Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 May 2019

Abu Dhabi award-winning producer's most famous film almost wasn't made

David Rosier produced the Wim Wenders/Juliano Salgado co-directed 'The Salt of the Earth'

 German director Wim Wenders co-directed Rosier's production The Salt of the Earth.  AFP / JOEL SAGET
 German director Wim Wenders co-directed Rosier's production The Salt of the Earth.  AFP / JOEL SAGET

Multi-award winning producer David Rosier, who produced the Wim Wenders/Juliano Salgado co-direction The Salt of the Earth, which picked up the Audience Award at the 2014 Abu Dhabi Film Festival, as well as a Cesar Award and an Oscar nomination for Best Feature Documentary, has revealed that the film was almost never made.

The film follows the career of the Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado, who has spent four decades documenting famine, genocide, and some of the worst excesses of humanity. The film relies heavily on footage shot by his son Julian, who travelled the world with his father, documenting his work for many years. When Rosier approached Franco-German broadcaster Arte to initially suggest the film, however, they were far from convinced: “When I pitched it they said ‘You can’t make a film about photography, it just doesn’t work,’” he told an audience at the CineMAS Film Festival in Abu Dhabi on Friday.

Rosier perservered, however, in large part thanks to the manner in which he had discovered Salgado’s work: “I was in Lisbon with my girlfriend, and we broke up while we were there,” he explains. “I left our room and was alone in Lisbon. So I was alone in Lisbon, and I called a friend who offered to give me the key to his father’s office so I had somewhere to stay for the night.”

The friend’s father, it transpired, was Salgado’s editor, and his office was crammed with books of the photographer’s work: “I spent the whole night without sleeping, just going through these incredible photography books,” he explains. “I was blown away, and because I had the experience of that night I knew this was a story, so I stuck at it.”

Once the film was green lit, Rosier admits that things still didn’t go entirely smoothly: “I realised very quickly that the relationship with Julian and his father was very bad,” the producer says. “They were always fighting, and I thought there was too much direct aggression and it just wasn’t going to work. I figured we needed to change the way we were working.”

That was when the idea of a co-director came into play, says Rosier: “I said to Juliano ‘We need someone with a more distant point of view. You’re too much into the relationship with your father. You can bring the intimacy, which is very important for the film, but we also need someone else to transmit the stories.’”

Rosier set his sights high – he reveals that he initially had Terrence Malick in mind for the role, but fate had other ideas: “Wim happened to meet Sebastiao Salgado at dinner, and Sebastian asked him how we could make this film. He had wanted to show his pictures with music and Wim said ‘no, don’t do that. Then you get a slideshow.’ So then they talked and eventually said ‘OK, let’s all make the film together.' It was that simple.”

Sometimes, however, the simple way is the best way, and the slew of awards and $3.6 million box office for the film suggests this is most definitely one of those times.

Updated: April 23, 2019 07:23 PM

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