Joshua Dylan Mellars’ Romantic Fado Journey

Fado documentary makes East Coast Premiere at Provincetown International Film Festival
By Lurdes C. Da Silva – O Jornal

PROVINCETOWN — “Heaven’s Mirror: A Portuguese Voyage” was filmed to the beat of one American’s passion, but it’s full of Portuguese soul and song.

Directed by San Francisco director Joshua Dylan Mellars, the documentary heralded as a love song to Fado made its East Coast premiere at the Provincetown International Film Festival this week. The 70-minute film flourished from Mellars’ “love affair” with fado, which ignited in Providence’s Fox Point neighborhood while he was a student at Brown University and has blossomed in different corners of the world.

“I fell in love with both fado and Portugal. Like any love affair, it just keeps getting deeper and deeper,” Mellars told O Jornal. “Fado translates to fate, I just sort of let my fate take me.”

Mesmerized by the mood and sound of fado, the filmmaker set out on an international voyage in 2006 to capture the elusive fado feeling, show its mystery and ultimately take his audiences on a journey into the emotional life of Portugal’s national song.

“I loved the music, but I didn’t quite know how the movie was going to end… I just started to follow my heart,” said Mellars.

In telling fado’s story, the documentary travels from Portuguese American communities in the East and West Coasts to Lisbon’s fado houses and Indian Goa’s steamy, pastel bungalows.

Local fado singers like Madalena Pata, Dinis Paiva, Catarina Avelar and Tania DaSilva share the big screen with some of Portugal’s finest fadistas, including Ana Moura, Mafalda Arnauth, Camané, Celeste Rodrigues, Carlos do Carmo and Katia Guerreiro.

“I captured some good moments I might not have captured if it had been really structured and planned out,” said Mellars, who has since learned how to speak Portuguese.

Filmed over a period of five years, the movie goes deep into the haunting spell of fado and its salient emotion — “saudade” — a longing or nostalgia that cannot be fully translated into another language.

“One of the big things I was looking to understand with the film is what saudade means to people,” explained Mellars. “Everyone had a little bit of a different definition.”

The definition that attracted him the most was the one offered by Camané — the saudade of the future.

“Saudade can also be a longing for someone you have not met yet or a longing for a place you don’t know yet,” said Mellars, drawing a comparison to the immigrant experience. “The idea of going to a place and not knowing if what you’re looking for is going to be there… there is courage and daring to look for something beyond what you can see. That really excited me, and I love that metaphor for living life.”

While filming the New England scenes, Mellars said he came to rely on the hospitality and generosity of the Portuguese communities, which were always willing to offer him a meal or drive him to shooting locations.

“I was a filmmaking gypsy; I didn’t know what the next day would bring, but I put my faith in the Portuguese community, hoping that something good would come of it,” explained the filmmaker.

Indeed, good things have come of it.

Heaven’s Mirror has won the “Audience Award” and “Distinguished Cinema Artist Award” at its Santa Rosa International Film Festival premiere. The film then headlined at the Toronto International Portuguese Film Festival and screened at the 56th Corona Cork Film Festival in Ireland.

On Sunday, June 17, it will be shown at 7:30 at Waters Edge 2, located on the 2nd floor of Whaler’s Wharf, 237 Commercial St. Mellars will be present for a Q&A session.

Following the Cape Cod screenings, Heaven’s Mirror will head to Philadelphia. In August, it will be featured at the World Music and Independent Film Festival, where it has been nominated for a Best Music Documentary Feature award.

“I really would like for those who know nothing about fado or Portuguese culture to find all the beauty I found,” said Mellars about his goals for the documentary. “People who are Portuguese maybe will be able to see Fado and the Portuguese culture in a slightly different light, because I am not Portuguese and I am going in with foreigner’s eyes, which allows to see something with a different angle.”

Mellars said it has been particularly exciting to see the younger generation reconnect with some of their Portuguese roots and get excited about fado after seeing the movie.”

“I feel that with the completion of Heaven’s Mirror I’m paying back, in a small way, the immense trust, kindness and support that the Portuguese people in Providence, California, Portugal and Goa lavished on me and the film,” he said.