Director Cássio Pereira dos Santos tells DIVA about this uplifting trans story set in Brazil

BY NADIA DAVIES

Described as a timely and transcendent drama, Valentina is an impressive debut feature from Cássio Pereira dos Santos about a trans teenager trying to navigate social stigma and bureaucratic barriers. 

Describe your film in three words. 

Uplifting trans story.

What inspired you to make Valentina?

In contemporary Brazil, around 80% of trans teens are out of school. The result of these statistics – the lack of a high school diploma – makes it impossible to enter university. As the market and companies demand more and more qualification, young transgender [people], when knocking on the door of an employer, are at a disadvantage for two reasons. The first is that they are frowned upon by business owners due to their gender identity. The second reason, also decisive, is that most of these persons do not have a diploma to present. Unable to enter the job market and often rejected by their family, these young people end up appealing to prostitution as the only way to survive. Therefore, they are compulsorily exposed to all kinds of violence. I decided to make Valentina because it was important to make this situation more visible in Brazil and abroad, hoping that the film could generate a dialogue that leads to social change.

What does screening at BFI Flare mean to you?

It is a huge achievement for us, because the visibility BFI Flare brings for the film, for the cast and team, and for the social issue we wanted to portray. It’s one of the most important LGBTQ festivals in Europe, and hosted by BFI, which is a film institute that is highly regarded all over the world. You can’t imagine my happiness when I received the invitation email! 

What do you hope audiences will take away from this story?

Although the situation for the trans community is still difficult in Brazil and other parts of the world, it’s necessary to fight with them for their rights. And there is hope for better times.

Why is it important that queer films and documentaries are showcased every year at an event like this?

The queer community, [especially] the younger queers, need to see themselves represented on the screens. Being able to see themselves reflected on the screens is really important to nurture their self esteem. And these films are also important to soften hearts and change minds of more traditional families and the people outside our community.

BFI Flare is completely online this year, giving everyone across the UK the opportunity to watch the amazing line-up of films available. How important is accessibility with regards to representation on screen?

This is just wonderful! People from several cities, even small towns and rural areas, will be able to watch amazing films that inspire and also bring some fun during these difficult Covid times. Inside their homes, safe and sound.

What are your words of advice for any aspiring queer filmmakers/actors?

It’s such a difficult career that demands a lot of persistence and the ability to receive a lot of rejection before the first achievements. To be able to cope with so many difficulties, it’s important to nurture other areas of our lives, not only focus on the professional side. It’s important to nurture friendships, love or family relationships, those kinds of relationships that make us feel accepted emotionally.  

How has the pandemic impacted you creatively?

2020 was such a difficult year, but I was lucky to be hired to write an assignment during the first pandemic months. However, having to create something new when what matters most is surviving, trying to avoid the virus all the time, is not an easy task. But I managed to deliver the script. And last week my partner got infected with coronavirus himself (he’s a pharmacist and can’t work at home like myself), so I had to take care of him, keep a secure distance, take care of the dogs, clean the house, make or order food, attend virtual meetings, answer emails, cope with the fear of losing him and also the fear of being infected during the collapse of Brazilian healthcare system. Crazy times here in Brazil. Now he’s fine and so am I. And I feel relieved. These are difficult times for everybody. When it comes to creativity, I’m trying to read new books to get inspired. I’m also reading the news and taking notes for new projects, especially for my second feature, also a queer film. Lots of ideas (films, series, etc) but it feels like time is never enough to start writing during this pandemic. But I intend to start writing a new story in April. 

Who is your LGBTIQ+ screen hero?

Ian McKellen! He’s our queer Gandalf, our queer Magneto! He’s just awesome. 

Other than buying tickets for BFI Flare, how can people best support independent queer media?

I suggest that people take a look and support crowdfunding campaigns from young queer filmmakers making their first short films. Being backed and encouraged at the beginning of their careers is so important for filmmakers!

VALENTINA plays as part of the BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, 17-28 March.

DIVA magazine celebrates 27 years in print in 2021. If you like what we do, then get behind LGBTQI media and keep us going for another 27. Your support is invaluable. 

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