EAVE Interview with Mariana Oliva and Luana Lobo about innovative filmmaking at Maria Farinha Films

“We remain committed to fostering an inclusive and diverse environment within our team, leadership group, and throughout our production processes, striving to be a reference of equity and representation within the entertainment industry.”

By Lilla Kadar

EAVE+ graduate power women Mariana Oliva and Luana Lobo, co-CEOs and Partners of Maria Farinha Filmes (BR), gave an inspirational masterclass on Innovative Leadership and Company Sustainability recently at the EAVE Producers Workshop in Alpbach, Austria. We had the pleasure to talk with Mariana Oliva and Luana Lobo after the event to share their best practices with the EAVE network.

EAVE: Maria Farinha Filmes is a Brazilian production company with 25 employees and more than 25 projects on its slate. What does sustainability mean for your company?

MFF: Maria Farinha Filmes is committed to social transformation through entertainment. Therefore, it is a certified B Corporation and a member of the UN Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs) and the SDGs Strategic Alliance. For each production, there is an active search for diversity in all teams, the payment of fair and decent wages for all professionals and contracted suppliers, the adoption of sustainable and reusable options on our film sets, and the offsetting of all carbon emissions.

Maria Farinha Filmes' work is a vital outreach and impact movement that unites activists, artists, conscious companies, and institutions to raise awareness and inspire transformation. For this reason, the production company has a non-negotiable rule: all productions must touch at least one SDG (the Sustainable Development Goals that are part of a global agenda adopted during the United Nations Summit, composed of 17 objectives and 169 targets). We believe inspiring new ways to imagine the future is fundamental to our process while seeking stories and crafting how to tell them. And we recognize that in order to reach and inspire diverse audiences in Brazil and overseas, we need to connect to people's needs, dreams, and conversations, staying informed about the transformation that is already happening among different generations and groups.

That means diversifying in formats, business models, and languages we work with - fiction, documentaries, reality shows, features, and series - through constant research and knowledge from the market, adapting our financial strategies as new possibilities arise to get those messages out into the world. In summary, we consider our production company a boutique studio, with all the intelligence needed from the development of a project to the launch, but with startup skills. We choose to implement collective intelligence in all decision-making processes, including content diversity, business strategy, audience insights, and executive production.

Can you describe the leadership structure in your company? How does it work in practice and what are the challenges and advantages?

At Maria Farinha Films we have adopted an approach to leadership through the implementation of a circular leadership structure. This innovative model is based on the principles of collaboration, empowerment, and shared decision-making.

The concept of a circular leadership structure emerged from our collective aspiration to create an inclusive and dynamic work environment where every team member's contributions are valued. Instead of a traditional hierarchical setup, we distribute leadership responsibilities across various roles and individuals, promoting a sense of autonomy and equal participation.

In practice, our circular leadership structure functions through the establishment of cross-functional teams that are accountable for different aspects of our operations, projects, and strategic initiatives. This decentralized decision-making process fosters innovation, adaptability, and creativity, as it draws upon the diverse perspectives and skills of our team members.

One of the primary advantages of a circular leadership structure is its ability to harness the collective intelligence and talents of our team. By involving individuals from different backgrounds, roles, and levels of experience in decision-making processes, we gain access to a wide range of ideas, insights, and expertise. This approach enhances our problem-solving capabilities, promotes a culture of continuous learning, and strengthens our capacity to tackle complex challenges.

What did the diversification of your team and of the leadership group bring into your company in terms of values and impact? Did you start the company with such a diverse team or did you diversify on the way? What thinking process led you to do that?

Our team is composed of 25 people: mostly women, representing 80% of the team, as well as a majority in the corporate board and leadership group. Currently, 35% of the team identify either as Black, Mixed-race, Indigenous or Asian. In addition to the in-company team, Maria Farinha values diversity in the teams we hire for the production of our projects, also valuing local communities that operate in regions further away from Brazil's main economic centers, from the initial research phase to the launch.

The process of diversifying our team was driven by a core belief in the power of diverse perspectives. We understood that by bringing together individuals from different backgrounds, experiences, and identities, we could create a more vibrant and innovative work environment. Embracing diversity was not only a reflection of our commitment to equality and fairness, but also a strategic decision to enhance the quality of our work.

