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Bia Lessa – Brazilian director and artist

An intimate portrait of Brazil’s renowned performing artist and director

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This is an edited version of a longer reviews contributed by Elenice Araujo.

The 55-minute documentary film ‘Bia Lessa’ explores the creative process of the Brazilian performing artist and director, following the casting and rehearsal sessions for her play based on the novel Grande Sertão Veredas (The Devil to Pay in the Backlands), a celebrated classic of Brazilian literature written by João Guimarães Rosa.

Lessa herself acknowledges that attempting to stage a play based on an iconic 800-page saga posed almost insurmountable challenges.

She began her career as an actor with the theatre company Tablado in Rio de Janeiro, renowned for its acting classes and programs. Now a multi-faceted artist, Lessa has successfully produced and directed theatre plays, opera, art shows, concerts and movies, based on the work of famous and classical playwrights, authors and writers such as Chekhov, Ibsen, Puccini, Mozart, Virginia Woolf and Jules Verne.

In focus: Luisa Arraes and Bia Lessa discuss Grande Sertão Veredas. Video: Jovem Pan News, September 2017

This short documentary is part of the series Onde Nascem as Ideias (Where Ideas Come From), written and directed by Carolina Sá in 2019. The eight-part series spotlights work in the making by a wide range of female Brazilian artists, including ballet dancer and choreographer Angel Vianna; photographer and artist Rosângela Rennó; film-maker Paula Gaitán; singer Juçara Marçal; choreographer Lia Rodrigues; designer and poet Mana Bernardes; and artist Sonia Gomes.

Focusing on the experiences of female artists – what inspires them; how they bring their ideas to life; how they turn them into artistic expression ­– director Carolina Sá draws inspiration from her previous works, including more than 300 educational documentaries on history, music, literature, cinema, arts and culture for local networks.

According to Bia Lessa, getting to know the environment surrounding the author’s work is more important than focusing on their work per se. Similarly, she prioritises the stance, attitude and ideas of her actors, rather than just their acting ability. Alongside the beautiful performances she draws from her cast, it is inspiring to watch this woman in action, inspiring and guiding such a large cast of predominantly men. Bia Lessa is a force.

Lessa, however, is by no means oblivious to the politically and socially retrograde tide of conservatism that has engulfed Brazil in the last few years, nor to the outrageous setbacks confronting culture and education in the country.

Following her success in staging Guimarães Rosa’s sage, Lessa has spoken out against the Bolsonaro government’s utter contempt for minorities, including indigenous, Afro-descendent, disadvantaged, female and LGBTQIA Brazilians. These spiteful attacks will serve merely to galvanise Brazilian artistic and cultural diversity and expression.

Carolina Sá and Bia Lessa are a testament to that.


LAB partner Cine Latino is screening the film online from March 8 – 11, 2022

On Wednesday, March 9, LAB and Cine Latino will host a conversation with Brazilian film directors Carolina Sá and Daniela Broitman, hosted by Renata Peppl. The event will be live streamed and recorded on LAB’s Facebook page (or FB @cinelatinofilmfest).

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