A few years ago, Daniel Ribeiro made waves on the film festival circuit with the well-received LGBT short film “I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone (Eu Nao Quero Voltar Sozinho”). It won awards all over the world. Now the director is back with the feature length version of the short, “The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho”), opening at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema Friday for a one-week run. The film also enjoyed a successful screening at Atlanta’s LGBT fest, Out on Film, in October.
“The Way He Looks” centers around Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo), a young man in high school who is close friends with classmate Giovana (Tess Amorim). He is blind yet fiercely independent, wanting to go to the United States for an exchange program. He faces a few bullies at school but for the most part everyone accepts and likes him.
Yet when a new classmate, Gabriel (Fabio Audi), enters the picture, it changes everything. Giovana develops a crush on him and Leonardo finds himself wanting to spend as much time as possible with him as well.
Ribeiro was intrigued by the idea of two young characters discovering themselves, especially one who is blind.
“I was thinking, where does our sexuality come from?” he says. “I realized that our sexuality is so connected to the visual aspect of ourselves. How does a blind person feel attracted to someone? That’s how I thought of this character. It’s an interesting way to talk about where sexuality comes from. It’s a guy who never saw a boy or a girl before but still falls in love with a guy. That is how the movie was created.”
As he filmed the short he decided to make a feature version of it as well, with the same players. The biggest obstacle, he says, besides finding the money to make the feature was making sure he could retain the three young performers.
“Because it was my first feature, I thought it would be easier to do a short, especially dealing with an actor playing a blind teenager. I thought that would be hard,” Ribeiro says.
As filming continued, though, he knew he had to have all three in the feature length version.
“They knew we wanted to do a feature,” he says. “We didn’t know how long it would take to shoot. I wasn’t sure they were going to be young enough to do it, but they had such chemistry. We were also taking to them — don’t eat too much, don’t grow too much! It was great they were able to; I adapted the feature for their ages.”
Not long after the film debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival (where it won the Teddy Award for Best LGBT film) it started popping up at festivals across the world, including Brazil, where the director grew up. It was a commercial success there and he was very pleased.
Growing up gay himself in Brazil in the ‘90s, Ribeiro had a pretty straightforward coming out process, helped by parents who were supportive.
“It was a little how the film is,” he says. “Of course it was not easy. Kids are much more open about that (now) but my parents were ok. They were very liberal. I had a boyfriend when I was 16. He helped me a lot to try to figure out what we were feeling.”
Ribeiro has been in the States promoting the film for a while but still makes his home back in Brazil. He found out a month ago that the movie is his country’s official Best Foreign Language Film entry for the 87th Academy Awards. The shortlist for the awards will be announced in early December and he is excited to even be in the conversation, especially since more than a dozen other films were eligible.
One of his favorite films growing up was “Beautiful Thing,” which “The Way He Looks” has been compared to for its sweetness and honest portrayal of teenage love.
“We wanted people to connect to the film and relate to the characters,” Ribeiro says. “I wanted to make a film with a universal theme, that could be relatable to anyone. I feel that connection when we show it. I feel happy about that.”