‘Gabriel and the Mountain’ director discusses his first True/False film

Director Fellipe Barbosa explains the process of shooting a personal film about a lost friend.

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This year’s True/False Film Fest had one of its most international lineups yet. Gabriel and the Mountain, a Brazilian film, was one of the South American productions screened at the festival. In the film, Director Fellipe Barbosa approaches the death of his old friend Gabriel Buchmann. He died in the last week of his nine-month trip around the world while climbing Mount Mulanje in Malawi. The film stays true to Buchmann’s last days: The people he met while traveling were acting as themselves, and the outfits were either carefully crafted to look exactly like the real ones or were actually Buchmann’s.

In this Q&A, Barbosa talks about his True/False debut film and his time in Columbia.

Q: Gabriel and the Mountain was your first True/False film. How was your experience at the festival?

I have been really interested in True/False for a long time. Since Laura, an earlier documentary of mine, the producers have been contacting me. I was really happy when they invited me, and for me it makes sense. Gabriel has a lot of the True/False hybrid between fiction and documentary. It questions what’s real and what’s not while you’re watching it.

Q: How did it feel to be the director of the only Brazilian film?

I was happier to be there than to be the only Brazilian film. However, I was not the only Brazilian production; there was also a short by the producer Rachel Daisy Ellis, who is making her director debut along with her True/False one, called Mini Miss.

Q: During the Q&A, you mentioned that some accessories and even outfits used in the shootings were Buchmann’s. How did you get access to them?

He was found with his camera and his backpack, so we started from that. Some things were left behind, like his favorite soccer team jersey and the backpack itself. But we used everything we could, like his Masai tunic. At the end of the film, we use his original photos to [show] the audience that what they saw was real.

Q: You also mentioned that Gabriel and the Mountain was a good way to say goodbye to Buchmann. When did you realize that a film was the best way to do it?

I realized it through my research trips. Everywhere we traveled to while researching for the film, people that met him said he was always telling them that he would come back. He used to promise he would not only come back but that he would bring friends to help. So while doing our research, we felt that we were keeping his promise. It was also a way to be with him and feel his energy in all the places he traveled to.

Q: How was it for you to spend such a long time in a deep and delicate subject like the death of an old friend?

It was really moving. I kept feeling that what I was doing was spiritually strong. I felt like I was helping Gabriel understand what happened to him, helping him to let go of the material world. It was also hard because it took a long time, a lot of effort and dedication. I always tried to look at death with a smile, without letting it be just a tragedy. Africans have such a natural and less sacred relation to death, maybe because it’s more common to them. In Rwanda, for example, it’s really hard to find someone that hasn’t lost family in the 1994 genocide. So I tried to make a film that was not only about death, but it was also about life. Gabriel was really happy, he smiled a lot, so I tried to bring not only his smile but also Africa’s smile to the film when talking about death.

Q: What was Buchmann’s family and friends’ reaction to the film? Did they help with the development of it?

His family and friends were really excited about the film and have always helped me. His mom, Fatima, showed me all the emails he had sent her, so did his friends, which was fundamental for me to outline and understand his trip around the world. Cristina, his girlfriend, also helped me with the script, especially in one particular scene that has a really long dialogue. It was a collective effort. His friends also met João Pedro Zappa, the actor that plays Buchmann, to tell him how he was like and help in the character construction: his tone, his rhythm, his political and economical views.

Q: How was the process to not only find but also convince all the people that Buchmann met during his trip to shoot the film?

Most of the people immediately loved the idea to shoot the film. I didn’t get any negative reactions. Maybe, for me, it was because that was the most beautiful thing to be done, to reenact his last moments. They saw it as a way to see Gabriel again. But to find them was really hard; we had no addresses or phone numbers and when we did, a lot of times they were no longer right. Mostly, all we had were pictures and names.

Edited by Alexandra Sharp | asharp@themaneater.com

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