“STUDYING (BRAZILIAN) CINEMA TODAY SHOULD BE BOTH A FORM OF RESISTANCE AND A STEP TOWARD VERNACULAR REVOLUTIONS…”

Posted by Leonard Cortana, PhD student in Cinema Studies, Tisch School of the Arts.

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14 August 2017 – Opening Ceremony for the UFF Graduate Students in Cinema Studies in Niteroi. The professors came one after the other with the same message summarised in this blog post’s title. Once again, the country is experiencing a major moment of political and economic crisis and the Arts are in danger. In the conversations I could hear in the corridors, some students worried that their departments would close down; others had no clue whether they would receive their doctoral stipends next month and some libraries reported that they would not authorise students to check out books anymore…

Opening ceremony of the UFF Graduate Studies in Cinema – followed by a Master Class given by Ismael Xavier on Allegory and Theatricality in Glauber Rocha’s films

I arrived in Rio de Janeiro primarily to do archival research on the development of Brazilian youth films / coming-of-age narratives since the 1990s. However, very quickly, the current context would provide me with a new layer, maybe even more interesting, to reflect on Brazilian cinema as a form of resistance. In my very first day in the archives, the archivist Fabio Vellozo, who would become my guide for the next four weeks, explained to me that the MAM Cinema and Visual Arts Archives hosted many meetings that gathered together cinema activists during the dictatorship. Since then, the Archives have assumed the mission to preserve the cinemas that have best represented the diversity of Brazil. And this task requires a lot of work from the staff working in the Institution. Unlike many scholars that spend only a few days at one archive location and proceed to work at different sites, I remained there for my entire stay, giving me the chance to actually taste everyday life in the place.

Some activities of the Rio de Janeiro MAM Cinema Archives –  with the precious support of Fabio Vellozo, my generous guide for my month at the “Sala de Pesquisa”.

I could witness the frenetic pace of this space that is always inhabited by scholars, producers, directors, volunteers and even cine-club promoters. And due to the current context, this activity has increased. Researchers are redoubling their efforts so as not to be dependent on an uncertain future, cine-clubs are adding more screenings to gather their members and cultural institutions are multiplying their city events for promotion. Among them, the CAIXA Cultural curated a series of films around the theme of “Brazilian dystopian cinema”. Most of the films from the 70s/80s portray narratives of political corruption, increased violent acts in the city and crimes against the environment. Unfortunately, these themes remain painfully relevant today.

Precious articles on Brazilian youth-themed films in the Researcher’s room

Therefore, besides my long days watching the films and files that the archivist selected for me, I went all over town to attend most of these events. As a ritual, at the end of each session, the staff asked the audience to come closer or to create a circle so as to have a higher quality discussion. Coming from abroad, I do not dare sharing with my accented Brazilian, but I listened to many of the observations that reflected on the current anxieties. For instance, after the screening of a documentary about the current politics of education in Brazil, many professors who took a day off to come to the event asked the film’s directors how they could use the camera to also make images of their difficult professional situation. In another event at the Cinematheque, I experienced a unique event where the archivists screened some precious restored footage of Rio in the first decades of the 20thcentury. Unlike my experiences at MOMA or in Paris, the audience worked together to recognize streets or neighbourhoods they were seeing on screen, acknowledging the changes in the city.

UFF Day Seminar on Cinema and Education in the Faculty of Communication – Niteroi – Discussion with C. Milliorin and I. Pipano for their film Educacoe (2017)

In the last week of my stay, I got the great news that the Great Director Carlos Diegues was willing to meet me. Diegues gave some of the most beautiful roles to black and multiracial actors and told the — rarely seen at that time – story of Afro-descent in Brazil. After having watched almost all his films and carefully prepared my “academic” questions, the tone of the conversation switched quickly to the meaning of making films in the current situation. The man that everyone affectionately calls “Caca Diegues” shared what it meant for him to go to Paris in exile, “ter saudade do Brazil” and, despite the situation, to spend his youth dreaming about making films that would tell the story of his beloved country.

Speaking with the Great Director Carlos “Caca” Diegues & Theatrical Poster of his famous film  Bye Bye Brazil (1980)

Although Brazilians fear what could happen tomorrow and the next elections, the Cinema world that I experienced in Rio is aware of its mission. This visit whetted my appetite for learning about this world and for documenting their future and necessary vernacular revolutions.

 

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