23 May Interview to Betse de Paula, director of ‘Meeting Sebastião Salgado’

By Carolina Parreira

Interview to Betse de Paula, director of 'Meeting Sebastião Salgado'1

‘Tião’ as known by his close friends and family, is maybe how Betse de Paula wants us to think of Sebastião Salgado once we have watched the film. ‘Meeting Sebastião Salgado’ is connected to ‘The Salt of the Earth’ not only through him but also by the fact that they were filmed not much apart from each other. But Betse wants us to connect with the person, not only the photographer – and his life.

This is the first Brazilian documentary about Sebastião Salgado and it is based on an in-depth interview given at his house in Paris, in 2012. In this film,  we get to know more about the beginning of his career as a photographer, the importance of photojournalism, the move to Paris, the black and white of his photos and finally how does it feel to be considered one of the most important photographers in the world.

‘Meeting Sebastião Salgado’ has been presented in cinemas and festivals and has received a numbers of awards.

How do you feel about your film being screened at IberoDocs in Glasgow?

It’s an honor! I would love to be there with you guys.

How did the idea of making a documentary about Sebastião come around?

My family and the Salgado family are good friends for many years so I have been following his and Leila’s work close by, which I admire greatly. When he traveled around Brazil he would stop by our house sharing all the adventures…And I listened and thought how interesting all that was. However I also saw how people criticized his work without really knowing much about it or his method. Their work and the way they do it has always impressed me so I wanted to show that to the public, I wanted to show it in an intimate way.

This was your first documentary… What were the biggest challenges you came across when doing this film?

When I had the idea of doing this film, Canal Brasil and Rio Filmes opened applications for TV documentaries and I applied with this idea. When we won I was super excited but it also meant that we would have to do this with a really low budget. Because of this, I couldn’t follow Sebastião in any of his trips. The material was just the interview we manage to do in Paris and his pictures that well…are just fabulous!

Sebastião finally opened his doors to you. How was the whole interview process? How did that go?

It was great! Sebastião is a great speaker and the fact that we did it in Portuguese, his mother tongue, helped immensely to achieve that intimacy I was looking for. We filmed with almost no light for three days. He [Sebastião Salgado] had a lot of control over the filming – the film shows that controlling side of him – but I had full control over the editing. It was really good.

When initially planning this project, did you have in mind just focusing on his professional side leaving behind a more personal approach?

No. On the contrary! I wanted to show both. I was going to be in his house for three days so I wanted to show the other side of his life. Not only his relationships with Leila, Rodrigo and Juliano but also Leila’s work. She was a photographer and stopped being one to support his work and his exhibitions. In this film we see for the fist time her photos… I think this movie is about Sebastião Salgado as much is about Leila.

As you said earlier on, he has been quite criticized, for what some people say, is an exploration of human misery. Why have you decided to leave that out?

I tried to show how Sebastião works, the time each project takes, where he stays each time he travels, his relationship with the family and so on. He has been the topic for many documentaries and maybe other directors feel closer or more at ease with a question that actually has never been mine. I know the Salgado family for quite a long time and I totally disagree with such a superficial critique to his work. Besides, it was never my intention to explore misery in my documentary.

What has surprised you the most in the whole process? What is that precious thing you take with you, out of this experience with the photographer?

His generosity in opening his doors and allowing to me make this film. When I started they were already filming ‘The Salt of the Earth’.

Their reaction when they saw the film?

I believe they liked it. They were really respectful and didn’t ask for any changes.

What about public reaction?

It has been fantastic and I hope in Glasgow is the same or even better. Send me some news!

Are you working in any project at the moment?

Yes, finishing a documentary about a medical examiner, champion in necropsy by gunshots.