Wenders, Salles: A decade apart but of similar minds

Separated by both a decade and a continent, filmmakers Wim Wenders, aged 60, and Walter Salles, 50, are nevertheless linked by the road. The German and Brazilian directors met at the John Cassavetes movie theater during the Thessaloniki International Film Festival on Tuesday to deliver a master class on the subject that unites their work: road movies. The number of films made and their stature may not be equal – the first has created an entire school of moviemaking and left his indelible mark on world cinema, while the latter transcended the borders of his country just recently with «The Motorcycle Diaries» and «Central do Brasil» – but their appearance together in front of a huge and mostly youthful audience made for a very enlightening two-hour master class. «Will you take the wheel first?» Wenders asked Salles. «No, you go ahead,» said the younger man, making his reticence clear at the end of the class by saying: «When I was asked to speak along with Wenders, I asked to be given a place in the audience. I have to say that ‘Alice in the Cities’ was one of the movies that defined my relationship with cinema,» he said. On that note, the two directors showed, and talked the audience through, selected scenes from their films: Wenders mostly spoke on «Kings of the Road» (a black-and-white film which follows a film projector mechanic traveling through West Germany along the East German border), while Salles extensively presented «The Motorcycle Diaries» (a road movie based on the early travels of Ernesto «Che» Guevara through Latin America). «The first on-the-road legend,» said Wenders, «was written by Homer and he was Ulysses.» His historical retrospective of the road movie leapt across the decades to come to the ground-breaking Lumiere brothers and the birth of cinema, which, Wenders said, changed humanity because «we began seeing things through images.» The German filmmaker also discussed the importance of cinema to him: «For me, the camera has always been identified with freedom. Being outside and making a film go together for me. What am I doing out there? The horizon is the only answer. When you reach it, you realize you have another horizon ahead of you. In road movies, the road is the subject.» For Salles, the first road movies he saw were ethnological documentaries like «Nanook of the North.» «Borders are not just external, but internal also,» said Salles. «In my films, I try to describe the crisis of a country along with the crisis of the individual. You can’t shoot a road movie in the same way as a classic narrative picture,» he said. Wenders ended the class by addressing Salles and saying: «I think that deep down inside we are both documentary makers after all. Personally, I would prescribe it for all directors. I would forbid them to do narrative film before making a documentary.»

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