Naor is a shooting director who was a massive part of one of our most difficult but satisfying productions over the years: SOKA AFRIKA.

It’s been ages since we really caught up – maybe a decade or so since we moved to South-East Asia and he went to Brazil. But after a long time we’ve caught up and he agreed to fill us in on what he’s about and what he has been up to and how has life been filmmaking in Sao Paulo.

Naor Elimelech in action.

Your works are known for featuring marginalised voices of society, when did it start for you to work and take on more social issues?

I have always been attracted to the underdog. My first ever film in university was called Invisible Man, which was about a street cleaner I chatted to almost daily on my way into the main building. My dream was to be able to raise awareness to urgent issues and somehow change that reality, utilising film and art as an activist tool. My first concrete chance came in the form of an amazing feature documentary about the reality of trafficking of football players from Africa to Europe called Soka Afrika. Suridh Hassan from the SRK was the director, while Clare Richards and myself were the camera operators / DOPs. It was an epic journey, following three different characters across continents, witnessing some of the grimmest sides of international sports and the social consequences they reverberate.  

When did you first develop an interest in filmmaking?

As an urban sociologist, my favourite research tool was ethnography, which, I believe, is the (social) core of any good filmmaker. It teaches you how to assimilate to a social situation, how to listen and interact. I always carried my camera around and took pictures to use in my writings about that issue or person. I was always drawn towards voiceless groups and people, and believed that I could really help by making films. I later signed in to an MA in Visual Anthropology to sharpen that storytelling ability.  

Do you remember the very first paid job you did?

Most certainly. I was editing a feature documentary about two brothers who cycled around the entire UK on a tall bike. I remember struggling with understanding how to create a narrative, I learnt a lot on that occasion.

And how different is the equipment you started with compared to the gear you use now?

I don’t think it’s that different. I mean I was using classic documentary filmmakers gear like the SONY PD170 and then the Z1 and Z5. Nowadays I use a variety of cameras depending on the project, although my personal gear is the SONY FS7 which is somehow equivalent to these oldies, but obviously way more capable as cameras are nowadays.  I love my FS7 as you can truly pass a whole day filming with two cards and several batteries and without any glitches. However, sometimes I would be travelling to places that are less safe and would prefer a SONY A7 kit. 

What part of the process do you enjoy the most (shooting, editing, research etc) and why?

I always loved shooting, I am quite a geek… but have to admit that I prefer directing nowadays. I truly love to be involved in the entire process, from pitching to research, to shooting and editing, to finalising, creating the score, mixing etc. It’s like a massive jigsaw and directing is all about connecting with people both on the production and subject levels, making choices in real time, with eyes constantly on the big picture, it’s exciting. I also think you get to make a bigger difference. For instance, international brands in Brazil are very faithful to the local taste, and are very wary of proper documentary storytelling. I love pitching exciting ideas and convincing clients to the power of documentary. By bringing more verité content into the commercial world, we can manage to make a bigger difference, both culturally and socially. 

Among your works, which one is your favourite?

A feature documentary I made with a friend about suicide amongst youth. It was an episode within a series about young people in the 21st century for HBO Latin America, and I think we really managed to create a film which also stands out as an activist piece in itself. Besides engaging and highly emotional on different subject levels, it also does a great job breaking several taboos about depression and suicide, and dealing with friends or family who may be suffering or considering committing suicide.

In the branded content department, I would definitely choose Real World Athlete which is a short piece I made for Teto, an organization that works to provide easy-to-build wooden-houses to people in situations of extreme poverty. We shot with a very small crew and very little time, in a dangerous Favela in Rio de Janeiro. It was just before the Olympics kicked off and many favelas were being displaced in favour of the expanding olympic village, which would later turn into a high-end gated community. People were being displaced by force, police violence, and thrown out to the streets. The idea was to bring the awareness to the real athletes of the city, so people visiting Brazil and the Olympics would know what has been going on. The budget was so small, I did the editing and even the voiceover. The short film later won a ‘best of’ award in its category.     

How do you keep the commissions and work coming in? Is it easy these days, are you pitching loads?

My work is normally a mixture between commercial and branded content films. So that’s TV documentary projects I am commissioned to direct by local production companies and my own projects which I write and attempt to get funding.I have been doing some commercial work in the past year which has also been interesting, as I have been managing to create some very documentary pieces within the world of branded content. These job types may be coming back sooner than the TV documentary commissions. Besides that, Brazil has been suffering major cuts of its main culture and art funding bodies, so it has been very difficult getting your project funded or even partially funded. 

 What are you working on right now?

I am currently writing a documentary series about the Culture of Peace and non-violence. Wanting to pitch it soon, in the hope of getting into production as soon as the current reality of the Covid-19 may subside slightly. I would love to share a film I did last year for Google about a young man from Bahia who dealt with his depression through photography. Self taught, he managed to become an acclaimed photographer, even having his photos shown on Vogue. I am very proud of this film as it hit the highest ever view count for Google in Brazil, with over 10 million views, and received thousands of comments from other young people about depression and how the film helped and inspired them. 

What is the most difficult part of being an independent filmmaker for you and how have the challenges differed since you started?

Uncertainty, increasing competition, needing to gear everything out of zero which can be daunting sometimes when you know chances might be slim.  But I think that it is much easier to make a film nowadays, and with amazing quality. Of course, you need to know how to tell a story, but when I started not many people owned their own camera. It was expensive and the outcome was not even near the images you get from a mid range cameras nowadays. 

How has the recent pandemic affected your work?

In Brazil, we have been suffering the wrath of an ultra right-wing, populist government which has chopped off almost entirely the culture ministry along with its amazing funding programs to culture and film. This has truly devastated the industry as a whole. The year before this started happening, there were almost 30 feature films released in Brazil, this year there were almost none. Now, the Covid-19 came along, and the situation is even more dire for obvious reasons. 

You can get a closer glimpse of Naor’s life over on his social here and if you need any shooting done in Brazil, feel free to email him directly or you can schedule a chat with us here and we can make it all happen for you!