Bernardo Britto: Animating Miami's Weirdness

Bernardo Britto had known since middle school that he was interested in filmmaking.
Bernardo Britto had known since middle school that he was interested in filmmaking.
Photo by Stian Roenning

In this week's Miami New Times, we profile 30 of the most interesting characters in town, with portraits of each from photographer Stian Roenning. See the entire Miami New Times People Issue here.

Animation... is the quickest way to get my thoughts out to other people," says filmmaker Bernardo Britto. "It's such a direct path between my brain and my hand drawing this thing."

For Britto, that path continued all the way to an award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.

The Brazilian-born, Miami-raised filmmaker's short film Yearbook won the Short Film Jury Award: Animation at the 2014 festival. For a kid who began his career secretly scribbling in his bedroom, it was "the craziest experience" of his life.

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Britto had known since middle school that he was interested in filmmaking, but "it had been a secret, closeted thing for a long time," he says. "In my family, no one has a creative job. My mom is a psychiatrist, and my dad is an investment banker. So it's a thing that seems selfish: I'm gonna be an artist."

But after Britto attended a film program the summer after his junior year of high school, he was hooked. He went to film school at New York University, returned to Miami, and hooked up with the Borscht Corporation film collective to create the animated short The Places Where We Lived. It screened at the 2012 Borscht Film Festival.

Both influences -- Miami and Borscht -- have helped him find his voice. The Places Where We Lived, for instance, was about growing up in Miami.

"In general, South Florida is such a weird, strange place... It's a very different kind of strange than anywhere else. It's weird, but it doesn't have a weird identity in the way that a lot of other cities have," Britto says. "You can't pinpoint exactly what's weird about it."

Borscht filmmakers such as Lucas Leyva and Jillian Mayer have brought their own weirdness to the scene and have inspired Britto along the way. Borscht promoted Leyva and Mayer's film #PostModem, which screened at Sundance in 2013, by giving away pencils inscribed with the message "Everything you do will be forgotten."

"It was such a bummer thing to get," Britto laughs, saying it planted the idea for his film Yearbook. "It's cool when they can influence you, and hopefully Yearbook can influence something else they do. I like that cross-pollination."

Yearbook will play at this year's Borscht Film Festival; in the meantime, Britto is working on a live-action, feature-length film -- a fake documentary about "a strange young French woman who leaks government secrets and then goes to Argentina to wait for the fallout."

He's also finally owning his success. After Sundance, Britto returned to Brazil to visit family. On his way back into the country, an immigration officer asked his occupation.

"I said, 'I'm a filmmaker,'" Britto remembers. "That was the first time I've ever been really confident about telling someone, 'Yeah, this is my job now.' I won an award at Sundance. I'm a filmmaker."

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