EXCLUSIVE: Darren Aronofsky-produced Brazilian drama Pacified tonight won the Golden Shell top prize at Spain’s prestigious San Sebastian Film Festival. We spoke to the Black Swan and mother! director about how he came to the project, which is his company Protozoa Pictures’ first foreign-language film, and what’s next for him.
Portuguese-language pic Pacified charts the relationship between a street-smart 13 year-old girl and her ex-trafficker father as they try to find peace in a Rio favela. U.S. filmmaker Paxton Winters was inspired to direct the film after moving to live in the same favela.
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Bukassa Kabengele, who tonight won San Sebastian’s best actor prize, stars with newcomer Cassia Gil, Debora Nascimento and José Loreto. Also producing alongside Protozoa are Paula Linhares, Lisa Muskat and Marcos Tellechea.
Aronofsky’s initial connection to the project was a personal one, “I have known Paxton for a long time,” the Oscar-nominated filmmaker told us today. “He’s an old friend. We met almost 20 years ago at the Istanbul Film Festival when I was there with Requiem For A Dream. He moved from Turkey to Rio, ultimately living in the favela where the movie was shot. He became part of the community and as the years went by he started to realize there was a film there. My advice to him was just to look around him and to try to make a film about his surroundings. He met the film’s star, Cassia, when she was nine years old. She’s now 15.”
The film is 47 year-old Winters’ sophomore narrative feature after 2003 pic Crude, which landed the Best Dramatic Feature Award at the Los Angeles Festival. Other credits include documentary Silk Road ala Turka, in which he traced the Silk Road by camel caravan for 18 months.
Aronofsky continued, “As the movie came together, I helped where I could in a creative capacity. Over the last few years Protozoa has been trying to help emerging filmmakers, including international filmmakers, on their projects. This movie seemed to fit with that ambition. I thought it could be something great. Paxton’s background as a journalist, as someone who has traveled and lived among different communities, and as a sensitive filmmaker, made him a great fit for the material.”
In recent years New York-based Protozoa has made U.S. movies Jackie with Chilean director Pablo Larrain, and White Boy Rick with Brit filmmaker Yann Demange. Is the company looking to make more movies with international talent?
“Helping foreign filmmakers through the American system can be fun and rewarding,” Aronofsky told me. “We’re not hunting for foreign language films, per se, but we want to make films with young and exciting filmmakers.”
Aronofsky hasn’t directed a movie since 2017 pic Mother! as Protozoa gets deeper into producing and TV. Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne-starrer The Good Nurse — which has acclaimed Danish writer Tobias Lindholm aboard to direct from a script by emerging U.S. writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns — is among movies heading into production for the firm. But the filmmaker is ready to get back into the director’s chair.
“We’re doing a lot of TV,” he says. “We are doing the second season of One Strange Rock at Nat Geo and have another show with them. We have a number of TV projects going. Producing is fun but I’m definitely hungry to get back to directing. I have something I’m working on but it’s early days.”
Is it harder today for indie filmmakers compared to his breakthrough years with Pi and Requiem For A Dream? “That’s difficult to say. There are opportunities today that there weren’t back then. There are more ways for people to see indie movies. There has been a lot of change and there are new players but ultimately it’s still about trying to find passionate people with something to say and supporting them.”
Aronofsky has yet to tackle a superhero project, despite being linked in the past with movies including Superman, Wolverine and Watchmen. Is he tempted? “I haven’t been thinking about that much lately,” he admits. “I think Noah was my superhero movie.”