Searching for her own identity as a cosmopolitan (Jew), documentary filmmaker Cintia Chamecki tells the story of her grandparents and their arduous journey from their Eastern European shtetl to South America to their final destination: Curitiba, Brazil.
The film recalls how Curitiba’s first immigrants arrived well before World War II and assimilated to Brazilian culture with its mysteries and challenges, while preserving their Jewish heritage. And it portrays how this tightly knit community supported the second wave of arrivals, who had barely escaped the Holocaust, how everyone mourned those loved ones that perished in the concentration camps, how they dealt with Brazil’s own dictatorship and how the community grew stronger over the years until today, as they build the first Holocaust Museum in Brazil.
Combining rare archival material with interviews from first and second generation immigrants, HERE WE ARE unravels the history of the Jewish Community in Curitiba, Brazil and explores how cultural identity emerges and evolves across generations.
Cintia Chamecki moved from Curitiba, Brazil to New York City in 1997 and worked as a dancer and choreographer there until 2007. In 2007, Cintia co-founded FILMADAY, a production company specialized in producing short documentary films that capture a day in the life of a child, as a family keepsake. To date, FILMADAY has produced more than 50 video portraits. ESTAMOS AQUI – HERE WE ARE (Danken Got) is Cintia’s first feature-length documentary. It premiered at the 17th Sao Paulo Jewish Film Festival the summer of 2013.
Bijan Tehrani: What motivated you most to make HERE WE ARE?
Cintia Chamecki: My grandmother always told me stories of her immigration from Poland to Brazil. How her life was different in Poland, how she barely escaped the war and how it took her 21 days on a ship to travel to Brazil. I am also an immigrant: I emigrated from Brazil to the US, but my journey was very different and much easier. Usually we travel twice a year to Brazil to visit our family, we talk with each other on the phone, we skype, we email. That is the world we live in today. In order to preserve the story of my grandparents for my own children, I decide to interview my parents and parents in law about our family history.
After I conduced the first interviews, I shared my experience with friends in Curitiba and their responses were:” I can’t believe you won’t interviews my father or grandmother, they have amazing stories”. And so I decided to interview the as many immigrants from the community as I could. In the process, I noticed that a lot of stories overlapped and were similar in many ways. However, each story was extremely personal and filled with lots of individual details.
BT: A lot of documentaries about immigration show the dark side of immigrants’ lives, HERE WE ARE has a positive approach, do you agree?
CC: With HERE WE ARE we wanted to depict the particularities of Easter European Jews arriving in Brazil and being welcomed in a completely unknown country. We also wanted to show how generously the Brazilians and previous immigrants, who had been in a similar situation, welcomed the new arrivals. Plus, we wanted to discuss how these new immigrants assimilated and became true patriots. However, the protagonists also talk about their lives in Eastern Europe before they immigrated, the anxiety of leaving their family in Europe or losing them during the 2nd World War, as well as Brazil’s dark period during the dictatorship….
Overall though I do believe the film has a positive approach. We aimed to make a film that does not forget the past but focuses on the future.
BT: Give the old photos used in between the interviews layers and a 3D look, gives a nostalgic look to the film, how did you come up with the visual style of your film?
CC: When we researched for the film, we found a lot of still images. As I started discussing the look of the documentary with my sister Rosane Chamecki, a motion graphics designer, we decided to create a specific design for all the photographs, so they have a common look. We decided to go for a 3D look and introduced some extra movement, to breath more life into the photographs. This also helped to call attention to specific people, or actions within the photo. This method has been used a lot in documentaries recently. And when Rosane showed me an example, I really liked it. Later on I think she regretted that she ever showed me this method, because it was a lot more work for her.
BT: How much time did you spend and what method you used on researching and finding the people you interviewed for your film?
CC: During production we set up a small shooting studio at the Jewish Community Center in Curitiba and filmed about 7 interviews a day. In the beginning we called a few people and asked them if they wanted to be interviewed. Immediately every interviewee suggested another person that we should also film. And so we ended up conducting 42 interviews – which we filmed in 10 days over the course of a year. At first our idea was to create a video archive with all the interviews. But after we started listening to the different stories, we decided to produce a documentary: a film about the history of Curitiba’s Jewish community as told by those who experience it. So the interviews were our primary research. Later on we asked our interviewees to send us pictures and additional material. Plus, we researched for photos and footage at the Curitiba Public Library as well as the “Casa de Cultura BS”, a cultural library and community center in Curitiba as well as videos on youtube.
BT: How challenging was making HERE WE ARE?
CC: HERE WE ARE is co-director Andrea Lerner’s and my first feature length documentary film. That in itself was a big challenge, because we both did not have any experience with feature length documentaries. Plus, we both grew up in Curitiba and so all our interviewees and their stories were very “close to home”. And that, I believe, was our second big challenge. We ended up with 42 interviews, each lasting an hour or more. And so we had many subjects and stories to choose from. It was hard to decide which stories and characters to keep and which to let go.
BT: Please tell us about post-production stage and editing your film.
CC: Editing and post-production were done simultaneously. We filmed all interviews over the course of a year, during three sessions, and I returned to Curitiba from New York every four months. Most of the interviewees were filmed only once. While in New York we reviewed the footage and separated it in subjects at first, simply organizing it, without cutting a lot.
After we completed filming the interviews and all the footage was organized and separated, we reviewed the material to decide what stories we wanted to include in the film. After we settled on our storyline, we returned to Curitiba to film the street scenes as well as B-Roll and to research additional archival material. Rosane started working on the motion graphics once we had a solid rough cut. And composer Oran Etkin joined the production towards the final stage of editing. Together with Oran we discussed and settled on a musical concept for the film.
BT: What has been the reaction of the people you interviewed to the finished film?
CC: The Curitiba community has been extremely supportive of this film. When we screened it for them they became very emotional during and after the projection. I think they really like it. We organized two screenings and some members of the community came back to watch the film twice. My feeling is that they always believed that their story should be told but they seemed surprised that it could be told in a documentary.
BT: How can our readers see HERE WE ARE?
CC: The film has just started its festival run and will be shown in festivals in the US starting January 2014. We are also talking to educational distributors and are working on securing a distribution deal.
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BT: Please tell us about your future projects.
CC: With the production of HERE WE ARE I realized how much I am interested in the subject of immigration. And I want to produce some more documentaries about that topic. I am even thinking about series that looks at immigrants from and to different parts of the world within the same time frame. In addition to the documentary HERE WE ARE, I also want to make use of the footage that did not make it into the final film. We filmed so many interesting and beautiful stories that we were not able to fit into the 79 minutes documentary and all of us feel that it would be a shame not to share them with the audience.