Writer and Director Ary Zara talks about his film ‘An Avacado Pit (Um Caroço de Abacate)’, which has been shortlisted for an Academy Award

Shortlisted from a total of 187 short films, An Avacado Pit (Um Caroço de Abacate) has made its mark, as it currently awaits the results of the final nominee list, to be announced on Tuesday 23rd January. One of 14 nominees currently in the ‘Live Action Short Film’ category, the film places the experience of a trans woman and cis man’s meeting at the fore – a lighthearted encounter free of violence and filled instead with hope and light. Marking trans writer and director Ary Zara’s debut short film, accolades garnered for the project have included wins at Clermont Ferrand, Indie Lisboa, AFI Fest, Brest European SFF and Regard. Ahead of the final nominee announcement, Ary tells us more about what it means to have been recognised by the Academy, exploring the protagonist’s connection further and what he’d like for viewers to take away from watching the film!

Hi Ary, your film An Avocado Pit has made this year’s Academy Award shortlist in the ‘Live Action Short Film’ category. How are you feeling?

I don’t believe I’ve fully grasped it yet. It’s an experience I’m aware of happening to others, but I never thought “others” could also encompass me. As for An Avocado Pit, my debut short film, I must admit it’s both a fantastic beginning and, simultaneously, a somewhat defiant one. Even though I can’t really make sense of everything that’s happening, I’m truly happy for the recognition of all the talents that are part of this film. While I may not fully comprehend everything that’s happening, I am genuinely thrilled about the recognition that all the talented individuals involved in this film are receiving.

An Avocado Pit follows the meeting of Larissa – a trans woman and Cláudio – a cis man with wit and sensitivity. We witness these worlds collide in a heartwarming story free from violence, filled instead with light and hope. How have you found exploring this narrative within your work further?
A lighter tone naturally emerges in my writing, I am dramatic but hopeful and for sure overly romantic.
I view my characters as human beings, and I struggle to distinguish between reality and fiction. Consequently, I tend to wish the best for them.
I don’t handle violence well, especially if it’s physical; it makes me feel nauseous, so it’s not a subject I would pursue. Furthermore, I don’t see any advantages in perpetuating violence, emphasizing negative aspects, or rehashing repetitive narratives regarding trans individuals. I see violence as a powerful tool, with an immediate effect, that cannot be diminished. Violence is also important to be shown but it needs to be managed wisely.
I feel that I have more avocado pits to plant, nurturing them with the energy that can manifest as a hug, comfort, and love.

The film is written and directed by yourself, produced by Andreia Nunes and Frederico Serra with cinematography by Leandro Ferrão. The cast consisting of Gaya De Medeiros and Ivo Canelas amongst a broader team of creatives. How have you all worked together to realise the film? 
To begin, it was essential for everyone to comprehend and support the premise and the stakes involved. Understanding what we were trying to convey with “Avocado Pit” wasn’t automatic for cisgender individuals, as it didn’t reflect their reality. However, now that we see the finished film, it’s possible to grasp the message, but from the initial script stage, it wasn’t that straightforward. The words were already there but when they are performed it is indeed possible to understand the world we’re navigating.
The script for the film evolved over approximately two years, with the final touches being made during the shooting. Since I create personal films, the script is a constantly evolving entity, much like myself. I met Gaya in 2020, and I believe Larissa could grow significantly through her involvement. I adapted the script to fit Gaya’s unique voice and shared it with her. Together, we collaborated to ensure that the intended message was effectively conveyed. She contributed her personal experiences, and we rehearsed to bring Larissa to life.
Subsequently, Leandro and I began to refine references within the script. I greatly admire the way he engages with cinema—he’s restless and constantly overflowing with ideas. I learned a great deal from him because of his extensive experience, which has given him a deeper understanding of the world that I didn’t possess and may still lack. Leandro has a grand vision; he envisions few limits and believes the sky is not one of them.
Ivo was the last to join our team, and I wasn’t entirely certain he would accept the invitation, given his status as a renowned actor in Portugal and this being my directorial debut. We met over tea, and although I felt intimidated about directing someone of his calibre, he was incredibly gracious. Ivo, Gaya, and I engaged in extensive discussions about the film, raising numerous questions and exploring various scenarios. Together, we started moulding these characters. We spent several hours over three days in a room, and I didn’t feel like I was directing them; instead, I felt like I was presenting emotions and potential outcomes, and they manoeuvred through this invisible labyrinth, a shared vision that the three of us could perceive.
Andreia played an indispensable role in this film, besides being the producer she was also supporting as both my right and left hand. She was the one who opened the door at Take it Easy Production house and carried the project through to its completion. Taking on the responsibility of leading the film required an incredible amount of courage and faith, especially considering the theme we were exploring and the fact that both Gaya and I were debutants in this endeavour.
Andreia is an exceptional producer, possessing a keen intuition, exceptional skills, a deeply caring nature, and a high level of empathy. She meticulously reviewed each version of the script and provided insightful feedback. Given her extensive knowledge of the industry, I entrusted her to recommend the team, and together, we embarked on the journey of understanding who should be a part of this project. From the beginning until now she provides constantly solutions and ways to approach different situations, having a creative role that goes beyond the label of the producer.
Creating space for everyone to contribute their intellect, talents, and skills was a rewarding experience. I believe it significantly enriched the film by fostering an environment of openness, experimentation, active listening, and a willingness to try new things. Throughout this journey, I understood that it was primarily an exercise in trust and confidence in a vision shared by all.

An Avocado Pit marks your filmmaking debut, premiering in 2022 and receiving awards at Clermont Ferrand, Indie Lisboa, AFI FEST, Brest European SFF and Regard. What does it mean to you to have had the film acknowledged in this way?

From the outset, it was evident that we had an exceptional film from a technical standpoint, encompassing acting, cinematography, color grading, editing, music, styling, and more. However, what remained uncertain was precisely how people would react to the story. This recognition signifies to me that the film resonates on a deeper level than I or we could have anticipated. I believe it also emphasizes the need for many people to experience a film with a transgender protagonist portrayed in a lighter tone, as this was one of the aspects that was most prominently highlighted in An Avocado Pit.

What have you learned/taken away from creating the film?
I learned more than I can write… For sure trust the process, don’t rush it and enjoy it. To accept what comes, to constantly be open to listening and to have a crazy amount of faith!

What can viewers expect from the film?
An amazing journey compressed in less than 20 minutes.
What would you like for viewers to take away from the film?
That every encounter can be a beautiful experience if we dare to be present.
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
To find out more about An Avocado Pit, visit here…
Written by Theatrefullstop