We remain committed to fostering an inclusive and diverse environment within our team, leadership group, and throughout our production processes, striving to be a reference of equity and representation within the entertainment industry. With that in mind, Maria Farinha Films is the first production company in Latin America to be part of the Global Compact and The Women's Empowerment Principles of UN Women (WEPs).

Can you describe the sensitivity reading method?

Recognizing the power of stories in shaping the world and strengthening the production company's commitment to a diverse and inclusive language, all Maria Farinha projects are developed through our very own sensitivity reading method.

Our method of analysis aims to diagnose and point out sensitivities, in an active listening of diverse voices and experiences, to deconstruct stereotypes, strengthening the creation of imaginaries that welcome all diversity in our society. The method does not aim to modify or interfere in the creative process, but to inspire new perspectives by offering repertoire to ensure a narrative concerned with inclusion and diversity of audiences. The company relies on a diverse network of specialists, ensuring a leading role for the culture of the widely diverse represented communities.

All consultants in the network are properly paid, strengthening the economy and development of these diverse cultures.

© Aruanas/ Maria Farinha Films and Globoplay


Maria Farinha Films is a certified B Corporation and part of the Global UN Compact. Which was the biggest social impact you achieved and that you are the proudest of?

To answer this question, let's take a closer look at "Aruanas"  (created by Estela Renner and Marcos Nisti showrunners and partners of Maria Farinha Filmes), a series co-produced by Rede Globo and Maria Farinha Filmes. The series is an environmental thriller inspired by real facts, which tells the story of 4 activists who run an NGO dedicated to socio-environmental causes. In the first season, they investigate a report of an environmental disaster in the Amazon rainforest, getting involved in an intense plot as they try to balance work and personal dramas.

When shown on broadcast TV, the first season reached over 34 million people in Brazil, celebrating activism while making an urgent call to society to protect the Amazon. The series is the basis of a movement supported by more than 20 global socio-environmental organizations such as UNEP, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, WWF, International Conservation, and OXFAM. Before its premiere, in an unprecedented strategy, more than 2 million activists from around the world were invited to watch the content firsthand. 

Screened on broadcast TV in one of the countries where activists are killed the most (according to a Global Witness survey, in 2019, 90% of the environmental activist murders in the country occurred in the Amazon), the series made headlines in major newspapers worldwide. They reached Trending Topic on Twitter Global with 89% of positive reactions on social networks. According to a quantitative survey by Qantas, the production company's mission was accomplished – 91% of the audience who watched Aruanas felt sympathetic to the activists' struggle and felt like engaging in some cause.

Besides shedding light on urgent global issues, Greenpeace advised the production, and the series was faithful to the activism it portrays on the screen, following all the premises of sustainable production, from the offsetting of greenhouse gases to the choice and training of the cast:

  • 47% of the team involved in the production were women.
  • The 5 main characters are women; 3 of them are black.
  • During the Amazon shooting time, 65.6% of the cast was local.
  • "Aruanas" also features Manu Trigo, the first child actress with cerebral palsy to participate in a Globo TV series.
  • The production used the ZCO2 blockchain platform to neutralize its greenhouse gas emissions – the emissions calculations were audited by SGS, a global leader in this type of certification. Carbon credits from forests in the Amazon were also used.
  • 90% of the costumes worn by the entire cast were second-hand.

How do you work on audience engagement?

At Maria Farinha Films, we prioritize the audience experience from the beginning. We have dedicated departments for market research and audience insights that play a crucial role in shaping our projects. By understanding the profile of our target audience, we create content that truly resonates and sparks meaningful conversations, connecting to the needs and concerns of many audiences. 

But it doesn't stop there. Our commitment to audience engagement extends to our marketing and distribution strategies. And some initiatives are crucial to democratize our content. We provide accessibility resources and ensure that our content is available across various platforms including broadcast TV and digital platforms. Our goal is to make our productions accessible to as many people as possible.

At Maria Farinha Films, we are passionate about connecting with our audience, promoting positive change, and delivering exceptional storytelling experiences. We invite our audience to be a part of the conversations we spark through our content and join a movement.

Page published 28 July 2023. Updated 14 September 2023.

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