Halder Gomes (Director - 'Sunland Heat')
'Heating Things Up in Sunland'
MTI Home Video hits the boiling point this Summer with Halder Gomes’ Martial Arts actioner 'SUNLAND HEAT'!
MTI Home Video, the leading independent home entertainment studio, along with their Studio Partner, Artist View Entertainment, will release the Martial Arts/Action film 'SUNLAND HEAT' August 9, 2005.
The film is about a world-class Olympic martial artist who is used to fighting for glory, but is now fighting for the life of her daughter as well as her own!
A world-class Olympic martial artist, who after a failed marriage to millionaire, moves to Brazil in a desperate attempt to begin a new life. She chose the right place and the right time, but the nightmare she left behind continues to haunt her. A relentless chain of events force her to fight for her life and that of her daughter. The Brazilian paradise heats up when betrayal, intense martial arts action, vengeance and romance hit its turbulent shores.
Director/Producer Halder Gomes’ (known as the "Brazilian Tarantino") 'SUNLAND HEAT' has an all-star cast, including JJ Perry - the world-class stuntman who has received 2 Taurus Stunt Awards, and appeared in 'Mortal Kombat' and 'Power Rangers.' Brazil’s André Lima is a world-class martial artist who is a regular on the covers of martial arts magazines worldwide. Renata Pimentel is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champion. Alex Van Hagen, who plays the lead role of 'Jennifer' is a Black Belt Kickboxer, Californian Champion. The film also stars Laura Putney - known for her work on the television series 'JAG,' and Jay Richardson ('The Curse of the Komodo').
Chatting recently with the "Brazilian Tarantino" himself, Halder Gomes, I first wondered where and when the movie had been shot? "It was shot in the city of Fortaleza, on the shore northeast of Brazil, a little below the equator. And in Los Angeles. The year was the end of 2001 and beginning of 2002."
You’re known as the “Brazilian Tarantino,” but is that a help or a hindrance to your filmmaking these days?! "Well, let’s talk first how all that started. During the premiere in a film festival, there was a very famous Brazilian film critic in the session. After the screening he interviewed me and he pointed out some coincidences with the storyline of 'Kill Bill,' which he had seen a while ago in Cannes. I had not seen 'Kill Bill' yet at that time, and when I saw it I figured out that he was right, but since my script was from 1997, he knew I was not taking advantage of its success. The next day there was the headline on UOL: “Ceará’s (my state) 'Kill Bill' version”. That made the national media curious, and one major newspaper from São Paulo (biggest city in Latin America) published a full page calling me the "Brazilian Tarantino."
That helped somehow, the next day a distribution company called and we made a deal for domestic sales. I have to make clear that doesn’t change at all my way of having my feet on the ground. I know the abyss between our realities, but it gives me responsibility and encouragement for my next projects."
The fights scenes, especially the one that takes place in the beach bar stock room, are well choreographed – who was behind these and did anyone get injured for real? "What you see is what you get! I could not afford having actors and stuntmen to do both so they had to do it all at the same time. JJ Perry and André Lima are my old fellows from taekwondo with world titles both. JJ Perry is a world class stunt man (two time Taurus Stunt Award Winner) and a fabulous choreographer, and he did a wonderful job not only helping creating the fight scenes, but doing all that himself without all the security stuff used in Hollywood. So when he hits the floor, he really does it, and when he flies over the bottles, those are real glass bottles! When André Lime jumps over a car, that’s real, he used to do that in martial arts demonstrations. In the end nobody got injured."
In that abovementioned scene why didn’t she ('Jennifer') come to the fighting aid of Matthew’s when he was getting pummeled? "That’s right, and that would be what everyone expected in a martial arts film. But I wanted to show that in spite of how good you are, we all have fears, and being an athlete does not mean that we can’t be vulnerable sometimes to these human feelings. She was just scared. It was also fun to play my character (Carlos) and André Lima’s (John Paul). We are both Brazilians, and we grew up seeing American movies, and dreaming of making movies, and that’s so strong in our culture. When I met Arnold Schwarzenegger one time, I could not stop looking at him as 'The Terminator' and all the characters he played before. So we let ourselves play as kids having fun being part of an American movie; the accent, the caricature of bad guys, the accentuated gestures, etc."
