Entertainment & Arts

Talking Trash: Stephen Daldry shows hope in Rio's slums

Trash film
Image caption Trash follows Brazilian teens who see their luck change after finding a wallet in Rio's rubbish dump

Stephen Daldry has swapped ballet pumps for favelas and ventured into Brazilian filmmaking for his latest film Trash.

The Billy Elliot director spent months filming in some of Rio de Janeiro's toughest slums - while dodging bullets from "warring militia" - to show hope and faith amongst the city's rubbish dumps.

"The reason I made this film is because it's about the underbelly, the difficult side of Rio, the underexposed side of Rio," he says.

"But any social messages, any issues of right or wrong, issues of what Brazil should be doing now or not, it all just comes from the kids.

"They had a real sense of ownership, not only about change, but about their country. That was so moving and unusual, that I never left."

Based on Andy Mulligan's children's fable, the comedy-thriller follows three teenage boys who stumble across a wallet and key in a rubbish dump.

Chased by a corrupt police officer who wants their findings, the trio seek to find the rightful owner - enlisting the help of a pair of American missionaries, played by Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara.

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Following a history of successful collaborations with young relatively unknown actors such as Jamie Bell in Billy Elliot and Thomas Horn in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, it wasn't surprising that Daldry wanted local boys to take on the main roles.

It took the team eight months to find the young Brazilian trio - Rickson Teviz, Eduardo Luis and Gabriel Weinstein - who interestingly did not have any prior acting experience and had never been to a cinema.

"Each boy had his own challenging personal background, including family members who had been killed," Daldry says.

'Patience and improvisation'

"They don't go to school much and the only English they know they picked up from video games."

Filmed almost entirely in Portuguese, the shoot inevitably relied on patience with much of the script and filming improvised.

"With these kids, there was a certain amount of chaos. There was no way they were going to read then learn a script," says the 53-year-old director.

"The children often live without boundaries, so obviously you're trying to explain boundaries such as turning up on time. Sometimes they wouldn't turn up at all."

Image caption Rooney Mara takes on the role of young American missionary Olivia

While the boys' characters in the film see their fortune take a turn for the good, does Daldry worry the whole filming process will affect the boys in real life?

"I hope it's has been a force for good in creating a work ethic and parameters for the boys - along with giving them some economic stability.

"But, we have to remember that as far as these boys are concerned, they live in the best place in the world. And if you go to where they live and see the sense of community and faith, then you would too," he says.

'Justice, morality and faith'

Having never been to Brazil before, Daldry became so "infected" by the huge amount of energy he saw amongst the young people and communities, he went on to spend 18 months there.

"It's a country I feel in love with, they believe in change and they believe in their country," he says.

Throwing himself into Brazilian culture, the director even joined millions of people in nationwide protests over high taxes and poor healthcare.

"Obviously, I went to the demonstrations as many as I could," he says, calling the spirit on the streets "celebratory, hopeful, empowered".

"It was about changing Brazil in a positive way. They were, in that sense, incredibly hopeful, I thought."

Hope and passion, Daldry says, is something people often forget or don't associate with Brazil: "There are lots of people who go into these communities and show a world that's only full of violence and drugs.

"Many people in Brazil tend to see kids from poorer backgrounds as immoral, dark, dangerous and to be avoided. The idea that those children have a strong sense of justice, morality and faith was very challenging to the audience.

"People have misconceptions about the violence but on a day-to-day basic level, I would find areas of London much more scary."

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Image caption Stephen Daldry picked up the top prize at the Rome Film Festival

'Good to challenge yourself'

Having started his career in theatre, Daldry leapt to international fame on the big screen with Billy Elliot in 2000. He went on to direct The Hours (2002), The Reader (2008) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011). Between them they've received 19 Oscar nominations and two wins.

Having received a standing ovation when it premiered at the International Film Festival in Rio de Janeiro last year, Trash won the top prize at the Rome Film Festival in October.

It is nominated for best-foreign film at the Baftas, up against Leviathan and Two Days, One Night.

However it is the first film of Daldry's career not up for an Academy award. Unfazed, the director says it is good to "challenge yourself" and do something different.

"I knew Trash wouldn't be Oscar bait from the start - maybe I picked it because of that. Who knows. It was never an obvious award film," he says.

"But it's good to break away and do something that people don't expect of you.

"And more importantly, what you expect of yourself."

Trash is released in UK cinemas on 30 January.

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