Watch: Behind The Eyes

Video and Photography by Ricardo Vilela

It’s hard to believe, but this is Ricardo Vilela’s first time making a surf film.

Growing up a skater in Brazil, Vilela had his own priorities on land away from the sparkling coastline nearby. But a good storyteller is a good storyteller, no matter the backdrop.

After meeting a vision-impaired surfing yoga teacher named Figue five years ago, Vilela became increasingly interested in Figue’s story and approach to life. Defying what we know about our senses and perceptions, Figue is as natural in the water as Vilela is behind the camera. We hopped on the phone with Vilela from his home in Santa Catarina, Brazil to learn about the young filmmaker and his—shall we say, vision—for this truly inspiring project.

I heard this was your first time shooting surf.

Yeah, I’m not really a surfer [laughs]. I’ve done some surf films for some brands, but this was my first time shooting a surf movie and thinking about a surf movie. It was really crazy but really, really nice.

Did you shoot it all by yourself or did you call on some friends to help out?

I had a couple friends. It was me and two of my friends shooting. The first day, I went to the water to get some shots that I really wanted. But after that, one of my friends helped me get a couple shots in the water. And then after that, on the ground, it was me and one more.

Did you shoot any of the water scenes?

Yeah. Like, the first scene in the movie was shot by myself. But I didn’t shoot every single shot in the water.

Were you nervous at all?

For sure, man [laughs]. Figue’s friends were really nice guys though and they helped me a lot. And, you know, we made it work. 

Had you met Figue before the shoot?

Yeah, I met him about five years ago when I moved to Santa Catarina, the city that I’m living in now. I was living really close to his house. He’s a yoga teacher, so I went to his class and was really surprised that he didn’t have his vision. 

What’s it like directing somebody who’s vision-impaired? 

I don’t know how to describe it. Throughout the whole process, Figue and I talked a lot. I met him many times to talk about the movie and discuss how we could do it. I was trying to tell him my ideas and how the animations could work. He was really interested in everything. So everything was made with a lot of conversation.

I was going to ask you about that. Filmmaking requires so much trust and it’s also a very visual medium. Was it hard to earn Figue’s trust initially?

We talked a lot. We had a really good relationship. It was really nice. He’s an amazing guy, really. We had really deep conversations and talked a lot about many things, like the life that we live, surfing, climbing. It was a really special time.

How long did you film this for?

It was two weeks. After that, I shot one more interview. The waves were not very good at the time so we didn’t have a lot of time to shoot surfing.

I didn’t really think you needed a ton of surfing though. I think capturing his story is more important than capturing a good wave.

I agree.

Is Figue pretty well known around Santa Catarina?

Yeah man, for sure. But he’s not a really famous guy. He’s been in competitions, but he’s [lowkey].

I’ve seen a lot of other physically impaired Brazilians come up in other sports. Like, with skating, there’s Og de Souza and Italo Romano, and I’m sure others. What is it about Brazil that builds this perseverance despite personal obstacles and limitations?

Yeah, Oggie. He’s a legend. For some people in Brazil, practising sport is one way to stay out of crime. So I think those people are working really hard to be good at it. Also, sports like surfing and skateboarding are really democratic as it isn’t expensive and are practised in the streets. Maybe that’s the reason.

I saw somewhere else that you didn’t want to focus on Figue’s past or the obstacles he’s overcome as a result of his condition. Why did you choose to focus on his relationship with surfing and not go into that past?

Actually, I’m not really sure. I think the story could sound really cliche and obvious, like, he suffered this accident and after that he fell out of motivation and now he’s doing what he does. But I started searching about the senses and I found an article by Bruce Durie. He says that we don’t only have five senses, we probably have more than 20. And I found this guy very interesting. If you say we have only five senses and suppose you lose one, then you’ve lost 20 percent of your senses. But if you think we have more than 20 and you’ve lost one, it’s not too much. I really think we have more than five. I’ll give you an example. Think about equilibrium, the balance. It’s something that we have in our ears that helps us balance. I would say this is a sense, but we don’t think of it as a sense, you know? 

Going back to surfing, you don’t surf and you were saying you never grew up surfing? 

Well, actually, I can surf. I can drop a wave. But I’m not really in the scene. I’m a skateboarder. I spent my whole life skating. Surf is not really for me, I don’t think [laughs]. It’s too hard for me [laughs].

Did you approach this film the same way you would as a skate video? Obviously, this isn’t a straight-up action film, but it’s got elements to it.

Yeah, I think the vibe is pretty much the same, being with your friends and having fun. It was not like a job. It wasn’t like hard work. It was really fun. 

Did you do all the animations by yourself?

Yeah, I did all of that by myself.

When did you get into filmmaking? 

I started filming and shooting photos in 2012 when I moved to Australia for an internship. I was studying design at the time, but I bought a camera for capturing the moment and to have some memories of the time. I really liked it, so I started shooting my friends. In my class in Australia, I was able to study a little more about this and animation and it just kind of happened really naturally.

When you started filming, were you filming skateboarding and making skate videos? 

Yes. I don’t have a huge collection though because I actually prefer being the one skating instead of the one filming [laughs]. And nowadays I don’t have much time because I have a son. So when I go out I prefer to be the one skating. It’s kind of stupid, but that’s my real life nowadays [laughs].

Who are your favorite skate filmers?

I’m really bad at names [laughs]. I really like the Crailtap movies, like Pretty Sweet and Fully Flared. Those were really impressive to me at the time. They were really amazing and I couldn’t believe that that could be done [laughs].

I know you shoot a lot of other sports. What’s the difference between shooting other sports for commercials as opposed to shooting something like surf or skate?

I would say that a sport like triathlon or swimming is really different because the guys are athletes. I went on a trip in Chile with a mountain biker. His life was pretty much the same as a skateboarder. He was a free mountain biker and he didn’t care about championships and all that. He just wanted to have fun with his friends. I found that was really similar to skateboarding and surfing. But when you are shooting a real cyclist or a real swimmer, it’s different, man. They pay a lot of attention to the food that they eat. 

Yeah, it’s not just like getting beers with your friends.

Exactly [laughs].

How does Figue represent the spirit of surfing as a whole to you?

I was trying to think of this as a blind guy, but it’s difficult. It’s probably really fucking hard to surf being blind. You have to really love surfing. He probably has a big, big love for surfing because it’s really hard. It’s fucking hard for me and I can see. 

What was the greatest challenge for you making this project?

I reckon the biggest challenge of creating the movie was fighting with myself saying that I couldn’t do that, or that was too much to me, or even that I wouldn’t be able to handle this project. Luckily, by the time we started shooting, this kind of fear went away. Figue has a lot to say and the way that he faces life is really inspiring. I’m pretty sure that I grew up a lot with him doing the project. About the creation process, it was not hard at all, this film wasn’t made only by myself but with a lot of friends that I’m a big fan of, so we made it in a really enjoyable way.

What’s the next project in the works?

Actually, right now I’m filming my friend skating but I have no idea what I’ll do with it. We don’t have plans for it. Right now I’m doing a lot of work where I have to pay my bills and provide food for my son [laughs]. I’m doing a lot of technology films and those kinds of things. But I wish one day I can receive more money doing this sort of project.

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