“My first day in Berlin left such an impression on me. I still remember the Christmas lights and street decorations. These first few hours after I arrived were full of joy,” 18-year-old Ibrahim Al Hussein, a Syria refugee seeking asylum in Germany narrates over the initial credit roll of Karim Aïnouz’s “Central Airport THF.” The film is his story.
In vastly different ways, the four Brazilian documentaries selected for the Berlinale’s Panorama give a voice and sense of humanity, or at least an explanation, to the often-stigmatized (Syrian refugees; black transgender singer Linn da Quebrada in “Tranny Fag,”) and downtrodden (impeached president Dilma Rousseff; the Paiter Suri indigenous community in “Ex-Shaman”). That mission has grown, and documentaries with it, in modern-day Brazil. 35 in 2012, 60 Brazilian docu-feature opened in domestic theaters last year.
The titles share a sense of necessity. “With my first contact with [ex-shaman] Perpera, I understood the urgency of telling the story of how evangelical missions are demonizing indigenous cultures,” recalls “Ex-Shaman” director Luiz Bolognesi.
“I wanted to portray this epic conflict, which encapsulates 500 years of history of Brazil, since the Jesuits arrived.”
Making docu-features can be a way of having “a different voice in the mainstream media,” dominated by huge conglomerates that “tend to talk about the same thing everywhere,” argues Aïnouz. Crucially, “Central Airport THF” will air on European broadcaster Arte. Panorama selection will allow a theatrical release in Brazil before playing on Canal Brasil. “Otherwise, it might have gone straight to TV,” he adds.
Brazil’s doc surge may be part of a zeitgeist.“In the accelerated world we live in, documentaries are always a possibility for reflection, to drive deep into a certain subject,” observe “Tranny Fag” directors Claudia Priscilla and Kiko Goifman.
But challenges remain. “In general, with exceptions such as Globo, most free-to-air and pay TV channels still seem to fight very shy of getting involved in Brazilian films and documentaries,” says producer Fabiano Gullane. He adds: “Independent films need strong international financing and commercial runs as they cannot rely on national TV partners only.”