Q+A with Felipe Kowalczuk

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Felipe Kowalczuk is a Brazilian filmmaker based on the Isle of Man.

His first short film was released in 2002, shortly after graduating in advertising. The film was awarded at festivals throughout Brazil and made him head into the world of cinema. From independent short films to box office record-breaker documentaries, Felipe has worked in different areas (producer, director, screenwriter, editor) and several productions since then.
In 2017, Felipe and his wife moved to the Island, where I have been looking for ways to continue work. Felipe tells us that "Cherry Blossom Tree", a quarantine short film, is an example of this effort to keep the flame burning.

As and Isle of Man Arts Council Covid-Resilience Funded project, we caught up with Felipe about the project.

Q. What inspired you to create the short film Cherry Blossom Tree?

I had just moved into a house in a neighbourhood full of Cherry Blossom Trees. One of them right outside my door. They were in full bloom and I was blown away. I discovered that in a couple of weeks, at the peak of the quarantine, all those flowers would disappear and reappear again next year.

I was very shaken by that and started to make associations with the ephemerality of things, little-recognised efforts and perseverance. I could actually feel the meaning of a word that is in vogue, but that is often used in vain: resilience.

From that point on, I naturally associated the Cherry Blossom Trees with the lockdown, the key workers and, mainly, the artists.

Q. You mention that you use the Cherry Blossom Tree as a metaphor for lockdown – tell us more about this.

Imagine how many dreams and projects were interrupted by this pandemic and lockdown. Efforts of months, years or even lifetimes have been abruptly cancelled and this is very difficult to deal with positively.

Many of the attempts to say that "everything will be better when this passes" has often struck me as forced, like a cheap self-help book. I also made a video like this on the eve of the lockdown trying to sell my business. No one called me.

The Cherry Blossom Trees have finally brought me a positive metaphor for that moment. It inspired me to tell people, especially artists, to never give up on their work, even with little recognition and difficulties in paying the bills.

After all, the Cherry Blossom Trees rehearsed a show throughout the year and, at the premiere of the season, the entire audience had to stay home.

And Cherry Blossom Trees have not yet learned how to do live streaming. I hope they never need to do that.

Q. How did lockdown affect your creativity? Did you find it easier or harder to be creative during this time?

Obviously, the lockdown affected each person differently. Since I moved here, I have been working from a home office. Aside from the fact that my wife took over the place, working from home was okay. Furthermore, filming through the window is something that has worked very well throughout the history of cinema. What really affected my creativity were two very different things. One comes from the need that every artist has to interpret the world and its transformations sensitively. And the lockdown, although sad, is a very propitious time for that.

The other thing that really affected my creativity was the need to pay the bills. I believe that this is a great engine of creativity for many artists and entrepreneurs. People need to understand that artists don't just live on poetry and philosophy.

In short, it is neither easier nor harder to be creative during this time. It's just different.

Q. What role do you think art has to play during uncertain times?

I find it funny how the most important things are only remembered at times like this. I'm talking mainly about key workers and the arts. They have made the world go round since prehistory. Artists and key workers are just as relevant now as they have been at all times in human history. Whether in a war, at a time of plague, food shortages or in a pandemic, the only things that save us are hard work during the day and dreaming at night. Whether singing a song, telling a story around the campfire or watching a movie on a mobile phone, the arts are always there.

What I am expecting from this is that at the end of times like these, artists and key workers will not be thrown back into oblivion. Yes, I put the artist side by side with the key worker, not only in times of exception like the one we are experiencing.

Q. How did Arts Council funding help you with this project?

The Arts Council was just incredible with this COVID Resilience Funding project. I think the word resilience was used very properly.

Maybe I would have given other things priority and abandoned that idea if it weren't for this funding. It just proved the seriousness of the work that is being developed with the arts in the Isle of Man. I follow the Arts Council's work closely, and it was the first thing that caught my attention when I landed here. There is no strong nation without a pulsating art and a valued culture.

I think the Arts Council and Culture Vannin are fundamental. They are the spark that helps to light and keep burning the flame of the arts.

Q. What is next for you?

I am resuming three unique things that were interrupted by the pandemic.

The first is a project for small, medium and big businesses in the Isle of Man to show them the importance of videos in fostering the local market.
Everyone already knows the importance of video in the digital world, but few invest in it. I want to show that videos should be tailored to the different types of business and audience, in addition to being viable for all budgets.
We should create a business video culture in the Isle of Man and stop thinking that templates and stock images are enough to boost a business.

The second thing is the beginning of the production of my narrative short film "Heart Carved in Wood". My first foray as a screenwriter and director in fantasy. The film is a psychological thriller/horror shot on the island with the participation of local staff and actors. The film is also financed by the Arts Council, and anyone interested in participating can stay tuned on my social media. I will soon call on crew and actors, with or without previous experience.

Last but not least, I'm returning to gigs playing the percussion with the incredible Briskee Brisket. A band that I am delighted to participate in and that is releasing a first album full of beautiful songs.

To watch "Cherry Blossom Trees": https://youtu.be/OwputvrluiU

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Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0KaSSNnhpU

A sponsored body of
The Department of Education, Sport and Culture
Rheynn Ynsee, Spoyrt as Cultoor
Isle of Man Government
Reiltys Ellan Vannin
Isle of man Government