One-on-one with Filmmaker Marco Espirito Santo on his documentary 'Heaven Is On My Side', and more.
Marco Espirito Santo is a writer/director making films for both branded and entertainment purposes, and co-founder of creative studio La Push. He was born in London, but is currently living back in his hometown, Lisbon. At the age of 19, he won the Sarah Willis Poetry Prize in New York, attended the London Film School, and was selected for Berlinale Talents. His short films have been shown and awarded at festivals such as Clermont-Ferrand, Tampere, London Short FF, and International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), and recognised by MTV, NOWNESS, Stab Magazine, BoooooooomTV! and Vimeo Staff Picks. Alongside these he has created original content for brands like Rizla, Fred Perry, Lisbon Fashion Week, and Vodafone. Marco likes epic clouds, dogs, and driving to loud music.
iFilmFestival: Tell us a bit about your most important film so far.
MES: “A short film on gratitude and big-wave surfing featuring João “Massas” de Macedo, “Heaven is on my Side” is simultaneously a documentary and a meditation on environmental consciousness through Macedo's experience at the world’s biggest wave in Nazaré, Portugal. It was a project born from my friendship with João, and from my admiration for how he feels very connected to the ocean and to the whole community at Nazaré. He has an amazing sense of respect for the ocean and the environment in general and I wanted to transmit that good energy through this short film. So it is a surf film on one level, but on a bigger level it's about that idea that we are one with nature and the world.”
iFilmFestival: What were the key challenges making it?
MES: “Wow, where to start? Besides the film being entirely self-financed, which was a tough one, I suppose shooting on Super 8 in such a wild environment was probably the biggest challenge. I love Super 8 and I really wanted to make the film in this format as I wanted the aesthetic to match the feeling that the location gave me, and the emotional tone that I was going for. But man, it's tough to shoot big waves in Super 8! You have to contend with the spray, the wind, the glare... And then having no clue whatsoever what your shots look like for weeks till they come back from the lab of course!”
iFilmFestival: What’s one aspect that you’re particularly proud of?
MES: “Well, I am proud that I managed to pull it all together, ahaha! I am proud that I persisted, that I found a way to make this film happen against the odds. And I am proud that it feels really genuine to me. In hindsight, of course there are things I wish I had done better, but I am proud that I gave it everything and that I can see my "voice" or style in it.”
iFilmFestival: How did you get involved in filmmaking?
MES: “I got into poetry when I moved from a small town in Portugal to New York City to go to Uni to study business. I just started experimenting with writing and found poetry to be a useful and very creative tool in helping me to make sense of that new reality, to understand myself and my surroundings. Then I got into watching lots of independent films and took a screenwriting course, and that kicked off the idea of becoming a screenwriter. So I went to film school to learn the "language of film" so I could do that. But I fell in love with the visual side and started directing shorts and taking lots of photos, which was a really great way of developing a stronger visual sense. After film school it took a few years and sidesteps to develop a reel but eventually I managed and that got me into directing commercials and branded films, which I have been doing ever since, while still making shorts and now developing what will be my first feature doc.”
iFilmFestival: What new projects are you working on or are you hoping to work on in the future?
MES: “I have a few short film ideas I am working on in spurts, and I have a feature documentary idea that I am just starting to get my head around.”
iFilmFestival: What role do film festivals play?
MES: “Film Festivals are massively important. They bring films to audiences around the world that would otherwise not see those films, for one. They also allow filmmakers to exercise their creative muscles by giving them platforms on which to show their work, to network, and to grow and find their voices. Plus they can be super fun to attend!”
iFilmFestival: What is your advice to filmmakers tackling the festival circuit?
MES: “I am no expert by any means, but I would suggest making some kind of a plan for your film's festival run beforehand and also to set aside money in your film budget for fees (and if possible, for traveling to some festivals). Most film festivals, especially the more-respected ones, have been seeing record numbers of submissions, year on year. It's getting insanely competitive out there. So keep your head together and don't get too bummed if you don't get accepted to a festival - it happens to everyone. Every film is different, so look for festivals that you think will value your story, and go from there. And then spread-bet a little bit. Apply to some of the bigger festivals but also to some of the medium-tier ones also. You may be surprised. I have had films accepted in bigger festivals that I thought were a really long shot, that are then rejected from tiny festivals nobody's heard of - its a roll of the dice. But whatever you do, again, don't let the rejections get you down. It's hard but you're a filmmaker, you're tough enough to take it.”
iFilmFestival: How do you see the future of film?
MES: “Storytelling is eternal. People will always wanted to see films, I think. Whatever form that may be. So I think the future of film is bright. That being said, the evolution of technology will be changing things up more and more, be that with filmmaking gear or AI tools or whatever they come up with next. So I think filmmakers need to keep up to date with those developments because they will have a big impact on filmmaking. But like I said, story is king so that central pillar will always be there.”
iFilmFestival: Which filmmaker do you admire and why?
MES: “Oh, I admire a bunch of filmmakers to be honest. From big names of independent cinema like John Cassavetes and Jim Jarmusch to some of those killing it nowadays, like Kristoffer Borgli and Romain Gavras. And dozens in between!”
iFilmFestival: What film have you recently seen that you have admired in one way or another?
MES: “A film I have seen recently that I have admired?... Uhhh, maybe "The Lighthouse" by Robert Eggers, with Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. What a wonderful trip that was. Oh, and "Moonage Daydream", the documentary on David Bowie by Brett Morgen - mesmerising!”
iFilmFestival: Thank you Marco for answering our questions!
Interview by iFilmFestival on 14 March 2023.