“I love Los Angeles,” Felipe Lima says before we start our conversation. He sits in the shade of an unspecified fruit tree, taking a break from having just moved into a new office space, unwinding as we begin our talk about the city. He’s very cool and collected with a very pleasing tone of voice. During the course of our conversation, he only referred to our city as “Los Angeles”–never the colloquial, informal, disrespectful “L.A.” He is one of the most respectful and intelligent persons you will ever meet.
The multi-talented filmmaker has been in Los Angeles for only five years, though you would have guessed he has been in his newly moved in Angeleno Heights office for a lifetime. He is eldest of three, born to Brazilian parents that immigrated to Boston in the early eighties, and moved regularly through his childhood.
“Growing up a first generation immigrant is a weird and unique experience,” he says, explaining America is where he was born and raised but he was always a little “different” (for example, he never learned certain idiomatic expressions correctly, which lead to him believing the phrase “Play it by ear.” was actually “Play it by hand.”).
Film was a constant for him regardless of where he was, though. “Whenever there was an opportunity to turn any school project into a video, I took that opportunity,” he said, “I’d put in ten times more effort to turn Julie And The Wolves into a little Playmobil movie or make some movie about Texas wildflowers, or whatever it may be.”
He’d also make movies for fun with his cousins whenever he visited them in Brazil. “We made a couple of movies on the weekends,” he said, “We made a horror movie called Optical Illusion, where we used some Nickelodeon Gak on our faces, to be a disease. We were all getting infected because it would jump from one person’s face to the next and we had to drive from New York to Los Angeles to get the antidote. The last scene in the movie, we both take the antidote and die as the disease crawls away…it was a bizarre and dark ending for an eight year old.” He laughs, recalling the film and then goes on to describe Western Comedies, another childhood film he made that was “exactly what the title would suggest.”
These interests grew as he moved from school to school, discovering more underutilized facilities at each. He ran with it and rode his work to Chicago, where he attended Northwestern University.
“Chicago is an incredible city. It has this lack of pretension, which you don’t find in Los Angeles or New York,” he says, “Chicago doesn’t care about comparisons.” He explained the vibrant creative community that, while isolated, was great for forming his artistic voice and other love: graphic design. “I think I was secretly, unbeknownst to me, latently very interested in graphic design,” he said, “I think it’s a natural part of our generation: to be attracted to imagery.”
“Making movies is really hard,” he explains, “It takes a lot of people and resources and planning, asking favors. Design is the opposite of that, in a lot of ways: you can do it by yourself at two in the morning on a whim–and that was really liberating to me. I started doing it a lot in school: I volunteered at a repertory theatre, where I created posters every week (which was a fantastic little training exercise) and I started doing a lot of client work.”
Finishing school, Felipe wasn’t sold on making the move to Los Angeles–but it felt right enough: “Moving to Los Angeles after school, I don’t know if it’s something I always assumed I would do but it definitely made a lot of sense at that point because my parents still lived in San Diego and I wanted to do film. In the generation we all grew up in, doing film meant doing music videos and then doing commercials and then making films. And, really, I don’t know if that’s a viable model anymore. But, it’s what made sense to me when I moved here five years ago.”
In Los Angeles, he–like many–has difficulty gauging time and the seasons but that’s a part of the city. As far work goes, he was torn between film and graphic design: “When I got out here, I had these two sort of interests, which–at that point–I’d almost separated: film and design.”
“For my first few months here that I could afford to be an intern, I took two internships: One at a traditional music video and commercial production company and, at the same time, I worked at an art magazine called Arkitip, which I discovered in high school and had visited the website of religiously throughout college.”
Arkitip is what changed Felipe’s view of things and career trajectory: Arkitip is where he laid his creative foundation. He interned there doing normal intern things (copying things, getting coffee, etc.), then working with the magazine’s founder and art director, SAS, to redesign the magazine’s website.
Felipe worked on their site for some time and eventually made his move to video. “I went to an opening with SAS in Berlin and we did a series of interviews, literally in the basement of a gallery while an opening was happening. It was terrible: we had no sound, there was this light on a motion sensor that kept going off (and I had to keep running back as i was delivering questions to these people), and it was really dark. When I got back here, I had all this really under exposed footage which–I’m sure you know this–but the best way to rescue it and make it look cool is to turn it to black and white and pump up the contrast. That sort of became the style for the first year or so of these videos: black and white interviews on white walls.”
