Traveling Filmmaker Brook Silva-Braga Craves Time, Not Money

Quitting & Career Management, Travel Books & Movies — By on February 22, 2010 at 12:55 pm

by Sarah Amandolare
LG Entertainment Editor

Brook Silva Braga Brook Silva-Braga is a world traveler with a Primetime Emmy Award, so I half expected him to suggest meeting in a slick neighborhood or show up with attitude and iPhone. But the 30-year-old filmmaker met me in Brooklyn, at a midway point between my home in Greenpoint and his in Williamsburg, and called from a boxy cell phone with bad reception to say he was running late.

Independent films are typically shown around the festival circuit before being scooped up, but MTV bought A Map for Saturday, Silva-Braga’s documentary of his year of solo backpacking around the world, before he’d taken it to a single festival. The Emmy came for his previous role as a producer on HBO‘s Inside the NFL, a job that included weekend jaunts to Vegas and a generous salary. But if the latter sounds cushy, the former seems to have made up for that, at least in the type of lifestyle it has led Silva-Braga to adopt.

On the frigid evening we met up, he suggested a local bar that I’d passed but never entered. We started talking, and a few blocks later, neither of us was sure which direction would lead us to the warmth of that watering hole. Given, a minor misstep in Williamsburg is nothing to fret over, but I felt my toes going numb and my patience waning. Silva-Braga, however, displayed an enviably relaxed demeanor that I found myself adopting as we walked further. “Feel it out,” I remember telling him, and he did. When we entered the bar minutes later, he pointed to a chalkboard listing beers with the dates they were delivered. “The oldest beer is half-priced,” he explained, and then ordered it even though it was a lackluster brew.

I’m not sure whether unwavering calmness and frugality are attributes Silva-Braga gained during his year of exploration, or if he’s always been that way. Regardless, travel and all of its uncertainty seems to suit him. Beyond a sense of comfort with the unknown, he seems to crave it,  A Map for Saturday reveals.

The film explores the world of hostels, the challenges that come with adjusting to foreign cultures, and the heartbreak of constantly finding and losing new friends.  At the heart of the film is a motley community of backpackers content to travel indefinitely, a lifestyle Silva-Braga was introduced to while doing work for HBO in Asia. Three months after that trip, he took off, tossing aside the security of a 9-5 lifestyle in favor of adventure — albeit, studied adventure.

“I’m very logical,” he said, “I decided this was something I wanted to do and then I figured out how to do it.”

Here’s more from our meeting:

You mentioned that the decision to travel around the world was not difficult for you to make. Why?

Well for me it started with a simple realization that an around-the-world trip was something I should do before I die. Then I realized the best time to do it was right then and there because I didn’t have anything more than inertia stopping me.

How did you come to terms with the sacrifices involved in the trip – giving up your job and your life in New York?

There are few things so clearly worth doing that require such a sacrifice. Even though I knew it was something I should do it still meant quitting my job, leaving my life as I knew it and taking a certain kind of leap.

What was your experience of solo travel? Were certain things harder or easier?

The highs and lows are just a lot more dramatic when you’re alone, so the good days are really amazing and the bad days are really no fun. I think its because some days are so tough that you’re willing to go out there and meet people and create a better situation. And then when you find cool people to be with you’re really appreciative.

Is there anything you learned about yourself that you probably wouldn’t have it not for the trip?

After spending a number of years chasing material success–not so much financial success but just advancement and professional accomplishment–I realized that there are other things that give more bang for the buck. And I came to see time and money as opposing commodities because you almost always have to trade one to get the other and I’ve realized I much prefer extra time than extra money.

You haven’t had a full time job in five years now, since you left HBO. Can you articulate why you wouldn’t want to go back to living that 9-5 kind of life, despite the challenges of the lifestyle you’ve chosen?

The freedom to make your own schedule is really appealing. It requires the discipline to actually do the work you need to do but if you have that discipline its so much better personally and creatively than living in an office.

At one point in your second film “One Day in Africa” you ask a woman whether she has a good life or a hard one, to which she replies that she’s been born into this life and and makes the best of it. She also says that it’s the only life she knows and has nothing to compare it to. She doesn’t seem sad when she says this.

Did her answer surprise you? Did her story challenge any of your preconceived notions of what makes “a good life?”

I liked her answer because it articulated something I felt as I traveled through the continent and for me one of the themes of the film is that people in Burkina Faso don’t want or deserve your pity. There’s been some interesting research done on happiness and invariably they find that money has much less to do with being happy than things like how many friends you have.

In many poor countries there is real suffering but its almost always in small pockets, its not the everyday reality for most people. But most of the coverage we see is designed to make things look bad in order to get people’s attention or attract their money. My point isn’t that everything is great in West Africa and we should let the rest of the world fend for itself but I do think we’d be better served by more coverage that wasn’t funded or organized by people trying to raise money.

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