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Self-knowledge Through Storytelling

Updated: Nov 8, 2018

by: Alice Nicolau


I’m Alice from Brazil. I’m from Maceió, a city in the northeast of Brazil, the poorest region of the country. Growing up in Maceió made me see extreme poverty right in front of me, in a place where opportunities are only a few. Maceió is a hard place to make art. Ever since I was a little “Maceioense” girl, I heard my inner voice telling me I was an artist. When I was 9, I used to make and sell magazines to classmates at school. I used to sell them for very cheap, enough for me to buy a lollipop during break. In these magazines were comics with characters I created and detailed in 10-page editions. My classmates would follow their adventures in those pages.


In a mist of ambition and anxiety, I wanted to make all the art the world had to offer. I wanted to sing, dance, and play an instrument – all at once. I used to model with my mom’s clothes at home and I pretended I was an actress in a movie with my cousin. I loved writing love letters to my family with my best drawings and I also used to write in my diary every single day. When I played with my dolls, I’d make them become a famous singer in the blink of an eye, daydreaming about a drastic change of my life.


Time passed and I noticed that my desire culminated into wanting to become a storyteller through filmmaking. I loved storytelling and I wanted to work with that. Cinema made me see that it was possible to explore different art manifestations to effectively tell a story. My father, a banker and a movie lover, showed me all the Hollywood classics. By the age of 12, I had made up my mind I wanted to become a Hollywood filmmaker. As an extrovert, I started telling the world about my dream. Some people laughed at me and I didn’t know why, until one night my parents sat down with me and told me I shouldn’t pursue a professional career in filmmaking. They told me about my poor origin and the difficulties of where I come from. They explained to me that my family didn’t have enough money to help me to become an artist, that there was no film school in my state, and no money to live in another one.


So my parents tried to change my focus and they put me in a technical school in civil construction during high school. As a teenager, I hated it and completely closed myself to what this field had to offer me. In this phase, I brought myself into being very unhappy towards my education. On my 15th birthday - considered the most important year for a girl in Brazilian culture - my father left home while my family and I were celebrating my birthday in my grandmother’s house. Our financial situation at home drastically went down and, with all the dreams I had, it became even harder for me to cope with dream and reality.


I found an escape by becoming an English tutor, my first job. I had access to languages, teaching, and even got an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State for public school students with financial vulnerability. I went to the United States for the first time as a Brazilian Youth Ambassador when I was 18 years old. I had to prepare presentations about different aspects of our country, so guess which theme I chose to talk about? Film. It has always been in my mind. I knew deep inside that it was what I wanted to do.

I guess that, in a teenage mind, not being able to say out loud what you wanted made me pretend I was preparing myself to have a “reasonable” profession. “I want to become a lawyer”, was what I said to pitch for a scholarship at an university preparatory test program. “I decided I want to major in International Relations”, I said to my mom because I didn’t want to let her down to not correspond to her expectations.


At some point I decided I wanted to be a little braver. Against my mother’s wish, I decided to pursue political science and sociology for my undergraduate studies in South Brazil, so I moved to the other side of the country. This is not so common in my region because children usually continue to live in their parents’ house until their graduation or marriage. When I started university, I saw film students working together and had my first experience with filmmaking. I decided to embrace my inner desire and I finally changed my major to film.


So many good and bad things happened after my decision, including an experience of making movies in Los Angeles, California – an old dream that came true. I graduated, made movies, started my career at the independent film scene in LA, and even made my parents accept my career choice for awhile. I had never been so sure of what I wanted to work with in my life. Through a Latin American contest for new filmmakers, I won a scholarship to go to a summer program in LA at the University of Southern California, the school that I’ve always dreamed of.


A lot of mixed feelings come through my mind when I think about my experience in LA. It took me some time to decide to write this part. At some point living there, my parents’ past warning about the pursuit of this career came over my shoulders and I felt the weight of my decisions. I worked full-time in a film studio as a set builder that covered my rent, but didn’t allow much time for anything else. At some point I couldn’t take the lack of structure: I had spent six years going to school full-time with no time to get a job. After the frustration of not being able to remain in LA making movies, I tried to get a job in filmmaking in Brazil. The economic crisis here has been in its peak, so I took three months out of filmmaking.


Currently I am a jewelry salesperson in South Brazil, which is my current 9-5 job. I also sell cosmetics independently and work as a freelance translator. I look forward to going back to filmmaking, but I know things aren’t simple as when I played with my dolls. There isn’t a magical change in the blink of an eye. I try to think of my hiatus in filmmaking as a temporary opportunity to learn other activities. I’ve been studying Japanese, getting in touch with other cultures, breathing some fresh air in front of the Iguassu Falls, and planning my return with more structure so I can go back into action.



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