Looking at the Stars
TYPE: Documentary Feature
Looking at the Stars is a character based, lyrical documentary that follows blind ballerinas in São Paulo, Brazil, who are part of the only ballet company for the blind in the world.
"Olhando Pras Estrelas (Looking at the Stars)" tells the story of a few inspiring young women chasing their dream: in a world built on sight and sound, they want to become the first exceptional ballet troupe for blind dancers. They study at the Fernanda Bianchini Ballet Association for the Blind, (located in Sao Paulo, Brazil) the first school of its kind in the world.
This documentary focuses on Geyza, the prima ballerina at the school, and her story which begins with losing her sight at the age of 9. Geyza’s journey carries through the narrative of the film and provides its founding structure. We first meet Geyza as a ballerina at Fernanda’s school. Geyza then transports us to her childhood through stories and dance and she describes it as the perfect time of her life, when she could see and ride a bike. We then hear the heartbreaking story of how she lost her sight and how she started her dancing career. We get a glimpse of Geyza’s home life, how she struggles with her daily commute on public transportation and how isolated she is when it comes to family life. We are introduced to her fiance, who within our film becomes her husband, and then the father of her first born child. We listen to her desires to become the perfect wife and mother plus her predicaments about balancing those desires with her roles at the ballet school.
Geyza’s story touches the core theme of the film: What it means to be perfect. She also provides a throughline that links our characters’ stories to one another and to the audience. The stories are told in a interwoven approach, tied together by dance and common struggles. Each character has a strong story arc that is presented to our audience in a clear yet artistic way and organically achieved. Their stories are intercut with dance and rehearsal scenes and the climax of each character’s story comes together at the end with a big climactic performance. The camera is always there for the moments and dances with the characters, never too intrusive, but always present.
An important exploration in this film is the characters’ interaction with the world outside the dance school doors. Other people may not be totally accepting or understanding of the girls’ situations and some places and institutions are not designed with the blind in mind. This is a crucial part of the visual and narrative development of our film; a tale of determination and successes juxtaposed with struggle and obstacles.
During filming, we were able to capture very intimate moments at the characters’ homes, following them throughout their daily routines and during special events, celebrations, and performances.
This film is a coming of age story about young people and how passion has driven them to do something that seemed unreachable. It is about the beauty of dance and, above all, about the beauty of perseverance.Looking at the Stars is a character based, lyrical documentary that follows blind ballerinas in São Paulo, Brazil, who are part of the only ballet company for the blind in the world.
When I first heard about the ballet school for the blind, about six years ago, I was fascinated with the idea, but didn’t know what to expect. It took me four years to get to a performance—and when I did, I was inspired; their professionalism, their passion and courage radiated from the stage. I understood that this was a truly artistic pursuit. I also realized that the stories of the people involved with the school were even more powerful than the skillful dancing.
I have now been following the dancers for almost two years, and my respect and admiration have grown tenfold. On a personal level, I learned to find levity and hope in my own struggles, and to keep going when the road gets rough.
Last year, we were graciously invited into the lives of the ballerinas. We filmed for over fifty days over two trips to Sao Paulo. We attempted to blend in—giving our characters the freedom to be their uninhibited, self-confident, beautiful selves. We were looking for poetic moments with the characters dancing for the camera, but stayed open to where the characters wanted to take us. As a result, they welcomed us openly into their lives, and we had amazing surprises.
In the editing room, my challenge became painting a poetic and honest portrait of our characters, one that respects their strength and the complexity of their struggles. It was important to me that our audience can relate to the characters and find the universal truth in their stories, rather than feeling pity or sorry for them. These may be blind ballerinas, but they are first and foremost strong young women, and accomplished artists who are coming of age in a world that can sometimes be hostile or impossible to navigate.
One of our main focuses throughout post-production, and the planning of the film’s distribution future, has been creating an interactive sound design that is specific to the needs of the blind. We want to create a poetic sound scape that has its own way of conveying the narrative, allowing the blind to “watch” the film with their ears in a new and exciting way. We also want this soundtrack to be accessible to both English and Portuguese-speaking audiences initially, and more audiences later as we hopefully bring our film to people all over the world.
Before this project, my career had been focused on editing. I love to edit and I have worked on many short films, but after leaving my editing bubble and falling into real life I also fell in love with directing documentaries. There is something incredibly powerful and fascinating in getting to know different people and their stories without knowing where the journey will lead. I have the privilege of telling honest stories and portraying experiences I wouldn’t even know how to imagine. The challenge is to turn real life into an inspiring cinematic experience. I hope I can continue making films like this in the future.
Alexandre Peralta - Director/ Producer
Alexandre Peralta grew up in São Paulo, Brazil, at the epicenter of millions of inspiring, untold stories. He began exploring some of these stories in college, where he studied Advertising and Marketing at ESPM, but deepened his commitment to artistic expression during his time in the M.F.A. program at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. He has directed and edited short films, including editing the documentary “Canto de Familia,” about a Mexican-American mariachi family, recently recognized by KCET as part of its Fine Cut Showcase. He sound designed and mixed the ABFF and NBC Shorts award winning film, “A Different Tree.” Alexandre is proud and excited to direct “Looking at the Stars” as his first feature documentary.
Sabrina Chammas - Producer
Sabrina Chammas is a dual citizen of Canada and Lebanon and speaks Arabic, French, and English fluently. Prior to living in Los Angeles and earning her MFA in film production from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Sabrina studied Communications and Business Administration at Northeastern University in Boston. Sabrina’s interests lie in socially conscious films that can help spread positive messages to make the world a better place to live. She has produced several fiction and non-fiction films and is always looking for a good story to tell. Sabrina has recently worked on Oscar nominated documentary “The Square” alongside director Jehane Noujaim as executive assistant, which was an amazing experience and and thaught her a great deal on outreach and distribution for documentaries. She is currently working for a startup mobile app as Video and Content Producer.
Alejandro Martinez - Cinematographer
Alejandro Martinez is a Director of Photography from Nicaragua. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Philiosophy from McGill University, a Masters in International Law and Communications from Universidad Complutense, in Madrid Spain and an MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. Alejandro has a passion for documentaries, and good instincts on how to best capture rare and delicate moments; he believes that the camera can be a dancer, and that Cinematography can help us find Beauty and Truth in the world. Alejandro has been involved with “Looking at the Stars” since the development phase.
Guan Xi - Cinematographer
Guan Xi is a native of Beijing China. She received her B.A. in Critical Studies and her first M.F.A. in Documentary Film Production at Beijing Normal University. Before attending USC, she published a photography book, which featured photos taken in India, Cambodia, Nepal and China. She is a recipient of The Best Young Photographer award from The Pingyao International Photography Festival. Her films have been nominated in the Best Short Film and Best Directing categories in The Beijing Collage Students Film Festival. As a young filmmaker, she believes her camera is a weapon and she plans to use it to inspire people while building an everlasting legacy of art, vision and creativity.
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