Filmmaking is for all in Rio de Janeiro

By 04 May, 2011

“The only rule to getting things done in life is simple: get on and do them,” says Dorian Needs, founder and director of Rio Film School, an organisation offering intensive filmmaking courses in Rio de Janeiro. These courses offer students the chance to make a high quality documentary from start to finish, gain access to rare, unparalleled locations across Rio, and gives them the opportunity to direct, shoot and edit, all in the space of four weeks.

One of the results of this hands-on approach to teaching is that last year’s students will be going to the Cannes Film Festival this year – their film has been selected for the Cannes Short Film Corner. Their documentary A Vida No Ritmo (“Life in Rhythm”) is a soulful portrayal of the significance of music to the people of Rio. It was shot in streets and recording studios; on the beach, downtown and in the favelas. It’s since been screened widely at festivals and events across the UK and Brazil, including the London World Film Festival, Movimientos Live and the BFI. The Rio Film School teaches by practice, not by theory (although this is covered by the course too) and the results are astounding.

City of God director Fernando Merielles supports the school and last year the students worked with actors from the cult film, including the inimitable Leandro Firmino (Lil’ Ze). Tutors include some of Brazil’s top cinematographers and film theorists, and rumours are that this year’s tutors will include more of the people behind City of God. Editing suites are in the heart of Lapa, the city’s cultural and artistic centre, and accommodation is three blocks away from Copacabana beach. It makes sense that so many things are burgeoning in Rio: Brazil has the second fastest growing economy in the world and will soon play host to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. But this, of course, does not lessen the extreme poverty gap.

“Combining high quality film-making with helping others, in whatever capacity I can, is what I set out to do,” says Needs. The school donates 20% of it’s turnover to charity Cinema Nosso in Rio, which uses film and media training to give underprivileged young people from the favelas opportunities to build careers, gain work experience and boost their confidence.

Yet the 28-year-old director used to work in London advertising. “I was fed up with the lack of feeling there. It was too insular. These companies generate millions and help nobody,” he says. After speaking to his former Film Studies professor at UCL, Needs decided to abandon the rat race and combine his passions; Brazil (his mother is Latin American), social projects, Latin Cinema and filmmaking. So he packed in his job and flew out to Rio – since then he hasn’t had a moment to breathe and has built up Rio Film School from scratch. “Our courses are open to everyone, whether they want to become directors or are looking, as I was, for a change of career.”

The school has recently gained support from The Rio Film Commission, a government body in Brazil. “It’s not a holiday, it’s an intense learning and life experience, where you get immersed in the culture and with the people of Rio, and leave with a film for your show reel and the professional skills to make documentaries on your own if you want to,” says Needs.

Former student Desislava Kadra thinks the RFS course was the best investment she could have made. “It’s opened all kinds of doors for me, because employers want hands-on experience, often more than degrees. It was one of the formative experiences of my life,” she says.

The Rio Film School is causing quite a ripple across the independent film circuit. “People are talking about us. Word spread about us at the Berlin International Film Festival this year and we’ve just sent our film to a festival in Gabon, Africa. We’re receiving interest from all over the world. It’s a really exciting time, because we offer something you can’t get anywhere else.”

The aim is that every film made by the students is original and of the highest quality, making it strong enough to have a life of its own after the course has finished. With Cannes coming up, A Vida No Ritmo is a case in point.

The school currently have limited spaces left for their summer 2011 courses. If you are interested in learning the basics of cinema, as well as getting hands-on experience, in Rio de Janeiro just send an email to the school [email protected] or find out more information at

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