Daniel Schmidt talks about his latest film in collaboration with Gabriel Abrantes, the pop language of Hollywood cinema, and, of course, Christiano Ronaldo. Diamantino will be released in Austria on February 1st.
The screening of Diamantino was probably the first I attended where people started chuckling at the disclaimer. The laughter continued throughout the film without leaving the bitter aftertaste of easy entertainment.
Sparked over seven years ago by the David Foster Wallace text Roger Federer as Religious Experience, Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt (History of Mutual Respect, 2010 and Palácios de Pena, 2011) developed some grand ideas about pop culture, art, love and politics. The final result is an indescribably dense movie in the disguise of a Hollywood-esque queer comedy, shot on 16mm film, about the struggles of a soccer star. And some giant puppies.
Your film Diamantino deals with a great amount of current political issues. Right wing populism in Europe, as well as in the US, the so-called refugee crisis, celebrity adoption, transgender issues, NSA surveillance, the panama papers etc. What was your initial idea when you and Gabriel started working on the film?
Gabriel Abrantes and I had done two films together before. We are always using or attempting to use a sort of pop language of Hollywood cinema. We want to address topics which aren’t usually touched by that kind of cinema. We did a film about particle physics and the inquisition already. We thought we understood this language of Hollywood a bit better. We still can’t speak it well but it fascinates us! We had more money for this project and we wanted to use it to speak about pop culture itself and about the present moment.
We were thinking about how to enter that space and so many different topics of the day. Our initial idea was a celebrity and the way that they are sort of at the intersection of so many topics of the day. Often celebrities are exploiting those topics for their own end but in this film it’s reverse—Diamantino is exploiting them.
We had this interest in celebrities but we wanted to create a more human character rather than just ridiculing some celebrity. How do we create a more human character? What would be the most human experience he might have? So we started looking at adoption which is obviously something which happens with celebrities.
These where some of the initial ideas. When we started shooting the film we were doing it in kind of a rough way. We were just living in the world and responding to what was happening and trying to put that in.
In the film you make use of a wide range of image production. You mix celluloid with computer graphics and stock footage. Can you talk about your influences regarding style?
We used the celluloid, the 16mm, in most of our previous films. It was something we developed an interest in for the kind of economy of care and attention that goes into its use on set. Instead of shooting 30 takes you know that you can transform digitally afterwards, you have to be a little more precise with film. I think we liked the risk and the reward of working with it. It has an interesting way of creating distance and intimacy with what you are showing. If you are filming something that might not traditionally be filmed with a grainy film, it will unconsciously create a different feeling and position towards the material.
I think our films often try to shift the perspective. To look at something iconic and to shift it to a different side. With this film, as we were trying to include so many different elements of the media landscape and the information age, we naturally thought we needed to include drone cinema, surveillance footage, holograms and this kind of stuff. I think there was a screen, be it a computer or a cellphone, in every scene of the film. This gave us another means to greenscreen and incorporate new information which seemed reflective of the age we are living in.
To touch on the computer graphics: this was predominantly done to show Diamantino’s inner mind in an expressionistic and absurd way. But it is also an extension of how Gabriel and I work. We are always learning while we are making the movies. We really don’t know special effects very well so we were learning them as we went. We do, however, try to keep a degree of amateurism. Of course, the puppies and all the effects don’t look too great but I think it gives a lot energy to be taking these risks and that makes us happy. I think the film, the celluloid that is, the sort of fragility and imperfection of that mix with the imperfection of the effects. It has a strange tension, a nice relationship, where everything looks like shit but in a way you haven’t seen before.
You started working on the film seven years ago. How do you collaborate on such a big project without starting to doubt or over-edit seemingly spontaneous ideas like the giant puppies?
We don’t really. The script we wrote in about six weeks. What happened seven years ago was getting some initial financing for a different script that we then threw away. We basically doubted. We doubted so much that we threw away the project entirely, staring at the wall and pulling out our hair. Almost everything you see in the film is something that happened very last minute. They were almost our most recent ideas. Filmmakers following their very first idea for seven years, to me this is very impressive and also sort of ludicrous. We don’t have that kind of rigor. We have a defense mechanism where we don’t allow ourselves to meditate too long on the film. This is also a problem because the film may not seem too well considered.
Talking about last minutes changes and recent events. The football player your main character Diamantino was modeled after was recently accused of sexual misconduct. How you think this might influence the reception of the movie? Is that something you worry about?
I don’t know. The film really is inspired by quite a few celebrities, whether it’s Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears or Madonna and also quite a few athletes like Lance Armstrong and Michael Jordan. I think Ronaldo is a strong reference on a visual level and a national level. Of course I think people will respond to that. When you see the film you will realize this is not Ronaldo. In the first five minutes you may still have this sensation but then you learn that this is a very different character, a very different person. Although I don’t know Ronaldo myself, he as a person was not of interest for the film. The most recent events around him, to us, are not relevant to Diamantino’s character in an immediate way. But that’s another strange example of how news can affect other aspects of culture in a huge way and vice versa. The fact that Diamantino’s character is being investigated for money laundering is something we have scripted and filmed before Christiano Ronaldo was alleged to have done that. Sometimes you are ahead of the news, sometimes you are behind, but our film doesn’t really have anything to do with sexual assault.
How did you decide on choosing a sports star as your main character instead of any other pop star?
There is a text by American author David Foster Wallace who we liked a lot which is called Roger Federer as religious experience. I think it’s a New York Times article. Talking about the transcendental inspiring beauty of watching Roger Federer play tennis. And Wallace thesis of the essay is that athletic genius and the visual display of athletic genius is so moving, almost god-like to audiences that it gives them some sort of attachment to or transcendental relation to him.
It’s almost spiritual in a way that they are being able to see a human do something which seems beyond human. The fact that it’s also quantifiable, to do something in the fastest amount of time, to have won this many medals or to shoot this many goals is something that humans still very much respond and look up to. What he says is that sports is, through this confluence of almost unfathomable human achievement as well as the quantitative aspect of a person is measured to be the greatest has taken the place of what art used to do. Art used to be in this realm of making us feel closer to god to see a sculpture or a painting thinking »how is it even possible?«.
Now art is being more conceptual and often a little bit more exclusive. I think sports has, in Wallace’s mind, become the place to see man made beauty in a pop environment. We want to draw upon that notion of sports as well as on the critique of art.