our readers can understand more of his motivations and way of seeing the world.

For those who still do not know about what the movie is about, The Way He Looks follows protagonist Leo (Guilherme Lobo), a blind teenager who discovers he is gay after falling in love with Gabriel (Fabio Audi), a new student who arrives at his school. Around this encounter and the discovery of his sexuality arise other issues such as the relationship between Léo and his ​​best friend Giovana (Tess Amorim) and the independence from his overprotective parents.

“We are finally leaving aside the hypocrisy in Brazil, one that pretends that racism and homophobia do not exist. It is very clear that there are such things and now we have to face it”

Like many of those who choose a career in the arts Daniel was motivated to join the audiovisual course at the University of São Paulo by a need to express, what he deems important to the society. “The gay issue has always been very important to me. It was one of the strongest factors that led me to study cinema,” he explained.

“When I was 16 I felt that there were not enough movies or gay characters that I could identify myself. This was and still is very bad, especially for gay adolescents that are growing and have no reference to who they may be, if they can be happy or not in this violent society. But not only that, other social issues that we face in Brazil bother me too much. Topics such as abortion, drugs and racism instigate me and make me develop this desire to approach these issues through cinema.”

Despite frequently dealing with issues related to the rights of the LGBT community, Daniel also has a lightness to his tone which encourages us to see beyond the problems we face, to the virtues and the opportunities of each historical moment.

“I see everything in a positive way. We have evolved a lot in Brazil, and you cannot feel that we are late because the visibility was so great in the last ten years. Today we have gay characters in almost all novelas. We cannot ignore it and keep thinking that only people like Feliciano [referring to Marco Feliciano, evangelical pastor and congressman that militates against the rights of the LGBT community in Brazil] exist. They are reflections of our visibility. We appear a lot so we bother these people. Thus they came out of the closet, all the reactionaries to combat what they think is a problem.”

For Daniel, “we are finally leaving aside the hypocrisy in Brazil, one that pretends that racism and homophobia do not exist. It is very clear that there are such things and now we have to face it. The Brazilian people are tolerant, despite the racism and homophobia. The more we know the less we prejudice. It is easy to be tolerant when certain topics are no longer taboo in society. I am optimistic.”

Talking specifically about his film, Daniel revealed that the main idea was to reflect on where sexuality comes from. “Many people think that the person chooses to be gay. But everyone who is gay says that was born gay. So when you take a blind character that never saw a woman or a man and falls in love with someone of the same sex, you question it. Sex and sexuality are closely linked to the vision. Just as prejudice, as many say they accept gays, but do not want to see them. When you take the vision of the character, you get to see homosexuality in a different way, more gentle and natural. It’s a gay movie for straights. There is nothing that can offend”.

The delicacy with which the film deals with the subject of homosexuality is revealing of another important feature of Daniel’s personality. He went through a period of discovery much like what is portrayed on The Way He Looks, which led him to have a non-confrontational acceptance of himself during adolescence.

“In a way, I was always well resolved. Of course, when we are very young, 12 or 13, you do not understand what is happening, you question a lot and not have anyone to talk to. But to me, even back then in the 1990s, when there were not many references, everything was very easy. At 16 I also had a best friend, and a young boy arrived at my school I started dating him. He was crucial for me to understand myself, and I to him. It hastened my acceptance.”

“I did not accept to be unhappy, I did not accept to pretend I was not gay. I think no gay adolescent should be questioned about their sexual choice. Heterosexual ones grow and start dating without any problem, why gays have to go through this process?”

“Adolescence is a very short moment of life and it is very unfair that a gay teenager misses this moment to be excited with a new passion. We cannot deprive gay teens to have these moments. I had the opportunity to be in love at 15 years old, everyone deserves that.”

The way Daniel sees and portrays the world has not been complimented by all, however. Some have criticised the film for converting a utopian representation of reality, especially in a Brazil where very day many homosexuals are killed in violent attacks. Still, Daniel seems to carry an unwavering optimism, which is more than innocence.

“The conflicts that exist stimulate me to fight even more. The fight will be difficult, but it will work out. I believe in people, in human beings. For all that is negative in the world, there are many more positive things. There are many more happy stories of gay experience than reports of them being beaten on the streets. Despite the violence, the love is bigger. It’s very important that the two sides are shown.”

During November, Daniel is heading to the US promoting The Way He Looks, attending events and being seen and heard by an increasing number of people. Regardless of the outcome of the 2015 Oscars, when Daniel returns to Brazil, he will not be alone in his way of seeing life and understanding of the country’s contemporary social issues.