Vitória Vasconcellos is a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, who is making waves as a filmmaker. The film she both wrote and starred in, “Bleed, Don’t Die,” made its world premiere at Fantaspoa-Fantastic Film Fest this April. Vasconcellos spoke with USC Annenberg Media about her creative process and what it has been like to break into the world of film and the festival circuit.
AM: On top of creating films, you have also spent time acting. What has that experience been like for you?
VV: I’m working on a solo show at the Stella Adler Conservatory for Acting, which is a professional acting conservatory for two years and a half. And it’s very intense, the days are from 6 [a.m.] to 10:30 [p.m] every day. So it’s very good to get this formal training…but to get this industry training as well. Doing that and having a career in film was definitely very demanding and time-consuming, but, in a way, one thing immediately supports the other. With the way my brain works, [filmmaking and acting] are able to dialogue. The students have also been very diverse—there are people from all over the world. It’s very enriching to be in this environment where I’m not the only foreigner, the only Latin American representation.
AM: What was the production process like for “Bleed, Don’t Die?” VV: It all started as a really small project that was just going to be shooting something in the woods, and now the project has really grown. The Toronto International Film Festival has a diverse talent development lab where they choose 20 emerging filmmakers—10 inside Canada, 10 from outside Canada—and I was one of the people who was selected. I was able to bring a project with me, which was “Bleed, Don’t Die.” And, during the lab, we also won the Share Her Journey Canada Goose Fellowship [and] we won a grant from Freestyle Cinema. So now it’s a legitimate production [and] its a production with a lot of women involved.
AM: What is “Bleed, Don’t Die” about?
VV: The story is all about manhood and healing. It’s a modern retelling o the Holy Grail. But with two sisters as opposed to white old men.
AM: You also starred in another short film of yours, “Pathei Mathos.” What was that film experience like?
VV: The whole short film started based on an experience had and my own trauma. I needed to say something about iot, and not try to explain it, but to create a visual portrayal od what trauma feels like because words were never enough. The language I find most compelling is cinema. There was definitely an element of fear and anxiety. As with all short films, if you’re not terrified, I think there’s something wrong with you. But “Pathei Mathos” was a healing process for me, more so than…reliving my trauma. I was putting myself in that present again and putting that on film. The story was very different than my own experience, but I thought about what was universal about trauma. I hope anyone can look at this movie and say, “This is not exactly how I felt, but this is something similar.” I got a lot of emails and messages from people telling me how [the film] helped them understand someone with PTSD and that’s the most amazing experience for me. It was really beneficial to my life and art to understand that the bad things that happen to us can be re-appropriated and reshaped. It’s a great thing in my life now, it’s no longer a sad story and something upsetting. That story didn’t end there.
AM: What advice do you have for filmmakers at USC applying to fellowships and festivals?
VV: The biggest lesson I learned is to never stop. You have to continuously apply. I see something—I applied. And, most of the time, they got rejected, but sometimes they don’t. If you wait until you’re ready to apply to something, you are going to be waiting your whole life. I constantly applied for things I’m technically not really qualified for. But it sometimes works out because we tend to undersell ourselves as artists. Don’t self-sabotage in that way.
AM: Is there anything current students who are interested in film should do while at school?
VV: The best advice from every filmmaker I’ve met is to grab a camera and make a movie. Don’t think too much about it. And I feel really lucky that I was in the cinema program, because so many classes were so pivotal and gave me an entirely different perspective on film and reading scripts. Don’t go through college allowing your advisor to let you go with the flow. Write your own journey, be the narrator of your college history.