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'You Are Not A Soldier' is an anti-war film at its heart. Get to know the directors trying to bring war photographer Andre Liohn's story to life.

‘You Are Not A Soldier’: Meet the co-directors of the documentary

The destruction left by war in the Middle East has often been overlooked by the majority of people, yet that doesn’t change the damage done to these areas. Thankfully, many brave journalists and photographers have been helping to keep the story alive, even if the majority of mainstream media is pretending like nothing is happening. 

One photographer in particular, Andre Liohn, has won numerous awards for his work abroad on the front line. But with every shot came the risk of never making out to show it off to the world. More importantly, never getting the chance to see his children grow up. You Are Not A Soldier take a closer look at the reality Liohn lives every day. 

We spoke with director Maria Carolina Telles and co-director/writer Aleksei Abib about bringing Liohn’s story to life, and why they made the anti-war message such a big part of the project. 

Tell us about your journey into filmmaking. What did you do before film?

Maria: I believe this need to get to places and to access different universes through an embedded and visceral approach took me to journalism, and then to nonfiction, reality television and documentary. Now those universes are all beautifully colliding. 

Aleksei: I studied Brazilian and German literature. And I had a “past life” as a musician as well. 

Was there any particular film or TV show that inspired you to become a filmmaker? 

M: One of the greatest films ever made began with the meeting of two brilliant minds: Stanley Kubrick and sci-fi seer Arthur C. Clarke. Definitely took me by storm when I first watched it in my teenage years. Still feels prophetic.

A: All Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky and Krzysztof Kieślowski films.

What was the first project you worked on and what did you learn from the experience? 

M: My first short About The Childhood of The Self in a Resume of a Country framing the social gap in Brazil through children’s discourse brought me to a life experience searching for equity.

A: The video poem The Gift. I’ve learned that a good project is one that surprises you in the end.

Do you have any experience with mentors? If so, do you recommend them for up and coming filmmakers? 

M: They are all around since ever in my life. Some had a major impact helping me through my creative process as the artist and intellectual Carlos Jacchieri, Michela Giorelli from Discovery, my gestalt therapist Karina, and now incredible Aleksei Abib, the scriptwriter of my film. They are essential.

A: Definitely. For me, the best of all script doctors right now  is the Argentinian Miguel Machalksi.

Walk us through your creative process. 

M: It’s pretty intense and fragmented. A collection of frames, art, news, books, and music is all there all the time. I keep on reconstructing them and putting pieces together as a huge daily experience. Sometimes I let them to speak up all together ☺

A: I try, as best as I can,  listen to my characters – and tell the story they want to live despite my own desires.

Do you listen to any particular music to help you create?

M: Music is all around my life. From tracks with a single instrument to hardcore music. It’s like home perfume to me. Depending on my mood and intentions. 

A: Music is so powerful that it overcomes all other forms of art. So I try to avoid it while creating. Otherwise I would only have eyes (and ears, and soul) for it.

Is there any particular part of the filmmaking process you like best? 

M: Writing and editing are pure magic.

A: Soundtrack and sound design. 

What are five films you think everyone needs to watch? 

M: This is hard work☺ Well, Kubrick’s Paths of Glory; David Lynch Mulholland Drive, France’s Claire Denis Beau Travail, Martin Scorsese Taxi Driver and Jane Campion The Piano.

A: The Sacrifice (Tarkovsky), Persona (Bergman), The Life of Others (Henckel), Three Colours Trilogy (Kieslowski), Black God, White Devil (Glauber Rocha).

How did you both get involved with You Are Not A Soldier?

M: I was looking for a sensitive scriptwriter and was introduced by my friend You Are Not a Soldier’s editor Pablo Pinheiro to Aleksei. We were immediately connected from soul to storytelling perspectives.

A: My dear friend Maria Carolina Telles wanted a writer. I’m a writer (and a very very lucky  person to have known her as well).

