Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Brazil Initiative

A Conversation with Petra Costa

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

12:00pm – 1:30pm

Leung Conference Room, Stephen Robert '62 Hall, 280 Brook Street

In support of our community's continued health, if you are not feeling well for any reason, please consider staying home rather than attending the event.  For up-to-date information, including campus travel restrictions, please visit the University’s COVID-19 Updates website

Join the Brazil Initiative for a conversation with Oscar-nominated Brazilian director Petra Costa.

In Petra Costa’s work the personal and the political are inextricably linked. The Edge of Democracy is the third documentary of a trilogy where Petra investigates her family story. The first, Undertow Eyes, portrays her grandparents recollections and stories, in a personal and existential tale about love and death. It screened at the MoMA in 2010 and won best short Film at the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival 2009, Best Short Film at the London International Documentary Festival, and Best Short Film the 13th Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, among others.

The second of the trilogy, Elena, her first documentary feature, is a mixture of documentary, diary, and fever dream, and was the most-watched documentary in Brazil in 2013. It tells the story of two sisters, as one searches for the other their identities begin to blur. The film was called “a cinematic dream” by The New York Times, “haunting and unforgettable” by The Hollywood Reporter, and was defined as a “masterful debut that takes nonfiction where it seldom wants to go – away from the comforting embrace of fact and into a realm of expressionistic possibility” by Indiewire. Elena premiered at IDFA followed by SxSW and Hotdocs, and won many prizes such as Best Film at Havana Film Festival (2013), Best Film at DOCSDF, Best Directing, Editing, and Best Film for the popular jury at the Brasília Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Cinematography at the 2014 Cinema Eye Honors.

Beyond this trilogy, Petra co-directed Olmo and the Seagull which, according to Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Act of Killing, "explores with thrilling boldness a space between fiction and nonfiction that I never dreamed possible.” It was reviewed by Télérama as "a reflection without taboos, full of humor and daring, on creation in the broadest sense." Olmo and the Seagull premiered at Locarno where it won the Young Jury Prize. It also won the Best Nordic Dox Award at CPH:DOX, Best Documentary at the Rio Film Festival, Best Documentary at the Cairo Film Festival, and Best Narrative at the RiverRun International film festival, among others. In 2019 Petra was listed among Variety's 10 documentary filmmakers to watch.

Petra started her training in theater in Brazil at the age of 14 and later went to the Dramatic Arts School at the University of São Paulo. She completed her undergraduate studies Summa Cum Laude in Anthropology at Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, and completed her masters in Social Psychology at the London School of Economics, focusing her studies on the concept of trauma.