INTERVIEW: Carolina Costa Is A Rising Star Of Cinematography

Babenco: Tell Me When I Die is a film about Hector Babenco, a film director widely known for his Oscar-winning 80s film Kiss of the Spider Woman and the cinematographer behind the luscious black and white documentary is Brazilian-born Carolina Costa.

With more than 10 years of experience as a cinematographer, Carolina has contributed to more than 49 film and TV projects. These include everything from short films to documentaries to features. She recently lensed three projects, including the luscious black and white, critically-acclaimed documentary Babenco: Tell Me When I Die, about Hector Babenco, a film director widely known for his Oscar-winning 80s film Kiss of the Spider Woman.  In addition to Babenco, Carolina’s career has crossed paths with the likes of Jada Pinkett Smith for Hala, the horror remake of Suspiria, and the Mexican drama feature Workforce. In the near future, Carolina’s work will appear in three projects currently in post-production and two more in pre-production.

PopAxiom spent 20 minutes on the phone with Carolina as she was in Mexico and on her way to the next project.


Freeze Frame

You don’t do 50 projects in 10 years without getting an early start on your education. “I started working for a photographer when I was 14. He taught me how to use my first camera.”

Born in Brazil but raised in Rio, “I did quite a bit of writing but also photojournalism.” But the reporter life wasn’t “… exactly what I wanted …”

Photography was an undoubted passion. “I started working as a camera assistant. The first time I went on set, I was like ‘aww yeah’ this is definitely what I wanted to do.”

“It felt right.”

Docs To Fiction

In the early years, “I did a lot of docs all over Europe. Over the last few years, I’ve … geared my career to doing fiction narrative.”

For Carolina, narrative film became a more tangible “… way to connect with people.”

Carolina’s drive keeps her going from one project to the next, and docs are a bit more challenging to manage. “The timing is different. I could do two features in a year and still have time to do something else. With docs, you end up getting involved at the beginning, but there’s more in the air so it might take longer and someone else will pick it up later.”

About Babenco

Hector Babenco made dozens of acclaimed films and his wife, Barbara Paz, an actress and model, decided to make a movie of her own. She began assembling the pieces. “I had a movie named The Chosen One screening in Rio. She saw the movie and loved it. She had an idea for a movie about her husband. I was absolutely touched that I could be part of this.”

About Paz as a director: “She always knew that she wanted to do black and white and she had great ideas. So, we started to put together some references.”

Babenco’s last movie, Meu Amigo Hindu (My Hindu Friend), premiered in Sao Paolo, where Carolina “… met with him and spent time with him. It was great. So many fond memories of talking to him.”

For a legendary director like Babenco, the first Latin American nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, the production was equally legendary but also heartfelt. “We had a crane, dollies, and all that stuff. We took him to these train tracks to where he shot the ending to Pixote 30 years before. It was really emotional and beautiful.”

“We captured some incredible moments.”

Philosophy & Function

For Carolina, she was able to get a taste of Babenco’s point of view. “He talked about his philosophy of filmmaking. It was an incredible experience.”

She continues, “A little over a year later, he passed away. So, Barbara really pushed to finish the movie.“

However, time made things “… complicated. Barbara shot stuff, and we had other DPs doing work.”

What’s it like working with so many various people like that? “Depends on who you are working with. If it’s someone I’m familiar with we’ll talk about emotion and impact, and there are fewer notes.“

“I like to shoot a little safer so that there’s a little more flexibility in post. We’re human beings, and we change our mind all the time.”


What movie would you want to be the cinematographer on if it was getting a remake? “I saw the other day Boys Don’t Cry, and I hadn’t watched it in years. It’s so timely even today. I would love that. I’d be knocking on the door of that remake.”

Carolina’s films are often personal and not bombastic. What does she watch? “The movies I like to watch are smaller, intimate art-house films. But I do appreciate things like Black Panther which is so spectacular but also for the family.”

But in regards to the kinds of films she wants to make: “I want to be able to do it all.”

Carolina is influenced by “Everything shot by Sven Nykvist.”

She adds to her list of influences. “There’s a film from the late 80s called Betty Blue, which was the first movie where I understood how color was used on screen.”

One more film firmly rooted in her creative DNA: “A movie I watch over and over that I never get tired of is Apocalypse Now. The composition, lighting, everything is amazing.”

interview-cinematographer-carolina costa

Wrapping Up

The question of what’s next is complicated when you’re talking to Carolina who seemingly shoots many things at once. “I’m prepping to shoot a feature film here in Mexico. It’s a period piece in the 1900s. We’re about two weeks from going on an adventure.”

But, the question of what’s next also provides an intriguing answer. “I just shot a mini-series for Tinder called Swipe Night.” Yes, you read that right. Tinder is making content. “It’s kind of a ‘choose your own adventure.’ It was a lot of fun.” The show is now available on Tinder and will debut a new episode every Sunday when you open the app.

Up next, Carolina will direct and lense the original mystical, sci-fi The Reluctance of Time and Sense of Wonder which she also wrote. Keep up with Carolina’s most recent projects by following her on Instagram and checking out her website.

Thanks to Carolina Costa and Impact24 PR for making this interview possible.

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Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.