First Take: Affonso Uchôa on “Yaaba”

I live and make films in Contagem, an industrial village covered by dust and a transparent layer of boredom. A place where nothing happens. Maybe the most remarkable thing about it is being close to Belo Horizonte, the sixth largest city in Brazil, where most of the movie theaters are. One day, in 2009, I went to Belo Horizonte with some friends to see Yaaba by the Burkina Faso director Idrissa Ouédraogo.

At that time, we were filming The Hidden Tiger. Many of the actors in the film were non-professionals, regular guys from my neighborhood. We became friends during this process and spent a lot of time hanging out. I also liked introducing them to movies that I loved. That November in 2009, I wanted to go to Belo Horizonte to buy a skateboard for one of the actors, Menor. It was a gift, but also something we needed for a scene. On the bus ride to the city, we met, by chance, two other actors, Eldo and Juninho, who decided to come with us.

We arrived in the city after an hour-and-a-half drive, did a lot of window shopping and finally bought the skateboard. It was a pretty one, with a huge Snoop Dog picture printed on it. We had some sandwiches and we smoked cigarettes (of legal and illegal types) in the middle of the square. When the sun was going down I asked them if they wanted to see a film. “What kind of film?” they responded. I told them it was something different.

The screening of Yaaba was happening at the Cine Humberto Mauro, the most traditional movie theater in Belo Horizonte. It was at this theater that I saw most of the films that made me fall in love with cinema — Rumble Fish, Sicilia, The Priest and the Girl, In Vanda’s Room. The forumdoc, one of the city’s most important film festivals, was taking place. The room was packed but we managed to sit on the floor. The screening began, and I could see that a whole new world was opening up in front of them.

I could feel their excitement. And I was mesmerized by everything happening both on and outside the screen: the contrast between the small houses and the large surroundings, my friend’s faces looking stunned to the sunny landscapes, the beautiful relationships between the relatives on the African society, the similarity between jokes in the film and in our own reality. It occurred to me that the boys by my side could easily be on the screen. The special thing is that they noticed that as well. After the screening, Menor came to me and said, “I didn’t know movies could be like this. It seems that we already know those places.”

The theater was full of our friends, and after the screening, they wanted to meet the guys from The Hidden Tiger. One friend that was there was Aristides de Sousa (who would later come to play the lead in Araby). Juninho, while pointing at me, said to him, “this guy is making you famous.” Promptly, Aristides answered: “No. It’s me that’s making him famous.” They were both wrong. As we just saw in Yabaa, one didn’t need to be famous to be on the big screen.

I actually don’t remember a lot about the film. I don’t even remember if I liked it. But I remember that day perfectly. I was beginning to transform my passion for movies into filmmaking. My friends were beginning to change their lives because of cinema, and Eldo was still alive. We were young and full of life. Outside, the night had already covered the sky. We took our bus home happily.

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Affonso Uchôa, along with João Dumans, co-directed the acclaimed Brazilian film Araby, which opens in theaters on June 22, 2018. More information is available here.

First Takes: short reflections on memorable viewing experiences. Read more entries.

 

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