Rio Center Stories: Fellipe Barbosa, Columbia School of the Arts 2006 Alumnus

Fellipe Barbosa was born in Rio de Janeiro and has an MFA in film from Columbia University. His film Laura won Best Documentary at the 2011 Hamptons Film Festival and was selected at Hot Docs, Visions du Réel and Bafici. His fiction debut Casa Grande, supported by the Sundance Labs, premiered at the 2014 Rotterdam Film Festival, was selected at San Sebastián, Cairo and Havana, and won 13 awards around the world. Gabriel and the Mountain premiered at the 2017 Cannes Critics’ Week, where it won two awards. His last film Domingo, co-directed with Clara Linhart, premiered at Venice Days and opened the 2018 Brasília Film Festival.  

Luke Ebora
September 09, 2020

This was an interview conducted by CGC Rio Communications Intern, Luke Ebora, with Brazilian Film Editor Fellipe Barbosa, who graduated from Columbia School of the Arts in 2006.

Don't forget to click below the article to hear the complete interview on Soundcloud!


Here are a few excerpts from Interview:


Q: The first thing I wanted to ask was “What led you to leave Rio and come to the States to study at Columbia?” Did you always feel like you wanted to go to graduate school for film production, specifically? What was the process for you?

It was something that I always wanted to do since very early on. At the time that I had to make the decision, there was not much cinema going on in Brazil, and there were just a couple schools offering degrees. So I decided to try a scholarship that was offered by Institute of International Education/Fulbright, and when I got accepted into the program, I was already studying a couple things in Rio at a couple of the universities there: economics, journalism, and also cinema in one of the few schools. I got the scholarship, and I went. It was very intuitive and instinctive and rational at the time. I transferred my credits to Hofstra University, which was the school of the program, and after a couple years at Hofstra, my professors—I had a couple professors who were important to me at Hofstra—and they pushed me to go to undergrad. They thought I had to keep on studying, and then I applied to a few. I got accepted to Columbia, and I went there but this time, initially, without a scholarship. Then I had to work my way around, I had to work in the university, I was a projectionist there among many other things. I loved it. My dream was to go to film school and maybe, who knows, make one feature film in my life. The film school was probably the best moment in my life—to be there at Columbia with so many people from all over the road. It was a very strong class, very committed people, and we are still in touch today so many of us.

Q: Could you talk to me about some of the collaboration you had within your class? We spoke briefly over email about how you’ve worked with Karen  (Sztajnberg SoA ’06) in the past, and she was a classmate of yours, so I wonder how that extended toward the rest of your class and your experience while at school?

Because the films I’ve done were Brazilian films and dealt with issues from here (Brazil) and were made with public money from the country, I worked with the people from here, so I didn’t work so much with the people I worked with while at Columbia, but they are still the first ones to read my scripts and watch my cuts and vice-versa. There’s a few of us that are close and still show each other our work and give advice, feedback. We were able to live in an environment of trust then, in which we could be very honest with each other about what we were producing and collaborating. We try to go back to that environment which feels safe whenever we want to share what we are working on now. Then there’s Karen Sztajnberg, who wrote the script with me of Casa Grande, my first fiction film, and also edited it. She’s a very big partner. Even in the films she’s not a part of, I still ask her opinion, her advice, her look, her point-of-view.

Q: Outside of the classroom, what was the experience for you like coming from Rio? Coming from Rio and going into New York, whether it be upstate or in the city, what was your feeling like? Did you ever feel like a fish out of water?

I don’t know. I guess I never thought of that. I guess I felt I was in the right place. Maybe in the beginning of everything, at Hofstra, I felt like a fish-out-of-water, but then I quickly made friends, who were mostly international students, and some people that I still love and still make contact with. Then when I went to Columbia, I guess I was a bit older already but still young in class, maybe the youngest of the class, but still I had already been in the US for two years, and I had already done some work, shot film, edited film, and projected film. So I was more comfortable because I had learned something already.

Q: What experiences or skills did you gain within the classroom that have translated to your work now, having done several feature films and working on a telenovela?

I guess it has to do so much with my teachers, with so many of them who were very important, either if they were very strict and very critical or whether they were very enthusiastic, like Tom Kaling, Eric Mendelsohn. Tom Kaling used to tell me to trust my instincts a lot, and I carried this with me. I always think of him when I’m in doubt because I have many doubts. Even the ones who were more critical—and I remember each one of them—I think they were so important because they created this dialectical environment in which the same object can produce different effects, and it’s right there in your teachers. In a way, it was such a freeing environment that allowed for so many different opinions from our classmates, from our teachers that prepared me for real life. It doesn’t matter what one likes or what doesn’t like. It matters how you do it. It’s the commitment, and I think I got this from this period at Columbia. There was so much from the class, from the classroom, and from the teachers, who made us believe it was possible to do it. We were always rolling. It made us see how possible it was. If you add one scene after another, you have a short film. If you keep going, you have a feature film. That’s how I try to operate these days, especially now. Now is a very important time for me because I realize nothing is going to stop us, not even a fascist president. I think the time there with the teachers gave us a lot of empowerment, making us realize we could do it, we could shoot films.

Q: The films you’ve produced thus far are related to experiences concerning Brazil, concerning Rio, the political climate of the country, the class dynamics. Was your plan always to leave the states, go back, and produce these films about your country?

It was never the plan. There was no plan. It was a feeling that developed being in New York, surrounded by so many people with different voices and stories, and each has his or her own particular road that’s so interesting. It was not what I was writing in the beginning of film school or at Hofstra, but it was what I ended up learning that I had to deal with, with myself, my own phantoms, my own issues, and things that tormented me and made me want to elaborate. You have to be willing to spend time with that subject matter, and I guess the process of film school is learning what you can deal with.

Click HERE to hear the complete interview on Soundcloud!