'Jennifer,' played by Alex Van Hagen was great in the movie, but she was your first choice? "When I started working on the project in 1998, I spoke with Cynthia Rothrock at the time, but so many things changed along the way. She got married, she had a baby, and when I was close to start shooting (beginning of December 2001) the world was still confused due to September 11. And than I realized that a mother with a baby would not leave her country to go make a movie after doing that so many times. I made the decision that I had to do casting for the character along with others."
What was the reason for drugging them both at the 45 minute mark as it seemed to make no sense?! "I agree. Due to so many circumstances I had to cut almost 50 pages of the script. It was not the writer’s fault. Since it was my very first movie, I would say also that I was not experienced enough to rewrite the script so many times, but I had to."
Who was the woman in the wheel chair at the very end? Was she the dead fighter she supposedly killed? If so, why wasn’t she featured more in the story and given more than just a quick frame? "I had so many characters in the script, and once again, due to the cuts, I had to sacrifice some of her parts as well. So, there was not that many options left for me, and since I couldn’t shoot the script in the way I was supposed to, then I decided doing certain things on the story that would make you think afterwards ... in a controversial way or not. Actually I had to make a decision about changing the linear structure a little bit more than action films usually go."
What was the hardest part of this movie to film and why? "There are so many that I could spend hours telling you! First of all, I had to visit 139 companies - only 13 said yes - in my city to try to raise funds. But in Brazil part of the investment comes from tax incentives, not from film investors. It was very hard, for example, negotiating a film project with a Juice industry, shoe stores, electricity company, water company, jeans factory, etc. Also, the money exchange from Brazilian to US dollars can be sometimes 3 to 1 in favor of the American money. That made it much harder for me, along with the 10% a month compound interest loan that I had to get to match the budget!"
"I also had to postpone the project twice, due to the disapprobation of my martial arts school to build a freeway over it! The City Hall informed me about that two weeks prior to the demolition! I then had to rebuild everything again from the ground in another place! After that I had to go through an anterior cross ligament surgery! In fact, I could not perform my fight scenes as I had just removed the stitches! Than I had to shoot no matter what, or my deadline would expire and I would have had to refund the money to the government with all the compound interest!"
"As if that was not enough, the director of the film, due to family health problems, had to leave the project weeks before shooting began. So I had to add that to my attributes along with producer, executive producer, translator, travel coordinator, etc. etc. Plus, this was the first martial arts action movie shot in Brazil with entire local crew, considered not experienced enough. I had to go through all the prejudices against the genre, people saying that this would be impossible, since I didn’t come from film school, etc. I have my Bachelor in Business Administration and MBA in Marketing, but that wasn't good enough for them! But I never let myself go down. I knew that I was going to make it. And now things have been so different, by having the film distributed in the US by MTI Video and Artist View Entertainment. This has really changed things in Brazil also. It’s funny how thin the line is between being lunatic and being successful!"
"Nowadays, people down here always compare my saga with the story of Robert Rodriguez when he made 'El Mariacchi,' but to tell you the truth, making this film where I am and where I come from, I would say was much harder. There’s so much more involved, that sometimes I am invited by companies for encouragement speeches!"
Finally, what new stuff do you have coming up that we can look out for? "After beginning my career with a feature, it was time for me to do a short film. I won a National ScriptWriters contest from the Brazilian Ministry of Culture, among 1937 competitors all over the country. The film is out there already in festivals, and since it’s debut in September 2004 at the São International Short Film Festival, it's made its way already into 20 film festivals in Brazil. This year it won 4 Best Film awards in a row and many other awards. The film got the attention of Walter Salles ('The Motorcycle Diaries,' 'Dark Water'), who asked for a screener and to read the long feature script version. It’s been a huge success wherever it goes, and some top film critic in Brazil called it the “Brazilian version of Cine Paradiso”. The film is called 'Cine Holiúdy – O astista contra o caba do mal,' which means 'The Good Guy Against the Bad Guy,' and it’s a comedy about the very humble movie theaters in the country side of Brazil, in a small town in the middle of nowhere (where I came from ) in the 70’s."
"Soon I’ll start shooting another project from a script prize I’ve won, called 'Loucos de Futebol,' which is a documentary about soccer fans in Brazil. I’m also raising funds for another feature, called 'Sweet Dreams Cinderella,' an action/drama about local girls who are induced to go to Europe to work and become sexual slaves. It’s a very common drama in my city, and I had to go deep down into a personal investigation to know more about the drama of some girls who escaped and the universe that makes this complex chain works. For more information, making of pictures, etc, I have a web site: www.haldergomes.com."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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