What was your experience like working on set of You Are Not A Soldier

M: Our set was multiverse. From long studio interviews, an embedded experience with the character’s family in his hometown and in the editing room juggling with his hard drives. Pretty much a full on writing and editing endeavor.

A: First of all I’ve learned not to make any judgement regarding anything. And first of all once again, lol, that Carol and the editor, Pablo Pinheiro, were the best possible partners I could have.

Why was it so important to tell the story of Andre Liohn?

M: It is a way to bring an anti war message and a reflection upon universal themes as grief, love, democracy and peace. 

A: To show how damaging the war is to anybody. To suggest a way to overcome grief.

You refused to stray away from the dark sides of war in your documentary, including the mental struggle Liohn’s children deal with. Why did you feel that was so important?

M: It is his cyclical existence within the battles he’s taking. For me, a strong representation of a powerful character to produce a real engagement, must be developed during the course of action and not introduced to the audience as a mechanical figure with its characteristics and descriptions pre conceived and determined.

A: To show how damaging the war can be to a family.

So many documentaries have taken on the subject of war before. What makes You Are Not A Soldier stand out from the rest? 

M: There is an anti war pattern through a female gaze exploring an intense POV male lens. 

A: Because this is actually not a film, but a personal message to Carol’s father. That he’s not a soldier. And she is really happy with that.

While working on the documentary, both of you ended up wearing multiple hats on set. What was it like juggling so many responsibilities?

M: We were 100% merged. Too connected along with Pablo Pinheiro, the editor. An anti war crew ☺

A: That’s what usually happens when you try to tell an anti war story in the hate era. 

What do you hope audiences take away after watching You Are Not A Soldier?

M: We have tried to make a responsible exhibition of what is behind the scenes of information production converging it to an anti-war film. Our intention is to provoke a reflection on life, love, family and democracy.  

A: The Greek philosopher Epictetus said that the best way to live is not to have any kind of expectations. I truly rely on that, so if anybody is somehow touched by any aspects in the story, I will be happy. If not, I’ll be not disappointed. This is really not in my control.

Where do you see yourselves in five years? 

A: First of all, I hope to be still alive. And fully creative,  around my family and friends,  in a world that values life more than death, which is not the case, right now.

M: I’m in a full on Gestalt therapy journey. Don’t framework the future. I hope to be alive, safe & sound. 

If any director could direct the story of your life, who would you choose and why? 

M: Definitely Jane Campion for her inspiring insistence on a female gaze.

A: Krzysztof Kieślowski. Definitely. As a slav, he has this rare mix of generosity, harshness, and tenderness that interests me in life.

What has been your biggest success and failure to date?

M: There were a significant number of failures turning into a great vortex of success in my life. I can’t frame them as maniqueist and monolithic experiences. It is all related.

A: My biggest success is definitely my son, Zac. My biggest failure is, well, not being a professional musician anymore.

If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would you choose and why? 

M: I would take with me my breathless love and reverence for the ocean and a portrait of a cyclical life experience. Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill’s Blue. A dolphin who is learning to carve his own way in the world, under the careful watch of his mother. 

A: Solaris, from Tarkovsky. I could live forever in a planet that makes your feelings real.

Do you have any advice for up and coming filmmakers?

M: An advice that I take for granted: Do not have a dogmatic approach to aesthetics and storytelling. Recognize and navigate bias. 

A: Listen to your characters, don’t try to please anyone else. Your only compromise is with them – and the story they want to live.

What’s next on the docket for you? 

M: I am currently in development of non fiction series for platforms and full on researching the theme for my next doc. 

A: I’m currently developing two projects for the screen: the adaptation of the Brazilian novel The Three Trials of Manirema, from J. J. Veiga, and my first fiction feature as a Director, A Class Struggle, both of them written with the writer, director and producer André Meirelles Collazzo. And I’m  also writing my first novel, The Temple.

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