Fernando Meirelles, Director of "The Constant Gardener"
Photos by Mr. Corey Boutilier
Fernando Meirelles never planned on doing a film in English. His ideal situation would be to shoot Brazilian movies for an international audience. But while traveling around the world doing research for his next project on Globalization he was approached by producers to shoot a movie about the Pharmaceutical industry set in Africa. Fernando was nominated in 2004 for his Brazilian film "City of God" for a Best Directory Academy Award. His film received 4 Oscar nominations.
On Wednesday evening, Carlos Gutierrez of Cinema Tropical introduced Fernando Meirelles who screened his new movie "The Constant Gardener" starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, and discussed his latest work.
How true is your film?
The plot, the idea of Africans being treated as guinea pigs, Pharmaceutical companies test drugs in Africa or in Canada. They sign a contract with governments and pay for the right every month. It is very expensive to test drugs. When they test in Africa, in exchange they give free treatment, so in a certain way its good for Africans as well.
There was, in one of these situations, after 3 months some people couldn't walk anymore. Lawyers are now suing that Pharmaceutical company based on this situation. So our movie was somewhat based on that.
Pharmaceutical companies create life saving drugs but because they are so expensive, only 8% of the worlds population can use them.
Is this a political film?
I wasn't sure when we started the project if it was going to be a political drama, a thriller, or a love story. I didn't know where the focus would be. In the end we decided to make it a love story. At first we had 3 hours. So we trimmed. We had a sequence where a scientist was shot, an old friend, and we took this out, we tried to do it more like a love story.
What were differences and similarities to shooting in Brazil and Africa?
For production, it was more difficult, for instance, the scene where Raiders invade the village, there were no hotels, we were 14 hours from Nirobe, we had to fly food and water for everybody.
We had built a camp with tents. 250 tents for our crew for two weeks. Looking above from the sky it looked like an Al-Quida training camp in the desert. But this was for production.
Your movies seem so well thought out but at the same time seem so spontaneous. How much you decide?
Some scenes are shot in a very classical way. For instance, the dinner scene was shot in a very classical; planned. Other scenes, Justin or Rachel walking in public, we shot like a documentary. We asked the crew to go home we would keep only one for sound, and one for camera. We could walk around and no one really knew that we were shooting a film. We used a really small camera called the A-Minima from Aaton, it's like a video camera so nobody really cared.
The market scene, Ralph would choose who he wanted to talk to.
To do the same scene all planned out would cost a lot. You would have to bring a thousand extras. It doesn't get the same feeling.
Did you collaborate with John le Carre the author of the novel.?
Yes he helped us a lot. This film was supposed to be directed by Mike Newell, Mike was called to do "Harry Potter the 5th" and left the project, that's why they invited me. The script at first was about the Brittish class system, Upper class and Lower class, it was all about that, so I tried to reorganize the story.
John le Carre helped a lot, notes about the script, he sent us a lot of notes. He was really a very lovely guy.
The movie doesn't point fingers at any anyone specifically, it's very generic. It talks about it in a very generic way. I have been asked if I have created any problems for myself in making the film. I do hope that someone writes an article that is "Pro" Pharmaceutical Industy so we can create a good debate about it...And really push the film.
The Constant Gardener opens on August 26th.