In the small town of Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, it is nearly impossible to walk by a residential neighborhood or a busy street without encountering a work of art. This is what photographer Burt Sun first noticed when he visited the town nearly six years ago, and it led to the creation of “Bel Borba Aqui,” which plays at the Phoenix Film Festival this weekend.
“I desired to make a rather happy movie,” Sun said. “I didn’t just want to make a traditional documentary, but something much more beautiful. It’s like a very, very long music video.”
The documentary follows Brazilian artist Bel Borba, known to many as the “people’s Picasso.” For the past 35 years, he has been using materials such as tiles, wood and paint to invigorate a town that is over 500 years old through his artwork. The film showcases the fervor he has for his craft, along with his vibrant and often comical personality.
“He’s almost like a force of nature,” Sun said. “I met him in person and after 48 hours, I fell in love with this guy because he’s so infused with passion, conflict, weakness and strength. I think those human qualities of his character really make a very strong human connection to the viewers.”
Sun is a native of Taiwan who has lived in both Los Angeles and New York, and has traveled across the globe working as a photographer.
He was originally assigned to make a book of photographs showcasing Borba’s artwork, but after meeting Borba himself, did not think a mere book would do him justice.
He partnered with his friend and colleague of more than 15 years, Andre Constantini, who is a short and commercial filmmaker himself. It took them a period of roughly three years to complete the film, which was a spiritual journey in and of itself.
“It was really inspirational to document (Borba’s) actions,” Sun said. “He’s constantly creating things and has overcome obstacles. When artists go on a journey together, the entire dynamic changes. Sometimes we are a part of his creation and he is a part of our creation.”
Being a self-professed failed painter, Sun believes that moving from photography to filmmaking is a part of his natural progression as an artist.
He looks forward to working with high school students this weekend through the Phoenix Film Festival’s educational outreach program, and loves the sense of unity that is felt throughout the festival.
“I believe in community, so by showing the film to small community people, they can be inspired by it,” Sun said. “By thinking about what we can do in everyday life, the outcome can be attained. The film shows a different side of humanity, and I think it will have a wide appeal to general audiences.”
“Bel Borba Aqui” plays at the Phoenix Film Festival at 10:55 a.m. on Friday, March 30 and 1:40 p.m. on Saturday, March 31.
The Phoenix Film Festival is hosted at the Harkins Scottsdale 101, 7000 E. Mayo Blvd. in Phoenix.
To find out more information or purchase tickets, visit www.phoenixfilmfestival.com.
• Patrick Ryan is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a sophomore at Arizona State University.