The Arkitip videos keep growing and growing and Felipe kept changing things up, evolving his bitesized artform into cooler and cooler things–but with reverence to the medium and the subject. “Whenever I’m getting into something new, I like to approach it slowly and I like to respect the forms that I’m dealing in,” he says, “I made it as simple as possible. I didn’t want to make these full feature films: I wanted to just present interviews. I think Arkitip has grown a lot since; but, back in college, when I was really absorbing a lot of it, it was really minimal and formalist and I liked that a lot.”
His approach to the Arkitip videos mirrored the old interview format of the magazine, a simple five questions or so that were always the same. That simple page of the magazine is what he tried to harken back to–and expound upon. The real breakthrough for him was shooting a video to promote a newsprint edition of the magazine’s Intel section, their high end blog section of sorts. He was able to film the printing process.
“I loved that so much,” he says, “I had enjoyed interviewing these cool guys with immaculate haircuts and cool shirts and all that but to be documenting these guys working the nightshift printing some newspaper at three in the morning, when they’re filthy with ink and grease from this antiquated machine (which is as big as a house) is something I was really excited about. I took that footage and, of course, turned it black and white and I took all these different snippets from interviews I had done for the past year and made it into this cohesive sound track.”
Around this time, Felipe’s videos for Arkitip began to lead to work for other brands, the first being Incase, which was working with Arkitip on artist-designed ranges of products. He used this opportunity to create full video portraits, “painting a complete picture of people” for viewers: his main profession became showcasing people through video.
Why? “Because I wanted to know,” he answered: “When I was a teenager, I wanted to know what these people’s lives were like and how their work was made. I didn’t understand that these people in the magazines were just one person doing this. So, I wanted to see how that happens as I always saw a barrier of entry: I wanted to reveal these processes.”
He was also thinking about the kids and future artists. “It’s not as hard as you think,” you can hear him saying to his audience: “You can do what Evan Hecox does. So, check it out: this is the process.” Of course, that doesn’t come without its road blocks: “I’ve definitely run into some friction with this because artists aren’t always anxious to reveal all their trade secrets.”
The success of his work with Incase and Arkitip lead him to currently work with Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), where he has created videos for Art In The Streets, Suprasensorial, The Artist’s Museum, and Rodarte: States of Matter. “That was really exciting and definitely validating of my work,” he said of getting the position, which flipped his work from selling things to, truly, being educational. “My mission is what I’ve always fantasized it was: to be this psuedo-journalist and to document. I get to be this like Mr. Rogers.”
He’s recently had a lot of creative liberties and exciting opportunities to create; however, he’s still not doing exactly what he dreamt he would be doing now. “I want to make movies,” he exclaims, throwing a hand up. “I want to make real movies. I love documentary and I respect the work a lot and I take a great deal of responsibility with it. A lot of these artists are making things that are really important but, for one reason or another, there isn’t a good video on YouTube about them. To create the definitive short document that might be an introduction to a lot of people to their work is a responsibility that I take seriously. That being said, I want to be making my own art.”
“It’s a slow process. A lot of people don’t make films until they’re old. I think it’s also confronting fears. I think it’s really scary to put yourself on the line that way. I’m figuring out how to do that, taking baby steps right now.” He takes a beat, and laughs, “That isn’t 8very romantic of an answer.”
The films he hopes to make will deal with the dilemmas of being a first generation immigrant, the family dynamics within an immigrant family, and the relationship between an immigrant and his or her homeland. And, even though he could see himself living in Rio, he needs to be here to create, in Los Angeles, the city that “comes off as the underdog” for him. “I think one of the things I love about Los Angeles is that everybody hates Los Angeles.”
And, specifically, he loves Echo Park and Angeleno Heights. “I think when you move to Los Angeles, you start to get more and more interested in Los Angeles history. It’s not something that’s covered a lot. You see these old photos of New York all the time–but you very rarely outside of Los Angeles see these old photos of Los Angeles. It’s fascinating because Los Angeles is one of those cities that is always in the present. There is no turn of the century here, there is no 1930s, and–when you start to dig a little deeper–you start to realize there is and Echo Park is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles: this used to be Old Hollywood, where the Disney studios were.”
We sit back and take in the sun on his back patio, a warm wind blowing through the Angeleno Heights. Before we go, we had to ask him what one of his favorite Los Angeles movies is which, of course, is the three hour hyper-analytical documentary love story about Los Angeles’ portrayal in cinema and television: Los Angeles Plays Itself by Thom Andersen. “It’s incredible,” he mentions: “You have to see it.”