Molotov cinema

Brasil Observer - Oct 10 2016
Cast of “Aquarius” protests in Cannes

(Leia em Português)


Is Brazil seeing the birth of a new marginal cinema?


By Tiago Di Mauro

Given all that has taken place in Brazilian politics, it is impossible not to notice the participatory activism of all artistic sectors in the country. During the period of the civil-military dictatorship, 1964-1985, artistic resistance that made the most noise was certainly the musicians and singers, culminating, for example, in prison and subsequent exile of Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in London. However, during this time of consummated parliamentary coup in Brazil, it is important to highlight the actions of the national cinema professionals.

The climax occurred at the time the cast of “Aquarius”, directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho, selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2016, protested with placards on the red carpet with slogans like “Brazil is experiencing a coup”. With Sonia Braga ahead, the director and his cast staged an emblematic moment in the history of arts in Brazil. The reasons are known, but what are its possible consequences? And why most directors and film producers in Brazil supported the manifesto?

When the civil-military coup of 1964 happened, Brazil was experiencing a time of extreme effervescence in cinema. Cinema Novo (New Cinema), with its innovative and provocative aesthetics, projected the national cinema to new levels, participating in festivals all over the world and achieving a reputation that persists today. Just ahead, in the 1970s, Brazilian cinema experienced a paradox: it was funded by the same government that censured its productions, through the newly opened Embrafilmes, a state-owned company created to produce and distribute national films.

Thus, the national cinema lost force as a means of revolutionary ideas and social reflection, giving room for the so-called Pornochanchadas, famous for its erotic-comic films, superficial in their narratives. It was the Marginal Cinema, with very low budget films, the responsible to confront the regime, through its allegorical narratives denouncing the absurdities and injustices of the dictatorship, but without much audience reach. The critical force of national cinema weakened. Only with the political opening of the 1980s that the themes illustrating the civil-military regime and the Brazilian social ills started to appear again.

The Ministry of Culture was created only in 1985, by President José Sarney. Previously, the duties of this department were authority of the Ministry of Education, which from 1953 to 1985 was known as the Ministry of Education and Culture. In 1990, however, under the Fernando Collor government, culture and cinema suffered a new low with the extinction of Embrafilmes and the transformation of the young Ministry of Culture in Secretary of Culture. The ministry was restored in 1992 by President Itamar Franco, ushering in a phase known as Cinema da Retomada, or Recovery Cinema (1992-2003). Later, at the end of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government, in September 2001, Ancine was created, a state agency with administrative and financial autonomy which aims to promote, regulate and supervise the Brazilian cinema. In 2003, during the Lula government, Ancine becomes part of the Ministry of Culture, which begins to think about cultural policies, with the ministers during this period being Gilberto Gil and Juca Ferreira.

Since 1992, when only one Brazilian film was produced, the national cinema supported by the Ministry of Culture has been growing continuously with huge thematic freedom. In 2015, according to the annual report published by Ancine, the country reached the level of 172.9 million viewers in cinemas, an increase of 11.1% compared to 2014. The data also showed that the public of Brazilian films in the total viewers went from 12.2% in 2014 to 13% in 2015, and a production of 128 national films last year.

Brazil has achieved an unprecedented mark of consumption of its own culture. A pulsating market, active, billionaire and that suddenly, during the interim administration of President Michel Temer, saw the extinction, on May 12, of the Ministry of Culture. An action that generated instant reaction: the occupation of the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture in capitals of Brazil by musicians, bands, singers, actors, actresses and poets, as well as the demonstration in Cannes.

Since then every opportunity to oppose the Temer government was seized, and the Ministry of Culture was eventually reinstated. Unfortunately, too late to contain the revolt of a concern that goes beyond the ministry extinction. What will be the management that the department will receive? This would reintroduce a strategy to maintain appearances as it is dismantled?

The current Minister of Culture, Marcelo Calero, has not found peace. He confronted the audience and abandoned the Petrópolis Film Festival when he was denounced as part of the coup. In the guerrilla front, beyond Kleber Mendonça Filho, there are filmmakers like Jorge Furtado, Henrique Dantas and Claudio Assis. And draws attention the work of three women with three projects-films that portray the process of impeachment and coup suffered by former President Dilma Russeff: Maria Ramos, Petra Costa and Anna Muylaert.

The confrontation between the Ministry of Culture and Kleber Mendonça Filho became even more aggressive when the Brazilian film selection to represent the country in a spot to compete for the best foreign film in Academy Awards 2017. Anna Muylaerte and Gabriel Mascaro withdrew the candidacy of their respective films, “Don’t Call Me Son” and “Neon Bull” to favour the choice of “Aquarius”. But in the end, “Little Secret” by David Schurmann was selected, which led Kleber Mendonça Filho complaints of suffering political persecution.

With a backdrop of filmmakers engaged against the new government; a contingency on funds invested in cinema – 2.4 billion reais in 2016 versus 3.3 billion reais in 2015; and extinction and reinstatement of the Ministry of Culture with a minister who does not exercise sympathy for most of the artistic community, it is inevitable that there is concern about the management of the future of Brazilian cinema. There are speculations about the possible return of censorship to projects that will deal with impeachment as a coup or deal with any other matters that are not aligned to the new government’s interests.

Anyway, with the expansion of audiovisual products distribution and the cheapening of film cameras and production equipment, even with a censorship issue, Brazilian cinema has strengthened enough to generate its own products independently. Are we seeing the birth of a new marginal cinema? Time will tell.



The forthcoming London Film Festival (October 5 – 16) includes four Brazilian features and two short films:

Aquarius, by Kleber Mendonça Filho (14 and 16 October)

Don’t Call Me Son, by Anna Muylaert (12 and 13 October)

The Ornithologist, by João Pedro Rodrigues (10, 11 and 12 October)

The Space in Between – Marina Abramović and Brazil, by Marco Del Fiol (14 and 16 October)

The Girl Who Danced With the Devil, by João Paulo Miranda Maria (12 October)

There is land!, by Ana Vaz (9 October)

* For more information visit