Opening Ceremony at Rio 2016 ‘is Going to be Cool,’ Promises Oscar Nominated Director Who Planned it
RIO DE JANEIRO — When Fernando Meirelles first started planning the ceremonies for the Rio Olympic Games, he had a budget of US$113.9 million. It was large enough for him to come up with an ambitious technological plan.
But then the nation’s economy tanked, his budget was cut to less than $60 million for all four ceremonies — opening and closing for the Olympics and Paralympics — and everything had to be scaled back.
But Meirelles, the Academy Award-nominated director of City of God, insists it turned out to be a blessing.
“You lose ideas, you lose toys — where you had 3,000 people you now have 700,” he said. “At first I was very upset, you start thinking something very big and then you have to cut, cut, cut. On the other hand, it is good in some way because we are in a moment in the world where we need to be reasonable with the way we spend money. The environment can’t handle it any more, we are warming the planet. It is pretty tacky to be overspending.
“It is not a good message for the world. When 40 per cent of the homes in Brazil have no sanitation, you can’t really be spending a billion reals for a show. In the end I feel good that I am not spending money that Brazil hasn’t got. You can do something with heart, with concept, without spending.”
The creative team behind the ceremonies, the first of which is tonight at 7 p.m. ET at Maracana Stadium, promises to put on a show “that will touch the heart” despite a budget that’s 12 times less than London and 20 times less than Beijing.
“Athens was a classical ceremony,” Meirelles says of the 2004 ceremony. “Beijing was grandiose. London was smart. Ours is going to be cool. That’s what we are all about.”
There are several themes that the team, which includes opening ceremony director Marco Balich and co-creative directors Daniela Thomas and Leonardo Caetano, wants to convey: sustainability, diversity, hospitality and tolerance.
“The world is very tense,” Meirelles said. “The political situation is also highly tense here in Brazil. I think in the United States with Trump, England with the Brexit, and so on. The whole world is under this tension. This is shown in the ceremony, and the solution for that comes through tolerance.”
The fact the ceremony will be held in Maracana posed some challenges, since it wasn’t built for the Games. The directors were constrained by the size of the soccer pitch. The venue has small gates that limit what they can bring inside the stadium. There are seats at ground level, so they couldn’t build a stage. But they tackled that, just as they tackled the budget cuts.
“We are very used to this makeshift improvising,” Thomas said. “Being MacGyver. That would be the best way of putting it. So we have to do it with the resources we have. But this is not a sacrifice … being MacGyver, MacGyvering, is very creative.”
They spoke little Thursday about what the opening ceremony would actually look like. Yes, Dame Judi Dench will do a poetry reading, although she won’t be in the stadium. Brazilian model Gisele Bundchen will not play a woman getting mugged on Ipanema Beach, despite rumours in the local press.
Canada will be led into the opening ceremony by reigning Olympic trampoline champion Rosie MacLennan of King City, Ont. Countries enter the ceremony in alphabetical order, with two exceptions: Greece always starts and the host country always enters last. Canada is spelled with a C in Portuguese, as in English, simplifying things in Rio.
The athletes, meanwhile, will get to send their own message of sustainability by planting seeds of trees native to their country. Eventually, the seedlings will be transplanted into what will grow into an “Athletes Forest” at Deodoro. Even the directors don’t know who will light the Olympic cauldron, although everyone suspects it will be soccer great Pele.
Much of it is wait and see. The only thing they promise is fun.
“What you’re going to see is all Brazilian — pure, beautiful Brazilian,” Balach said. “Creativity that will touch the heart.”