In his teenage years, Filipe was already shooting films with and about his friends. After working as a graphic designer and motion artist he decided to pursue his filmmaking ambition and fell in love with the documentary format. Coming from Porto Alegre, Filipe had to overcome many obstacles in order to become an accomplished filmmaker. Now, with multiple Vimeo Staff Picks on his resume, he continues his search for stories about music, people and spirituality while living in New York.

 

Could you describe your path, and what are you currently working on?

I'm currently living in New York and I do everything from directing to shooting to editing. Whatever comes first to make a living in the USA. Currently, I’m working on my first feature documentary about the obscure and unknown music from Hawaii.

The idea came through my close friend Pedro Ramos who runs a film production company in Lisbon, Round Trip. About two years ago we had a barbecue and he mentioned about this music label Aloha Got Soul from Hawaii. I didn't know anything about it, but he asked me what my thoughts were to do a short doc about AGS. Two weeks later, we all got on Skype and a couple of months later, we were landing in Honolulu, Hawaii. We spent 30 days between Oahu and Big Island and we recorded about 24 hours of interviews. We not only learned about the music scene and what happened back in the days but also we learned so much about the culture.

 

 

How did you find your passion coming from a background in graphic design?

My first experience with video goes back to when I was 12 or 13 years old. I used to shoot skateboard videos for my friends. My actual work started when I was 16 with a friend who used to make skateboard clothes. Back in the days I was designing all the communication, but after a few years I quit and start to work in web design, which lead me to meet and work with my friends and ex-partners, Gustavo Gripe, Patrick Petry and Amadeu Caringi. The company back in the days was a Motion Graphic Studio, but soon the clients started asking us to shoot and that's how we shifted to a film production company. Gustavo used to direct the films and I was in charge of managing the post-production team work. Because of this knowledge, today I‘m comfortable to make my own projects from scratch.

What is influencing your style in documentaries today?

I would say music has been influencing most of my work. Not just to get inspired, but it's what creates an emotional bond between the viewer and the image. I like to think about a film/documentary through the soundtrack.

How important are sounds in your working process?

My short documentary 'Cristian' got developed through a commercial we shot in Chile, for a brazilian shoe brand. We were a group of four, handling everything from camera, directing, producing to editing. The editing process took a while, but I remember building all the storytelling with just the interview and music,  which helped to build the emotions we needed. It's a different process. I never went to film school, maybe that's why I like to try out different things.

 

 

Taking the 'Christian' doc as an example. Could you explain how you strike a balance between the staged moments and the moments that are completely improvised?

Most of the scenes created on the film was improvised. We didn't have a storyboard or anything like that. The team was very special, so it made possible to be very flexible. Douglas Bernart, who directed with me, went to Chile for scouting a few days before the team arrived and that helped us to create and stage a few moments.

Filipe ZapeliniI like to think that life brings people and stories to you.

I remember one of the scenes improvised at his house, with his MCing (rapping). Just before leaving his house in the last day of shooting, he gave us a VHS tape with a footage of him much younger, rapping the same lyrics of the song that he rapped for for us. That blew our minds. We feel very blessed to had the opportunity to meet him.

The people in your documentaries seem to suffer some hardship but also show the strength to keep going and realize their dreams. Is this a theme you choose consciously?

I believe that life brings people and stories to you, not the other way. And when that happens, always feel more natural and better. I don't like to force things; I prefer to work more organically.

 

Do you currently have a specific focus on certain stories? Or do you want everything to happen organically?

Today I'm working on a lot of projects that involve music. Maybe because music is one of my biggest passions. But in the same way,  I'm also looking for spirituality, trying to understanding more about religion and faith. There is a discussion if music is a religion or not, but I do think that music has its own power.

 

How do you feel coming from Brazil influences your work?

I think Brazil has influenced me in a way that I had to find my own path and build my own skills. It's not like here in the US where you go to school to become an expert in one thing. In Brazil, there is a lack of professionals and low budget projects. So if you want to get that job, you need to know how to do ten things instead of one.


Do you also help each other out in Brazil?

Well, back in the days when I was studying Graphic Design at University, Rio Grande do Sul, there weren't any film schools in my state. Only after two or three years they launched the first one. Usually people would have to go to another state or even US, Russia or Cuba to get their education so at the end, you are learning by yourself or from others. Fortunately, today you can find many other schools there.

What work are you most proud of and did it inspire you also for future projects?

I like 'Cristian'. Mostly because of the message I want to convey. I want the audience to have a good feeling and being inspired, giving it a purpose to exist. 

Regarding the 'Valley of Death'. How did you direct all the shots that you wanted for the film? Because it seems that some scenes are filmed spontaneously, like the phone call the main character has with his friend.

Regarding the 'Valley of Death'. How did you direct all the shots that you wanted for the film? Because it seems that some scenes are filmed spontaneously, like the phone call the main character has with his friend.

It was the last film I shot in Brazil before I moved to New York. During my last two weeks in Brazil I got my car with some friends and we drove from Porto Alegre, RS to Cubatão, SP to shoot the doc for a french magazine called Desillusion.

In the morning of the third and last  shooting day, I think was a Friday, we went to a waterfall which is a 40 minute walk into the middle of the jungle. We had six to eight friends carrying all the equipment. We had a great time, shot everything we needed and took a bath in the  waterfall. Late afternoon we decided to head back to the car and while we were walking in this small trail, eight young armed guys appeared and start taking everything from us; cameras, lens, tripod, drone, shirts, phones, car key, everything...

 

We walked with them for a while, with guns in our heads. During the trail, we passed an older couple with a daughter and they stopt to steal from them too. Then, we heard some shots. We saw one of the guys running towards us yelling that they were a cop. The guys asked us to sit down in the jungle, put a gun to our face commanding us that we "should stay here for the next 20 minutes without”.

How did you escape in the end?

After waiting for 20 minutes, we started walking in our shorts in the direction where our car was. It's crazy to think that these guys were only 16 to 21 years old. At the end I spent my last week in Brazil trying to get our stuff back from they. We got almost everything back, like 70%. All the audio you hear from that doc was re-recorded through Skype later, since I already moved to New York. We didn't recover any sound from the shooting. So, again, these are just examples of what can happen and you need to find a solution to become a film.

Do you have one piece of advice for young documentary filmmakers who want to start out?

Usually, I don't like to give advice; I prefer to talk about my own experiences and let people choose their own actions from there. What I can say is that, try to keep always open and aware of what life shows to you. Don't let an opportunity pass by if you have a good feeling. I'm sure it's going to turn out great.