Milena Times’ debut feature “November” joins two further titles from Brazil as part of Primer Corte and Copia Final, Ventana Sur‘s pix-in-post industry showdown. It participated in various development guises including BrLab – Audiovisual Project Development Laboratory in 2017, and as a finalist for the Cabíria Screenplay Award, also participating in Cabiria Lab 2020. Fully funded at both state and national levels in Brazil, “November” is a testament to the burgeoning film industry in the country.
“When the project for ‘November’ first came to us, there was already great potential in the proposal offered by screenwriter and director Milena Times,” said producer Dora Amarim, who alongside producing partners Júlia Machado and Thaís Vidal, runs Ponte Produtoras. “Milena’s trajectory as a filmmaker and her participation in feminist movements immediately encouraged us to embrace the project in a definitive way. As we began the development stage and the first phase of research, upon approaching the subject of abortion, the reflections that arose also compelled us to reinforce the relevance and significance of this project against a society that still condemns women based on religious parameters and disregards the value of their lives, especially in the case of poor Black women, who run greater risks in clandestine practices,” Amarim added.
The film follows Janaína, played by Mayara Santos, a star student looking to be the first member of her family to graduate college. Janaína lives in a small apartment with her grandmother and mother at their small apartment in Recife. We meet her out partying with her best friend and boyfriend. Life seems good. The shock of an unplanned pregnancy changes that. Abortion remains illegal in Brazil. The ensuing weight of branching feelings, risks and relationships fills Janaína’s life with choices no one should face unsupported.
Producer Dora Amarim told Variety, “Our characters are women living with all their complexities, contradictions, cultures and realities, who carry stories that are the foundation of their condition as women in our contemporary society and also in the North-East of Brazil. The project presents delicate, fundamental and relevant issues in a truly strong and powerful way. In this sense, beyond simply using cinema as a space to tell a story, we use it as a form of strategy and as a way to take a political stand. We believe the film brings an important global discussion, so being part of Ventana Sur, one of the largest markets in Latin America can help with the internationalization of the project. We also really want to find international partners like sales and distributors and show the film to festival curators to start planning its premiere.”
Variety caught up with director Milena Times to discuss the film and the politics and humanity that surround it:
In the film, Janaína faces the dilemma of an unplanned pregnancy in a society where abortion is heavily restricted. How do you explore the impact of these legal and societal constraints on her decision-making process, and what commentary does the film offer on the broader debate surrounding reproductive rights in Brazil?
Women choose to terminate their pregnancy anywhere in the world, for countless reasons, regardless of whether it is permitted. Social and legal restrictions only contribute to making it an unsafe and unassisted practice, especially for women with less education and money. Many of the most harmful individual and social effects are the result of silence, lack of information and criminalization itself. At a time when even cases of abortion permitted by law have difficulty being guaranteed in Brazil, it seems urgent to approach the topic with less taboo, although with complexity and subtlety, treating the person behind the decision more generously, while exposing the social conflicts involved.
Though the dilemma of her pregnancy rests on Janaína’s shoulders, she does have solid support from those close to her, particularly her best friend Kelly. Why was close friendship of this kind vital to the story?
My feeling, or better said, my observation is that, in general, both in everyday life and in critical moments, women can only truly count on each other. When it comes to motherhood or the choice not to be a mother, perhaps this is even more true. Showing this network of care, affection and complicity between women has always been one of my desires with this film. While the sexist and patriarchal society creates tools to oppress and silence us, we create our strategies for collaboration and survival, based mainly on affection.
As a filmmaker from Recife, how important is regional representation in Brazilian cinema to you, and how do you incorporate this ethos into your work?
All representation is regional, even if it comes from a hegemonic place. A film made anywhere can be as universal as any other, no matter how much it preserves local characteristics, accents, points of view. What changes are the opportunities and the visibility that films made in different places achieve. “November” appears to be from Recife in many ways, but I like to think that those characters, the housing complex where they live, the routine they have and the dramas they go through are also very similar to several other humble suburbs in Brazil and abroad.
How has assisting more experienced directors on their projects developed your work?
Working as an assistant director nourished me technically and artistically in several ways. From a more practical point of view, it allowed me to understand the dynamics of a film set and all the challenges that it involves. But mainly, these experiences gave me insight into different ways of leading the cast and crew, different perceptions of what to prioritize, different manners of trying to achieve the best possible result. Directing, after all, is constantly making choices and orchestrating the technique and creativity of dozens of people around an idea that we need to translate onto a screen.
The dynamic between her, her mother and her grandmother feels very natural. How did you foster this approach for the actors to form the right energy for the film’s story? And how was the casting process?
Our casting producer was Bruna Leite, who also collaborated in the research for the screenplay and presented a vast cast survey. Interestingly, Mayara Santos was the first actress to be tested. And even after testing several others, she was still the one I continued to see as Janaína, who had the right measure of freshness and depth that I was looking for. The chemistry between Mayara, Clau Barros and Claudia Conceição emerged very spontaneously, but the intimacy and subtleties were built during an intense acting coach process led by Amanda Gabriel and in which the actresses immersed themselves with great dedication. I also include in the naturalness we achieved in these relationships the excellent production design work of Lia Letícia and her team. The actresses felt at home, belonging to that space that also lends truth and memory to the characters.
I understand your next project is called ‘Traces of a Remote Future’ what stage is this project at?
This new project is also a co-production with Ponte Produtoras and is still in development and research. We recently participated in CDPAI (Curso de Desarrollo de Proyectos Audiovisuales Iberoamericanos) promoted by Ibermedia and Fundación Carolina in Madrid. The lab was a six-week immersion with script and production consultancies that contributed decisively to the maturity of the screenplay, in which I intend to continue working on in the coming months and then begin raising funds for production.