The first scene of Brazilian director Aly Muritiba's Sundance drama Rust takes place on a field trip. The main character, Tati (Tifanny Dopke), a fifteen-year-old high schooler, is visiting an aquarium with her classmates. They ogle the weird fishes. They point at the menacing sharks. They take selfies with a performer who is dressed as a mermaid. Though they're clearly having fun, it all seems to be in the service of a social media post. Prey to hordes of gawking strangers staring through the tank's thick glass walls, the sea creatures are an augury of the film's tragic turn. Later that night, when Tati loses her phone while making out with her classmate, Renet, she will experience a kind of public humiliation and violent breach of privacy that leaves permanent scars on everyone in her orbit.

Throughout the film, Muritibia depicts the all-consuming power social media has over the teenagers. Even in person, teens connect over their phones, showing each other videos and scrolling through feeds listlessly. Parents struggle to connect with their children. On vacation in a remote beach town, two children sit down to dinner and immediately ask for the WiFi password. Their father: "That, always! What an addiction!"

No Film School sat down with Muritiba, Dopke, and Clarissa Kiste (who plays Renet's mother) to discuss the director's use of cinematography and pacing to differentiate the film's two markedly different parts, why he enlisted a woman to help him in the writing process, and the perils of underestimating social media. 

 No Film School: How did you first conceive of the idea for this film?

Aly Muritiba: I always thought about making a movie about teenagers. At the time, my son was a teenager, and when he started to interact with social media, I was very worried. I thought, "I have to teach him how to use this. I have to teach myself." And then, something very similar to what happened in this movie happened in Tifanny's school. 

Tifanny Dopke: Yes, it was a similar story. I was very young then, but I remember everyone talking about it, and we still do because it was very shocking. It happened exactly as in the movie: on a surveillance camera, the girl is seen killing herself in the bathroom with her dad's gun. 

NFS: And how did you all meet and become involved in the project? 

Clarissa Kiste: I was cast just four or five days before they started to shoot. There was another actress playing my character, but she and Aly were kind of not speaking the same language about the character. Aly was very brave. Four days before starting to shoot, he said, "Okay, it’s been five years that I’ve been trying to shoot this film. I'm not going to let this happen.”

This is our first time working together, but Aly and I have a lot of common friends. He knew my work, I knew his work, and I loved the script when I read it. I completely understood the character. I think I have characteristics of a strong woman, like her.  

"I read once that before you say something on the internet, you should imagine you're going to scream it in a football stadium."

Muritiba: For Tifanny, it was a little bit different—and difficult.

Dopke: Yeah. It was my first time doing a movie! I got to meet Aly in December and we started filming in March. I was the first girl who met him. 

Muritiba: I thought I should audition 1,000 girls to find this character. But on the first day, Tifanny was there. I knew that she was Tati.

Dopke: But, it wasn't only that. He did a lot of camera tests with me. 

Rust-sundance-3'Rust'Credit: Sundance 2018

NFS: What kinds of conversations did you both have about the interior life of your character, Tifanny?

Dopke: We had a lot of conversations because it's a very deep character. We talked a lot about what is going on in every girl's head when something like this happens. And we also researched a lot of different stories about the same situation. Of course, we also talked about the woman’s place in society. 

Muritiba: It was a peculiar moment for her because she was right in the middle of discovering herself as a woman, and discovering how to manage misogyny. We talked a lot about how she was turning into a woman and her relationship with her father, with her family, with boys, and with other women. 

Dopke: I was 15 when we filmed this. Also, my dad and my mom were divorced, so I could [relate to] the other character, Renet. It was the right time to be in this movie. 

"I realized that I needed a woman to write with me."

NFS: Earlier, you said you had been trying to get this film made for five years. What happened during the process of development?

Muritiba: I wrote the first version of the script by myself. But when I started to show people, everyone said that they wanted to know more about Tifanny’s character. So I changed the structure of the script, and I realized that I needed a woman to write with me. That’s when I invited Jessica Candal to help me. We did a lot of research. I was a history teacher at the school and she was also a teacher. We started asking our female students: “What are your dreams? What are your fears? What would be the worst thing that could happen to you?" And most of the answers from these girls were that they didn't want to lose their friends. This was the most terrible thing that could happen to them. So, with this material, Jessica and I started to create a character.

Rust'Rust'Credit: Sundance 2018

NFS: Once you'd written the script, what was the process of taking it to production? 

Muritiba: We had a co-production company that very quickly gave us all the money to make the movie. They realized that this was a very important topic to talk about [in these days and times]. After that, we started to cast the teenagers. When we finally cast all 30 teenagers, they stayed for nearly two months rehearsing with me.

NFS: In the second part of the film, there are a lot of silences and long takes with observations of human behavior. There is not a lot of dialogue. It contrasts directly with the first part of the film, which is relatively fast-paced.

Muritiba: It was important to me that in the first part of the movie, the colors were vibrant, and things happened very fast. I wanted the experience of watching the film to feel like it feels to be a teenager nowadays.

Dopke: A lot of energy. 

MuritibaSo in the first part, we did a lot of close-up shots, because when we are looking at our cell phones, we don't have a big perspective. We only have a narrow [scope] of vision. And for the second part, I wanted to communicate loneliness, so the shots are more open. I wanted long takes because the second part of the film addresses the responsibility that the characters have to take for their action, so I had expanded scenes more time. It's a more reflective part of the film. 

"I wanted the experience of watching the film to feel like it feels to be a teenager nowadays."

NFS: What do you think that young people should be most cognizant of or concerned about regarding their relationship to technology?

Dopke: Well, a lot of teenagers do not see the consequences of their actions because it's not really them on the internet. 

Kiste: It's a profile. Not a person. 

Dopke: A lot of teenagers forget that if you do something wrong on the internet, it's still something wrong [in real life]. It has consequences. If it is a crime on the internet, it's a crime in real life. It's not a joke just because it's on the internet.

Mg_7991'Rust'Credit: Sundance 2018

Kiste: Also, we never know who we're talking to when we write on the internet. If we are talking right here, in this room, we can misunderstand things. But imagine misunderstanding my words without seeing my face or my hands—without feeling what I'm saying.

I read once that before you say something on the internet, you should imagine you're going to scream it in a football stadium. Do you have the courage to say this in front of 1,000 people? If so, feel free to share it on your Facebook profile as you're probably showing it to 1,000 people on there. 

Muritiba: As a father, I don't know how to prepare my kids to deal with social media. When we were teenagers, there was no social media, and so we don't exactly know what it's like to be teenager [these days]. What are the limits? AWe, as parents and teenagers, we have to discover them together. Also, social media gives us this impression that the world is beautiful, that everything is okay and that everyone is happy. We're not teaching our kids how to deal with frustration. 

Dopke: Or suffering. 

Muritiba: In some ways, this film is much more about parents than it is about teenagers. Tati's parents aren't there. They don't appear in the film. We can't see them. Renet's father, on the other hand, is super protective and doesn't want him to experience adversity or be sad. He tells him it's gonna be okay when it's not.

Kiste: And this mother, my character, doesn't want him to be relieved of suffering. In the film, my character says, "Okay, you did it. You suffer the consequences and let's deal with it."

Dopke: It's a new generation of parents. 

Muritiba: We hope.

For more, see our ongoing list of coverage of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.


No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by RODE Microphones and Blackmagic Design.