Get an inside look at the movie about how MMA champions are made in Brazil

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Cinematographer Leandro Lima at morning Jiu-Jitsu cpass at Nova União headquarters. Leandro is on his knees on the right, wearing blue pants and a white gi top. Photo: personal archive/GRACIEMAG.

By Dão Tavares
Leandro Lima is 33 years old, from the city of Rio de Janeiro, is married to Ana Abreu and is father to Miguel and Francisco. He’s been working with audio for the last 15 years, started as an intern and is now works on major productions around Brazil. Between 1997 and present day he’s won 11 awards for different projects, as you’ll find out below.

In a joint-venture with Roberta Salomone that began a little over a year ago, he produced “Lutando para vencer – O crescimento do MMA no Brasil” (“Fighting for victory – MMA’s growth in Brazil,” loosely translated), a movie/documentary about MMA focusing on the routine of some of the fighters at team Nova União.

In an exclusive interview, he explains what he learned while shooting the film and how he came up with the idea to “infiltrate” the world of these athletes to document their lives.

GRACIEMAG: How did you come up with the idea to shoot “Lutando para vencer?”

LEANDRO LIMA: My friend Roberta Salomone [co-director of the film] worked doing sports marketing for André Pederneiras. In August 2011 she told me about him. I listened to the whole story while thinking it would be the good subject for a documentary and a chance to debut as a director. Roberta scheduled a meeting with Dedé to introduce me. I suggested doing the film, and he liked the idea.

Why’d you opt for Dedé Pederneiras?

I picked Dedé because in Brazil he was voted best MMA coach in the world in 2011, and the evolution of his team was a good way of showcasing the growth of the sport in the cinema. When we started shooting I asked Dedé for two athletes for us to follow to demonstrate this evolution. He suggested Renan Barão and Eduardo Dantas, and it was a great choice because while we were shooting they won two belts, one in the UFC and the other at Bellator.

What was it like to travel and be around the fighters?

We shot in three countries besides Brazil, and that’s where the story in the movie comes from, from how close the guys got to the movie. Now I have a very close relationship with Dedé, due to the time spent with him and his team, Nova União, considered the best lighter-weight-group team in the world.

Is there an estimate for when the movie will hit the big screens?

We were invited to take part at FIFE [an international festival for sports movies] this October in Rio de Janeiro, and we’re looking at another festival in November. We’re finishing up the editing, and after that our goal is to come up with a distributor.

What’s the message you want to get through with the documentary?

MMA’s changing the lives of a lot of people in Brazil and around the world. A lot of these athletes don’t have the means to pay for their training, and Dedé makes it possible for them, not to mention that everyone on the team loves Dedé like a father. It’s a big family, and in Brazil a lot of families are missing the father figure… That’s the message.

Has MMA become a tool for social inclusion?

Yes, MMA is a form of social inclusion. We did interviews with two gangsters from the Santo Amaro community in Rio de Janeiro, the same place where Dudu Dantas, Marlon Sandro, Hacran Dias and other Nova União fighters grew up. The movie shows that rather than becoming like the two from the world of crime, the fighters are achieving their dreams and fighting in the UFC and other major MMA events.

How did you get your start in Jiu-Jitsu?

I started practicing Jiu-Jitsu while shooting “Elite Squad”, taking Chico Salgado’s class alongside Wagner Moura, Caio Junqueira and André Ramiro. I enjoyed it and now I train at Nova União. I’m a white belt. When I’m not filming, I take my kids to school at 7:30 am and rush to train at Upper academy in Flamengo.

Speaking of “Elite Squad”, there’s a scene in the sequel where Captain Nascimento is training with his son. You have two sons—do you ever train together?

They haven’t done much training, but I keep reminding them, “Look, now we could be going to do Jiu-Jitsu…” Sometimes they say, “Let’s!” But they already have their heroes at the gym, like José Aldo, Renan Barão, Marlon Sandro, Dudu Dantas. That influences them a lot.

Check out a teaser of the movie:

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