Independent Filmmakers Alliance News
Independent Filmmakers Alliance News
Building a "House of Sand"
by Karina Halle

Above: Fernanda Torres as Áurea in House of Sand

Although the stunning Brazilian Indie, House of Sand, hasn’t even had its international debut at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, it’s already garnering some world-class attention, thanks to its lyrical story and stellar cast.

House of Sand is director Andrucha Waddington’s first feature-length fiction film since his 2000 award-winning Me You Them (Official Selection Cannes Film Festival/Un Certain Regard and Toronto International Film Festival; and Winner, Best Film, Karlovy Vary Film Festival).

Filmed entirely in the magnificent Lençóis Maranhenses region (an environmental conservation area in the north Brazilian State of Maranhão) it features Academy Award Nominee Fernanda Montenegro (Central Station) and Fernanda Torres (Best Actress, Cannes Film Festival 1986 for Parle-moi d’Amour), two of the most renowned actresses of Brazil and real-life mother and daughter, brought together for the first time in a film’s leading roles. Throughout the film (the story unfolds from 1910 to 1969) they share the roles of the main characters, Áurea and Maria.

The plot of the film centers on Áurea and Maria and tells the story of three generations of women are forced by destiny to live for years in the remote sandy plains of the north of Maranhão.

But what makes House of Sand differ from most other films, is the casting of Montenegro and Torres. The actresses came first before a script was even written. In fact, all Waddington had to go on was an idea.

The story was developed from a photograph of an abandoned house buried in the dunes of the sandy plains of northeastern Brazil. It was Luiz Carlos Barreto, one of the film’s co- producers, who thought up the story and encouraged Waddington to embrace the project.

“The truth is, I never saw the photo. Luiz Carlos Barreto told me the story behind the photograph and invited me to make a fictional film about a woman who lived in this house and had to fight against the sand her whole life. That same night I dreamed about the image. The next day we started discussing the House of Sand,” recalls Waddington.

The next step was to invite Elena Soárez to develop the story. During its conception, the screenwriter had to invent the saga practically from scratch. It took two years of work, with regular meetings between Soárez, Waddington, Barreto, his wife Lucy and producer Leonardo Monteiro de Barros, until the final version was completed.

“All we had to go on was the photograph and the confirmation of the `Fernandas´ in the main roles. Thanks to the participation of these two actresses, we thought of telling a story that spanned a century. It was a script written for them,” explains Soárez.

“Elena Soárez brought a metaphysical plane to the script,” says Montenegro. “She measured the story of these two women by placing the theory of relativity within the problems in their lives. Something very pure and qualified exists in the writer’s vision, that not only makes a story but contributes to a non-realist structure, not humdrum, not simply the chronicle of a story. This meta-language in the script is what makes the House of Sand a saga. More than just a drama of manners, it is an epic story connected to this wheel, this universe, which in the end describes the story of all of us on planet Earth.”

Soárez had to overcome some obstacles in the production of the script. According to her, one of the difficulties was to maintain the story engaging, due to the narrative structure of the film.

“It is difficult to create a drama when one has a long time span,” Soárez says. “When one extends the period for too long, one looses the tension. The ideal thing is to have something fundamental happens in the story every half an hour. When you open it up to a century, all urgency disappears. Besides this, the film is divided into three phases. For each new stage, a new story. I kept asking myself whether, at each beginning, the audience would be willing to start over.”

It’s obvious that audiences will be willing to start over for this film. The script of House of Sand received the Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award in 2002 and at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival it won the Grand Jury Prize, as well as the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize. It has opened in its home country of Brazil, as well as across North America, to rave reviews from audiences and critics alike. Not bad for a genre-pushing film that was made for only US$ 3.4m.

Independent Filmmakers Alliance
Karina Halle
Director of Media Relations
phone: 1-866-959-FILM