The film happens to a great extent because of the catalyzed flow between your intentions and the reality you face. Changes, unforeseen events, information that escapes you, or people you end up meeting. How were you dealing with this element of chance throughout the filmmaking process?
The fact that I worked alone in the filming allowed for great freedom to the gesture itself, which allowed me to see the construction site and the city as territories conducive to improvisation and wandering. Working on the form of a film is an organic process to me, which is always born from the confrontation between an idea and the material I have in front of the camera.
As working situations and the space itself changed, I was forced, and encouraged, to change my way of relating to people and filming them. The biggest struggle was, without a doubt, the enormous turnover of workers, which meant that the people with whom I had created trusting relationships disappeared overnight, and the use of voice over also came from this desire to tell stories that I had not had time to film.
The gentrifying logic that has profoundly changed the city of Lisbon in recent years is largely based on the exploitation of a labor force kept anonymous and precarious behind the construction hoardings. How was your encounter with the stories and experiences of the workers who participated in the film?
The encounter took place thanks to the invitation from the developer, to make a short video about the construction. I accepted precisely because it allowed me to enter a fenced space that had always intrigued me. But the invitation posed an obvious ethical and practical problem, since holding a camera in a construction site, already a violent space, is a gesture that reinforces it. As such, it generates enormous distrust and fear, as if it were a weapon or a control device. Going to the construction site every day and spending more time socializing than filming led to the creation of trusting relationships. A construction site is, perhaps surprisingly, a space of captivating sociability. That’s how I started to hear the stories of those men, how I wanted to tell them and think about the city from the various scales that shape it – from the macro scale of socio-economic phenomena to the micro scale of individual life narratives, from financial abstraction to the concrete lives of those who build and inhabit it.
The city has been a character in several of your films, such as Birth of a City (2009) or Entrecampos (2012). And in others too, in a more indirect way. What meanings does the city have for you and how is it built in your artistry?
I’m happy with the wording of the question, as turning the cities I filmed into characters is exactly what I tried to do from the start. I’m not exaggerating, by the way, if I say that cities were the reason that made me want to make films. There’s a moment in Nanni Moretti’s Caro Diario where he says he could make a film with just the facades of buildings. I was 13 years old when I first watched it and I didn’t even think about making films yet. But that sentence has remained like a kind of mantra over the years, to the point where I sometimes feel that it’s the city that whispers ideas to me as I walk along – the urban movement and rhythm, the diversity of stimuli, the anonymity and the crossing with people, the buildings and the open spaces, the invisible layers and the stories that hide beneath them. All these are as many films as possible at every step I take on the street and to the movies too. Without a doubt, it is the most appropriate language to shape them.