Our film tech office lead Rita Couto was behind the filming of our Dialogues panel talk series on mental health and creativity. Get to know the filmmaker and photographer in this interview.
Filmmaking is the most collaborative art form there is – fact. Don’t believe me? Just check out how long it took filmmaker Chris Jones to entirely self-create his seven-minute short The Passenger. Spoiler alert: eight God damn years. Even for someone multitalented enough to produce, write, design, model, texture, illuminate, animate, compose, record, mix, edit and – wheeze – direct, each minute of the film equates to over a year. It’s like an episode of Black Mirror or something.
As filmmaker Rita Couto would tell you, collaboration is an absolute essential, whether you’re filming a movie or a mega panel discussion. The multidisciplinary creative is the force behind the Dialogues videos, directing and co-filming all four events of our latest series on mental health and creativity. Knowing her cookies from her cutters, she also spearheads our film tech office.
Outside of Catalyst, Rita has an impressive portfolio of clients, including Boiler Room, Zoomin TV, Jung von Matt and Da Vinci Media, as well as collaborating with the likes of Agora Collective and Sofar Sounds. She also has a big passion for analog photography, evident in her stunning story-embroidered Instagram.
With Dialogues wrapped until the next academic year, we caught up with Rita to learn more about the vision behind the camera.
“I developed my interest in the arts through my introspective personality as a kid.”
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background in the visual arts.
I was born in Porto, Portugal but pretty much grew up across the country since my parents are both teachers and were moving a lot. I think I developed my interest in the arts through my introspective personality as a kid; I would always be somewhere else in my head when anyone approached me. When it came to choosing a field of study in high school, it was quite clear I would pursue visual arts. By then, the first tool I had started to play with was my dad’s Zenit, a 35mm Soviet SLR camera that he had owned since his 20s. I naturally made it mine as I fell in love with analog.
“A film being a success is down to teamwork; the same doesn’t happen with a Guernica.”
Do you remember the moment when you first knew this was what you wanted to do?
I became aware of what I wanted to do after having studied Fine Arts for a year at university, right after high school. I hoped I could merge my passion for filmmaking with crossed Fine Arts disciplines (sculpture, painting, etc.). However, the cliche of the solitary aspiring artist in the academy made me value my interest to work collaboratively instead. A film being a success is down to teamwork; the same doesn’t happen with a Guernica, for example.
You’ve studied in Lisbon and Prague. What brought you to Berlin, and how does the city compare creatively?
Berlin was the first city I travelled to while studying in Prague for my exchange programme. Having studied film, I love German Expressionism (Murnau, Fritz Lang) and I am a big fan of Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire,1987). I am also really interested in German history and have had an urge to visit the city since my parents shared their stories of travelling to Berlin in the GDR era. As soon as I made it to central Europe, I had to go. It was March and, despite the extreme weather, I felt at home from day one. I thought to myself, ‘One day, I will live here.’ The rest is history!
Berlin definitely stands out in comparison with other European capitals. While Lisbon and Prague are strongly defined by their culture and history – through architecture, gastronomy, traditions and people – Berlin always felt to me rather like a shapeshifting, unfinished city. Only recently, I found a statement in German author Karl Scheffler’s 1910 book Berlin – ein Stadtschicksal: “Berlin is a city condemned forever to becoming and never to being.”
This is so true. Berlin has not only physically rebuilt itself throughout its history of two World Wars, but the city’s reconstructive nature also goes down to the individual level: the process of building a personal identity – especially for us creatives. It’s a process that requires a sense of detachment from absolute truths, where one can freely build their own imaginations.
“Reflecting on my interests and passions inevitably led me to the right context and the right network.”
You’ve got a really amazing and varied portfolio, working with brands and across TV, music and more. How did you find your network?
It’s funny to be asked this now. I asked myself the same question so often back when I was trying to figure out how it all works. When I moved to Berlin in 2012, it had already been a year since I graduated from film school. Then I spent almost another year learning German while working on small gigs and international productions, which did not end up taking me much further. I was lacking real set experience in the film industry and for that, I needed to know the language.
The first thing I learnt on the path of building a network was patience. The kick-off point for me was taking a six-month internship at an established rental house, where I got an in-depth insight into all of their current productions and resources. This eventually led to my first job on set. Once I gained more experience and knowledge of what I could do with it, I was able to ask myself which direction I wanted to take. Reflecting on my interests and passions inevitably led me to the right context and the right network.
Why did you want to get involved with Catalyst Dialogues?
First of all, I think it’s extremely positive that a school can take the initiative to provide a space to discuss issues that are seen as taboo, yet are, in reality, so present in every creative field. After all, this is also the responsibility of every educational institute: to be aware of the paradoxes on the journey to individual success and achievement in the real world.
I think Dialogues took a big role in breaking the ice by providing the opportunity for established professionals and Catalyst students to interact with first-hand testimonies. Secondly, I was really inspired by the interest shown by the marketing team in coming up with an exciting video format that would empower the purpose of Dialogues throughout the social media network.
“I personally think the core of this production was the mutual learning.”
What have you learnt from directing and co-filming the four events?
This was actually the first time I had worked with students and alumni in a production, which was, for me, a completely new teamwork dynamic. There are different challenges working with new filmmakers, so I found that creating a space for constant dialogue and feedback was important. This was a great opportunity for the students to put in practice what they had learnt in school, and for me to lead but adapt to the situation, while making sure we were still respecting the brief.
What was the best part about collaborating with the students on the project?
I really appreciate how everyone made an effort to be on the same page during each of the productions, keeping the essence of collaborative work between students and peers, rather than imposing a hierarchical system. I personally think the core of this production was the mutual learning.
I read your latest blog post where you mentioned your unease with our online existence – you called it “as fulfilling as junk food.” How do you think creatives can reconcile the growing necessity to build an online presence with looking after their mental health?
Most of all, I praise the people around me, from both my professional and social network, before I look at my social media activity. Ironically, we would not have one thing without the other. How far could we go on building an online presence without the pillars of a community around us, the people who we can rely on, work with and be endorsed by?
I think the web itself is an amazing playground to build your online presence – if you are aware of what identity you want to cultivate. But, with the fast-growing demand of social media and the increasing individualistic mindset, I have started to value more the simple act of gathering together with friends and colleagues, and the meaningful relationships and collaborations that have developed from there. That has helped me maintain my well-being and build my own standards.
“Everyone has their own way of doing the same thing – you can only find out by doing it!”
What’s your number-one self-care tip?
Drink water. We are made of 60 percent water! In other words, basics first.
Passing the torch to the next Dialogues filmmakers, what advice would you give them?
I would say the best advice is to use the format developed in this production as a reference point. Consider which parts succeeded, which aspects you identify with, and build your own style from there. Everyone has their own way of doing the same thing – you can only find out by doing it!
Thanks for talking to us!
Want to learn more about the ideas and inspirations behind Dialogues? Read our interview with the organiser, events and student experience lead Hannah Deans.